Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland nuns' home probe call over non-voluntary adoption claims

By Adrian Rutherford

A campaign group has called for an investigation into allegations surrounding cross-border adoptions at a home run by nuns in Northern Ireland.

The claims centre on the Marianvale mother and baby home in Co Down, which operated between 1955 and 1984.

A BBC documentary to be broadcast tonight alleges that some adoptions were not voluntary, and has uncovered evidence that proper procedures may not have been followed. This includes changes details on official documents including birth certificates.

File On 4: The Lost Children Of Marianvale, to be aired on Radio 4, conducted an analysis of the home's baptism book after being contacted by campaigner Eunan Duffy. He came forward after the programme broadcast a separate investigation last year into the treatment of children at Smyllum Park orphanage in Scotland.

The analysis of the ledger held at St Peter and St Paul Church in Bessbrook, south Armagh, contained details of more than 800 babies born to Marianvale women and revealed extensive movement of babies and women across state borders.

At least 25 babies were shown to have left Northern Ireland, going mostly to families in the Republic, but at least two went to the USA.

The ledger also shows that at least 120 women came from outside Northern Ireland to the home in Marianvale, from as far away as Fife, London, Plymouth and Manchester.

Patrick Corrigan from Amnesty International said the evidence required full investigation.

"There was a movement of women and babies between the different institutions," he said.

"This now cries out for a thorough, independent investigation and I think what will certainly need to happen is that there is a strong cross-border, cross jurisdictional dimension to any investigation into what happened in Northern Ireland."

When contacted by the programme, The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, said: "We utterly reject any suggestion that illegal adoptions were conducted from Marianvale.

"All adoptions were conducted strictly in accordance with the legislation, which then applied. Some women did not proceed with adoption, as was originally planned, and with the support of families, took their babies home."

Karen Trimnell, a 49-year-old English teacher in New York, believes she is among those affected. Her mother travelled to Marianvale and gave birth at a nearby hospital.

She believes she was moved from Northern Ireland to the Republic, where she was cared for by another Catholic order, before being adopted by a couple from Texas in the USA.

Karen passed on documents to the programme that charted her early life, revealing she was issued with a birth certificate in Northern Ireland which correctly recorded all the details of her birth.

She also handed over another birth certificate which had been generated for her in the Republic which contains different information, including changing her date and place of birth as well as listing her future adopted parents as her natural parents.

It is not clear who was responsible for submitting this information to the register.

Karen's birth was then registered for a third time when she arrived in the USA.

She told File on 4 she is concerned that proper procedures may not have been followed to facilitate an adoption for a couple who were becoming too old to adopt in America.

The BBC has also seen the adoption consent form signed by Karen's birth mother which agreed she could be taken into the care of a Catholic adoption organisation in the Republic.

This document appears to have been signed after the birth certificate in the Republic had been created.

At the time when Marianvale was operating, a baby could only be moved from Northern Ireland to the Republic following a court order or with the express consent of the mother. Signing a child over to the care of someone else didn't automatically allow the movement of that baby across borders.

Toni Maguire, an archaeologist and anthropologist with extensive experience of researching documents from the Catholic Church, believes Karen may have been taken to the Republic before her mother had consented to it.

"If you are taking a baby from one country basically to another country, I would call it trafficking," she said.

"If you then are giving that child or allowing that child to be adopted, how do we deal with that?"

The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd said they are cooperating with an academic research project commissioned by the Department of Health in Northern Ireland which is examining mother and baby homes here.

File On 4: The Lost Children Of Marianvale will be broadcast tonight at 8pm on BBC Radio 4

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