I want to stress from the outset of this piece that adoption has absolutely nothing to do with the Marriage Equality referendum.  I am co-founder of Adoption Rights Alliance, we have issued a statement on our position here and are calling unequivocally for a Yes vote.

I don’t normally engage on social media with individuals such as those campaigning on the No side, because I believe it is a waste of time.  However, when I saw that Ben Conroy from the Iona Institute was curating the @Ireland Twitter account for a few days (in a personal capacity, as I understand it), I decided to approach him in the hope of doing my bit as an adoption activist to draw out some of the red herrings that have been put forward in the name of adopted people over the past weeks and months.

My initial attempts to get Ben to engage were unsuccessful, however after much (much) ado, I was ultimately asked to condense the issue down to a single question, which I did.  Originally I asked this question:


However, as Ben is on the @Ireland account in a personal capacity and could not answer for the Iona Institute, ultimately I asked this one:


This evening, Ben has supplied his answer here.

The following is my response, not only to Ben, but to all those who have campaigned on the No side of this referendum.

Again, I stress that adoption is not related to the referendum, and I hope that what I have to say will be of some help in counteracting the lies of the No campaign.

I have been in adoption activism a long time, as have my Adoption Rights Alliance colleagues.  We have walked a lonely road for years, with just a handful of us trying to campaign on a massive area that covers past, present and future.  Over sixty years after the legalisation of adoption, adopted people are still treated as second class citizens in this country, with no automatic access to our birth certificates and files.  We simply have not featured on the priority list, even though there are an estimated 100,000 of us.

October 2003 was an important time for us, when we participated in the Adoption Legislation Consultation.  Those of us who took part can empathise with Yes campaign canvassers, as we had to lay our issues bare in front of others in an effort to get them to understand what it’s like to live with the impact of closed, secret adoption.  It was utterly exhausting and no citizen should have to go through that kind of ordeal in order to attain a basic human right.

The Iona Institute did not exist in 2003, so it is fair enough that it was not represented at the Consultation.  However, the Iona Institute was alive and well while the 2009 Adoption Bill (which would become the Adoption Act 2010) was making its way through the Oireachtas.  This piece of legislation is of huge importance because its enactment ratified the Hague Convention for the Protection of Children in Intercountry Adoption and for the first time effected strict regulation of adoptions in Ireland.

In December 2009, Adoption Rights Alliance – along with Barnardos, the Children’s Rights Alliance, the Council of Irish Adoption Agencies and Adoption Loss Natural Parents Network of Ireland – took part in a discussion with the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children on the legislation.  The transcript is available here and notice, if you will, the absence of the Iona Institute.

So there you have it – an ‘institute’ that has distributed thousands of posters and leaflets proclaiming that ‘a mother’s love is irreplaceable’ during their campaign on the marriage referendum was not standing up and being counted at  a time when Ireland was radically changing its adoption laws.

However, the Civil Partnership Bill was going through the Oireachtas around the same time, and a quick Google search will tell you that the Iona Institute had much to say on this issue.

Priorities, priorities…

The Hague Convention regulates intercountry adoption by setting out minimum standards which attempt to ensure that adoptions are carried out in the best interests of children, and the enactment of the 2010 legislation came not a minute too soon.  In January of that same year the Irish government suspended intercountry adoptions from Vietnam because of two damning reports highlighting serious issues in that country’s adoption practices where the principles of the Convention had been flouted in favour of the demands of prospective adopters seeking ‘available’ children.  In 2005, the Iona Institute’s David Quinn did have something to say about adoption in an interview with the Sunday Business Post, during which he advocated the privatisation of adoption assessments so that the process could be sped up (thanks to my colleague Mari Steed for finding the link here). This proposal is not even remotely child-centred and very much at odds with the emotive sentiments expressed on poster after poster around the country.

So there’s that.

Back to Ben and to the crux of his argument on LGBT people adopting.  In his response to me Ben says that:

It’s pretty much universally agreed that if the referendum is passed it’ll be extremely difficult to have an adoption law that includes “being raised by a married man and woman” as part of the best interests of a child who is being adopted. I think it would be good to be able to have such a preference. I’m not opposed to LGBT adoption – I just think there should be a preference, as there is for relatives over non-relatives, all else being equal.

He goes on to say:

It’s an entirely legitimate policy aim, and I’m proud to advocate it. The idea that children benefit from having the love of a mother and father has been until recently entirely uncontroversial, and I make no apology for sticking up for that principle (I’ll explain more about this in the answer to another question).

Firstly, I’m not going to re-hash what children’s rights experts have already so eminently pointed out, that all respected, current research unequivocally states that children do just as well, regardless of whether they are raised by heterosexual or LGBT parents (see here for example).

