Catholic Church Facing Compensation Cases in Relation to Illegal Adoptions

The first of many expected compensation claims in relation to illegal adoptions, arranged by the Catholic Church of children born in the Republic of Ireland, has been registered at the High Court. 

148 people are now involved in the cases about the adoptions which involved forging birth certificates and other baptismal records. This number has grown since it was first revealed as 126 by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar 20 months in May 2018. The Taoiseach, speaking at the time, told the Dáil that the disclosures of the adoptions amounted to “another chapter from the very dark history of our country” which had “robbed children – our fellow citizens – of their identity”

The plaintiff in this particular case is well known Belfast actor Patrick FitzSymons, who was born to an unmarried couple in Co Clare in the 1960s. His parents, trying to avoid the stigma of having a child out of wedlock permitted the Catholic church agency St Patrick’s Guild to have him adopted to a married couple in Co Antrim. 

Mr FitzSymons said that his adoptive parents, who are now both deceased had “loved me and provided for me as best they could’ and that his “natural parents, my birth mother in particular, had endured the institutional shaming and disapproval of Ireland at that time to do what she thought to be the right thing”.

During summer 2018, Mr FitzSymons was told by Tusla his births was mistakenly registered between 1946 and 1969 by the Dublin-based St Patrick’s Guild.

He has previously spoken about the emotional suffering of both sets of parents to the incident. He remarked: “My natural parents, my birth mother in particular, had endured the institutional shaming and disapproval of Ireland at that time to do what she thought to be the right thing.”

He also spoke about how he discovered that he was adopted. He said: “My adopted mother and I were forever falling out, partly about religion. She possibly felt she had not properly fulfilled her promise to bring me up as a Catholic – because that had been the only stipulation. Rather cryptically, in a letter, I had written something along the lines ‘if you want to talk to kids you should talk to people who have had kids of their own’. I can’t remember what the context of that was. But one evening I was just having a regular visit with her and she asked if I had ever had the intuition that I was adopted. I just said ‘no’ and she said: ‘There’s something I need to tell you’. Well, the bottom fell out of my world. She said it was only fair that I did know. Perhaps she had been planning to tell me anyway.”

The legal firm handling Mr FitzSymon’s case, Dublin-based Coleman Legal Partners, are handling 25 similar cases, at present, and are expecting that number to grow even more. .

Mr FitzSymons solicitor, Norman Spicer of Coleman Legal Partners. said that the firm is handling a number of cases like this but admitted that there are no plans to apply for a “class action” order because of the complexity of the individual cases.

He said: “There is no provision for the North American-style of ‘class action’ under Irish law. However, a court has discretion to grant an order which may mirror to some extent the other system for a specific case or set of cases. We do not envisage making such an application. These are complex cases involving many different defendants, as a result it is difficult to say how long these cases will take as it depends on all of the parties involved and how quickly responses, replies and motions, and so on, can be turned around. Three years (the estimated time the case will take to process) would not be an unreasonable time frame but this is dependent upon many factors and is really only a ‘ballpark’ estimate.”