New Irish adoption law opens wounds as 900 register to trace birth families

·3-min read
<span>Photograph: NurPhoto/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: NurPhoto/Getty Images

An 81-year-old, adopted as a child, and a 74-year-old mother who gave up her baby for adoption, are among 900 people who have registered to trace their parents or children after landmark legislation was passed in Ireland.

The public response to the new laws, which came into force on 1 July, is opening decades-old wounds for children and parents who were separated at birth, some sent to the UK or the US, during the past 100 years.

The data, released on Thursday by the Adoption Authority of Ireland, indicate many have lived to late adulthood without knowing who their birth parents are.

Related: Irish people adopted abroad as children to get full access to their records

Of the 891 who have registered the AAI said the oldest person to request their data was 81, and the mean age of applicants (both parent and child) was 50. The youngest was a five-year-old whose adoptive parents had registered on their behalf.

Of the 786 seeking contact with parents, 74% want information on their birth mother, with 17% seeking data on their father and 9% seeking contact with a brother, sister or multiple siblings.

This reflects pressure on unmarried mothers in Catholic Ireland to give up their babies for adoption, but who went on to have more children later in life.

Others are seeking contact with a grandparent, cousin, aunt or uncle, AAI said.

The 81-year-old seeking their birth data would have been informally adopted, as adoption was not legal until 1953 – presenting a challenging task for anyone seeking to find their birth parents before the new legislation.

The laws, which came into force last month, provide all adoptees with the legal entitlement to full and unrestricted access to their birth certificate, and birth, early life, care, and medical information.

Those who were informally adopted before 1953, a process known as “boarded out”, or who had their birth illegally registered, can also apply for their data.

Last month the AAI, which is charged with managing the process, launched an awareness campaign to reach adult adoptees who were taken into families in the UK, the US and elsewhere.

The AAI said most of the 891 people who had registered in the first month of the laws being enacted were from Ireland. More than 100 are from abroad, 40 of them from the UK, 17 from the US and four from Australia.

The Birth Information and Tracing Act allows adoptees or relatives to register their preference for contact with a parent of child until October, when the tracing process can legally start. In October they can apply to obtain the data.

Patricia Carey, AAI chief executive, said: “We are very encouraged by the number of people who have registered. Come October, when the free services under the legislation open, adoptees will finally have the right to access all of their birth information held by the state. This wasn’t the case previously, so it is a big deal.”

It is known that 48,000 children were adopted between 1953 and 2021, with an additional 2,000 children known to have been sent overseas and another 20,000 “boarded out”.

If you have been affected by the new laws and want to share your story now or in future, please email lisa.ocarroll@theguardian.com

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