What I can offer is an insight into adoption and what it means to be adopted.  Like it or not, adoption involves loss and even the best adoptive parents in the world cannot fix the fact that every adopted child will, on some level, be missing their natural mother.  Today, the vast majority of adoptions are from abroad and children often come from institutionalised settings and thus the issues are further magnified.  In other words, adoption isn’t ordinary parenting – it takes a hell of a lot of patience and understanding, because you are always, always dealing with a traumatised child, even if s/he doesn’t openly show it.  Often, adopted children will test their adoptive parents time and time again, not because they’re being naughty, rather it is a (subconscious) ‘test’ to see if they’re really loved.

All of the above is just a very brief insight into the world of an adopted child and not nearly enough to do it justice.  Most important in the context of this discussion are the necessary attributes for adoptive parenting and they include an abundance of love, patience and understanding.  But none of these attributes are dependent on any parent’s sexuality!  In fact, I would argue that LGBT people could possibly have increased empathy for adopted children, given that they are likely to have experienced discrimination and prejudice.

So, Ben can be as proud as he likes of his ‘legitimate policy aim’, but it has no bearing on the issues surrounding the needs of adopted children.

Furthermore, in the course of my work in adoption activism, I have had the honour of meeting and learning from countless adult adopted people.  Most adore their adoptive parents, but some have not had happy upbringings.  It’s not a popular discussion topic as the vast majority of people are only interested in the Disneyfied version of events, but the fact remains that some adopted people were placed with unsuitable parents.  The circumstances surrounding these situations are varied and too complex to get into here, but not once – never – have I met any adopted person with a difficult upbringing who cited the sexuality of their adoptive parents as a problem.

On the other hand, I have met umpteen adopted people who have been denied information from agents of the very church that now professes to defend the rights of the adopted child.  A number of examples are available here.

Let me make something absolutely clear.  The Iona Institute, Mothers and Fathers Matter and those on the No side in the Catholic church are a hindrance rather than a help to the issues faced by adopted children and adults, because they appear to be incapable of separating their so-called concerns for children from their prejudice against LGBT people.

The strategy of the No campaign has been grossly offensive to adopted people and our issues have been shamelessly hijacked to perpetuate inequality and stop LGBT people from being afforded the same rights as other citizens.  Many adopted people (including myself) also happen to be LGBT and we object in the strongest possible terms to being used as a front for grand scale, relentless homophobia.


I am not – by any stretch of the imagination – a regular blogger, but there are times when you simply have to speak up, and this is one of them. The following is written in a personal capacity.

The bastard, like the prostitute, thief, and beggar, belongs to that motley crowd of disreputable social types which society has generally resented, always endured. He is a living symbol of social irregularity, an undeniable evidence of contramoral forces; in short, a problem – a problem as old and unsolved as human existence itself.

Davis, K. (1939) ‘Illegitimacy and the Social Structure’.

American Journal of Sociology, 45(2): 215-233.

I have always thought of bastards (and I will explain my use of the term below) and lesbians/gay men as compatible brethren. Both have been despised and considered a ‘problem’ (often by the same groups of people), both are misunderstood, both experience discrimination and prejudice, not to mention the assumption of underlying deviance, and besides, for reasons as yet unknown, quite a few of us in the adoption community (myself included) also happen to be lesbian or gay.

Thankfully, it is becoming more and more unacceptable in Irish society to use words such as ‘queer’ or ‘gay’ as insults, but think about how many times you use the word ‘bastard’ as a derogatory term? And so, taking a leaf out of the LGBT book, many of us in the adoption community have reclaimed the word and proudly call ourselves ‘bastards’. Indeed, the name of the US adoption rights organisation ‘Bastard Nation’ is inspired by that of the gay rights group ‘Queer Nation’.

I grew up in an Ireland where getting pregnant outside of marriage was considered one of the worst sins imaginable. Much of the focus has (rightly) been on the women and girls who gave birth outside of marriage and I would argue that they have yet to have their day in court, for they endured their suffering without so much as an iota of support or compassion. But what about those of us who were adopted and forced to live our lives not knowing who we were? We grew up listening to contradictory messages about what and who we are – on the one hand, many of us were keenly aware that we were the products of something bad and yet on the other we were supposedly ‘chosen’ or ‘special’ and worst of all, the world tells us we should be ‘grateful’ for being adopted. As Rev Keith C. Griffith put it: ‘Adoption Loss is the only trauma in the world where the victims are expected by the whole of society to be grateful’.

As I listened to Panti Bliss’s Noble Call at the Abbey, I was struck by another similarity between the adoption and LGBT communities. I am referring in particular to this part of her speech:

Have any of you ever come home in the evening and turned on the television and there is a panel of people – nice people, respectable people, smart people, the kind of people who make good neighbourly neighbours and write for newspapers. And they are having a reasoned debate about you. About what kind of a person you are, about whether you are capable of being a good parent, about whether you want to destroy marriage, about whether you are safe around children, about whether God herself thinks you are an abomination, about whether in fact you are “intrinsically disordered”. And even the nice TV presenter lady who you feel like you know thinks it’s perfectly ok that they are all having this reasonable debate about who you are and what rights you “deserve”.

