Discrimination and Prejudice

The absence of statutory rights for adopted people has led to policies and practices that are ad hoc, unprofessional and discriminatory. The absence of statutory rights has not only manifested itself in an unfair bias at policy level, it has also led to discrimination and prejudice against adopted people elsewhere. A number of examples of discrimination and prejudice encountered by ARA and our predecessor organisation through our work with adopted people, natural parents and natural relatives are set out below. Many of these are corroborated by the experiences of witnesses who gave evidence to the Clann Project, examples of which are cited in the Clann Report, which is available here.

Civil Registration Modernisation Project

When the government announced the modernisation of the Civil Registration system in 2001, many adopted people believed this would help them to gain access to their birth certificates. ARA’s predecessor organisation, AdoptionIreland, submitted a Freedom of Information Request to the then Department of Health and Children. Records released revealed that a query had been raised by consultants working on the project, because the new system would make it simpler for adopted people to find their birth certificates, or even perform a ‘wildcard’ search for their date of birth as they currently can only through an exhaustive manual search of the Civil Registration records. The records also showed that a decision had been taken at a meeting of the Adoption Board to ensure that adopted people would not be able to obtain their birth certificates through the new system. The FOI request also revealed records which indicated that officials at the Department of Health and Children and the General Registrar’s Office were working to produce adoption certificates which would hide an adopted person’s status. Because no clear statutory rights exist for adopted people, all of these decisions – which have profound implications for adopted people’s rights – were made by unelected public servants in the legislative vacuum.

Infiltration of Private peer support group

In 2005, a religious sister from the Sacred Heart Adoption Society infiltrated the private online peer support group of ARA’s predecessor organisation, AdoptionIreland. She then obtained copies of posts in the group from adopted people who complained about her and summoned those people to her office, where she challenged them on their views. Both Adoption Ireland and ARA made repeated complaints to the Adoption Board and subsequently the Adoption Authority about the religious sister in question, however no action was ever taken.


In September 2003, ARA’s predecessor organisation was notified by adopted people that the then Adoption Board had begun the practice of requiring affidavits from adopted people who sought their birth certificates. In the affidavits, adopted people would have to swear that they would respect their natural mother’s right to privacy and that they would not initiate contact at any time. Throughout this ad hoc policy making, the Adoption Board (now the Authority) does not appear to have ever considered the privacy rights of adopted people to know and own their own personal information.

discrimination in policy

In a draft publication sent to our predecessor organisation, the then Adoption Board referred to adopted people’s searches as an opportunity to ‘take or regain control over their lives’. This is problematic because, if there is a need for adopted people to ‘take or regain control over their lives’, the implication is that adopted people have no control over their lives.


In the wake of a 2014 Dáil discussion on information rights for adopted people, one Irish Independent journalist wrote:

‘Imagine the distress [the] possibility [of information rights for adopted people] must be causing to women treated shabbily by the State already. Consider their dread, now, at the prospect of their anonymity being rescinded. Some may be elderly, and in poor health. The threat that an adult child could turn up, unannounced, on their doorstep is likely to be an added burden’.

Other examples of discrimination and prejudice against adopted people

  • Agencies refusing to carry out traces in cases of illegal adoptions i.e. where a child is registered as the child of the adoptive parents and the birth is falsely registered.
  • Over the years the Adoption Authority has repeatedly refused to deal with the issue of illegal adoptions. 
  • Agencies withholding non-identifying information such as first names, place of birth. 
  • Agencies imposing waiting lists of several years. 
  • Agencies discouraging adopted people from tracing, with statements like: “It can be a very slow process, people have moved and gotten married” or “We are looking for a lady whose circumstances we know nothing about – she could be dead – three of the mothers I found last year were dead”’. “Think of the lives you would be destroying” (These are actual quotes). 
  • A general lack of respect of the adopted person’s desire to trace e.g. reminding the adopted person that they might hurt their adoptive parents’ feelings or disrupt their natural mother’s life. 
  • Agencies contacting adoptive parents as opposed to the adult adopted person when a query arrives from the natural mother. 
  • Agencies refusing to supply medical information, even in life threatening situations. 
  • Agencies drip feeding information as opposed to handing over all available information. 
  • Inefficiencies such as not responding to letters at all or delayed responses to letters. 
  • Inefficiencies such as social workers, untrained in genealogy, travelling to the General Registrar’s Office and carrying out their own research on a case by case basis. 
  • Agencies insisting on face to face meetings with social workers prior to the release of any information, regardless of whether the person lives in Ireland or not. 
  • Breaches of confidentiality – e.g. we are aware of cases where agencies in the course of a search have told other natural family members that their sister or mother or daughter had placed a child for adoption. 
  • Agencies providing false or inaccurate information. 
  • Agencies failing to put adopted people and natural parents in contact with each other even in cases where both parties have contacted the agency seeking a reunion. 
  • Adoption Board insisting on the signing of affidavits prior to the release of birth certificates (a practice now discontinued). 
  • Mandatory counselling being insisted upon or strongly encouraged, leaving the adopted person feeling they have no choice in the matter, that the trace will go slower if they don’t. 
  • Adopted people being forced to answer intimate questions from nuns with no social work qualifications in church run agencies in order to obtain information. 
  • A nun in a church run agency claiming to an adopted person who was exported to the US for adoption that she cycled from Cork to Kerry, visited with the person’s natural mother who allegedly told the nun she was not interested in contact. Our organisation subsequently provided the adopted person with the appropriate information and advice and within a few weeks he was happily reunited with his natural mother. 
  • A nun in a church run agency secretly joining adopted people’s online support groups, copying messages and summoning adopted people who have complained about her to intimidating meetings. 
  • A nun in a church run agency sending threatening legal letters to group members of adoption organisations warning of litigation. 
  • Deliberate withholding of or providing misleading information in illegal adoptions where the adopted person seeks reunion. 
  • Agencies telling adopted people and natural parents that it is illegal to trace. 
  • Agencies telling adopted people that they cannot trace or receive information using excuses like “the Irish Law” or the “Secrecy Act”. 
  • Social workers engaging in “counselling sessions” while failing to inform the adopted person that they are in fact being assessed as to their “suitability” to receive information or be reunited. 
  • In the case of one of our colleagues who was sent to the US for adoption, a nun from a church run agency, despite already knowing the natural mother’s date of birth, managed to contact the wrong woman with a completely different date of birth. She also claimed that they had no idea where the natural mother had gone when she left the mother and baby home, yet the natural mother received photos of the adopted person post-adoption from the adoption agency who sent it to the UK. 
  • In the same case, the same nun wrote to the adopted person after she had found her natural mother, harassing her and sharing sensitive private correspondence from her adoptive mother that the adoptive person felt she should never have seen, resulting in diminishing an already degrading relationship between the adopted person and her adoptive mother. 
  • Agencies using adopted people to vent their anger at the new Adoption Authority’s attempts to regulate the system. 
  • A church run agency telling an adopted person “you never know, you could have been born in the UK” – the agency has this information and could easily give it to the adopted person instead of leaving them guessing.