Let's Encourage - Not Hinder Adoption Reunions

by Kathy McMahon, Founder of Irish First Mothers group

I was astonished to read a paternalistic article in The Journal by an adopted man, Mr. Paul Redmond - who presumes to be an authority on what is best for us women who lost our children to adoption.

He wrote that that the Irish government's proposed new law on adoption tracing should offer mothers the "protection" of a veto to prevent our lost children from contacting us. He explains this and his troubled re-connection with his own natural mother by depicting us mothers as "elderly" and "living in fear".

I was subjected to forced adoption of my child, and I can assure you I am far from elderly or fearful. Neither are the more than 50-strong Irish First Mothers group, of which I am founder, so infirm of mind that we need Mr. Redmond to speak on our best interests.

In fact, our ages range from the early forties upwards. Our relative youth confounds the current stereotype. Forced adoptions were taking place up until the late 1990's. Therefore many of the affected mothers are still some way off from claiming our State pension, thank you very much.

Our First Mothers group is diametrically opposed to Mr. Redmond's position. In our consultations with government ministers and in public, we have called for open adoption records and access to information immediately - with no requirement that adopted people sign a demeaning statutory declaration.

Ms. Philomena Lee also supports this position. As does the Adoption Rights Alliance. We all believe adopted people have a human right to know their origin in fullness and without hindrance.

Reflecting the social climate of 2015, the vast majority of us mothers seek some level of contact with our children, and have no desire be "protected" from them by a still-interfering State. We look forward to potentially joyful re-connection and reconciliation with our own children.


Mr Redmond has publicly described how a 45-minute phone conversation with his natural mother ended in her decision to terminate contact. He now says he respects that decision, though painful. I sympathize with his dilemma. And I am sure that he must cherish every minute of their too-brief exchange.

But ironically, a contact veto in law might well have denied him even those few minutes. His mother might have opted out of potential contact in advance - and that brief phone call would not have happened. His own unfortunate outcome shows how sensitively we must handle these issues.

Indeed, we find the whole notion of a "contact veto" to be a crude instrument. The vast majority of mothers are very open to contact from the outset. But most of the few mothers who are initially hesitant shift their view over time, if approached with care. Some may start with written contact; then phone contact; and the overwhelming majority eventually embrace personal contact and a fruitful reunion.

By framing this evolution of attitude as a formal decision in black and white terms, in the unsympathetic context of an "official" written form, we may set back the very reconciliations which should be our public health goal.

Recall the saying that "hard cases make bad law". Mr. Redmond's failed maternal re-connection was a hard case - but legislating based on his rare experience would make for very bad law indeed.


The government and some commentators have developed the fallacious notion that mothers who were incarcerated in Mother and Baby homes had either sought or were offered so-called "privacy". That's plain wrong.

Here's a reality check. My abiding memory of my incarceration was of my fellow mothers screaming in anguish following the forced removal of their babies. It's a sick joke to claim that we were ever offered 'privacy' in the form of a guarantee our children would never contact us.

The complete reverse is true. We were threatened to never attempt contact ourselves. The State which oversaw that criminally unconstitutional regime, has learned little - as it aims to erect new legal barriers between us and our own children. Is that really necessary or beneficial for the vast majority of women?

Contrary to general perception, the Supreme Court in its most relevant decisions issued no blanket guarantee on adoption privacy and actually afforded the Oireachtas great latitude in legislating for the common good. The learned judges have cited the following passage with approval:
“None of the personal rights of the citizen are unlimited: their exercise may be regulated by the Oireachtas when the common good requires this.” ( Ryan v A.G. [1965] IR 294 at 312)


An Independent Newspapers story by Elish O'Regan recently reported that 1 in 20 mothers on the historical adoption contact register have indicated a "no contact" preference. That figure is of dubious value, because we are in a time of sea change in social attitudes to gay marriage, for example and to adoption issues.

We estimate from our direct collective experience that today over 98% of mothers would be open to contact at some level. We would serve the common good by legislating to undo the harm inflicted on them.

A socially-created shame was layered over a woman's right to give life. The real shame lay with those who sundered the precious bond between mother and child. Let's fully dispel that social fog of shame.

It's time to actively encourage healing of family separation. Time to move forward in confidence - consigning fear and shame to the past.

Kathy McMahon, Founder
Irish First Mothers


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