And that feels oppressive.

Adopted people know exactly what that feels like, to have ‘respectable people’ debate about whether you should have the right to know who you are or whether your mother needs to be protected from you. And yes, it does feel oppressive. So, hold that thought for a moment if you will.

Most adopted people are under no illusions as to why they were separated from their natural mothers. In Catholic Ireland, the ‘unmarried mother’ was scorned and forced into secrecy and shame, and for most there was no hope of keeping the baby, there was no choice full stop. And let’s be clear about this – no man was ever incarcerated in a Magdalene Laundry or Mother and Baby Home. Men did not sign any adoption papers. This was and still is a women’s issue. More specifically, it is about the control of women and their right to make their own choices. Because of the brave souls who fought through the decades for women’s rights, domestic adoption in Ireland is almost a thing of the past. But Ireland continues to fail women in crisis pregnancy by denying them their choices.

I think I am safe to say without fear of litigation that the Iona Institute is against abortion. I think it’s also safe to say that the Iona Institute would say that it is against abortion because it wants to ‘protect’ the unborn child. As a product of crisis pregnancy, I am that child, and I’ve got to tell you Iona, I’m not feeling the love. Nobody of your kind ever came knocking on my door to ask if I was happy to be adopted, if I was safe, if I missed my mother or indeed, if I had issues with identity formation. It would appear that once a child is adopted into a Catholic, heterosexual family, that is where the ‘pro-life’ concerns end.

Over the past few years in Ireland there have been a lot of discussions about ‘the child’- what is best for ‘the child’, who is suitable to raise ‘the child’, and of course ‘the unborn child’. And yet when the issue is debated, instead of an adopted person or someone who has grown up in a single-parent family, the Iona Institute (or others of a similar disposition) has appeared on countless discussion panels as the so-called voice of the child. The problem is of course that during discussions about assisted human reproduction and adoption (and ‘the child’), the presence of these ‘respectable people’ on a panel invariably results in the real issue (i.e. children’s rights) being completely missed.

We have a long way to go in educating Irish society about the impact of closed secret adoption and anonymous egg, sperm and embryo donations. In the adoption community we are deeply concerned that Ireland is repeating history and much work needs to be done to recalibrate both assisted human reproduction and adoption towards child-centred practices. But homophobia has no place in these discussions. The rupturing of a child’s identity occurs because of bad legislation and bad social policy, not because of same-sex parenting. It is all too convenient for some to forget that straight couples are adoptive parents too and that they use assisted human reproduction, often with devastating results when the needs of adults are placed before those of children.

And that brings me to what has prompted my writing of this piece. Yesterday I read a piece in the Irish Catholic by Breda O’Brien in which (amongst other things) she discussed same-sex marriage and adoption. Ms O’Brien wondered had we learned anything from our past, at which point she went on to cite adopted people and Philomena Lee as examples. Ms O’Brien is at perfect liberty to hold whatever views she wishes, however antiquated they may be; but it is utterly disingenuous for a member of a conservative Catholic think tank to use the historical transgressions of Catholic Ireland to bolster present day prejudices against lesbians and gay men. And, citing Philomena Lee in this context is particularly reprehensible, especially given that her son Anthony/Michael was gay.

So, Iona, it is a free country and you are welcome to hold whatever opinions you like and insert yourself as stakeholders in matters that don’t concern you. But I am that child and you do not speak for me and this bastard will call you out every time you use adopted people’s issues to encourage discrimination and prejudice against the LGBT community.

Sunday Times Letter

March 15, 2009

This letter, written by me, appeared in today’s (March 15th 09) Sunday Times:


I wish to correct an error in Mark Tighe’s Sunday Times (Irish Edition) article dated March 7th 2009 concerning Vietnamese adoptions, in which he referred to “The Hague convention on child abduction”. The convention’s proper title is in fact “The Hague Convention for the Protection of Children in Intercountry Adoption”.

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This letter was written by me and published (under the heading Poor Adoption Law) in the Sunday Independent on February 15th 2009


As one of the people involved in bringing Tristan Dowse’s case to the attention of the media, I read Ciara Dwyer’s piece entitled “The curious case of Tristan Dowse” in the Sunday Independent of 8th February 2009 with mixed emotions because, while I was happy to read that Tristan has adjusted well, I couldn’t help but feel sad that his case was being labelled as a “curiosity”.

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This letter was written by me and published in the Irish Examiner on Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Adopted Irish people still getting raw deal

THE Adoption Bill 2009 ratifying the Hague Convention for the Protection of Children in Intercountry Adoption will go a long way towards ensuring that such adoptions in Ireland are ethical and above
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Letter written by me, published in the Irish Independent on Thursday November 20th 2008
Tactless words on suicide issue

The stigma surrounding mental illness in Ireland will be a long time going away if Kevin Myers’ article (Irish Independent, November 18) is anything to go by.
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