LEICESTER, United Kingdom – A new documentary in Ireland has detailed a series of illegal adoptions facilitated by religious orders in the country, which involved the creation of false birth certificates.

The Wednesday edition of RTÉ Investigates documents how the former St. Patrick’s Guild Catholic Adoption Society, which was operated by the Religious Sisters of Charity, circumvented Ireland’s 1952 Adoption Act, which protected the rights of a mother to change her mind about an adoption until her baby turned 6-months-old.

The society allegedly created forged birth certificates saying the adoptees were the birth children of their adoptive parents, an action that has been illegal in Ireland since 1880.

These children now have no way of discovering who their birth parents really are and cannot even be certain of their actual date of birth.

The evidence came to light after the adoption files from the St. Patrick’s Guild were transferred to Ireland’s child and family agency, and officials discovered that at least 126 illegal adoptions took place.

Those adopted illegally were informed, many of them discovering for the first time they were adopted.

“What was done to these people was wrong at the time. It was unlawful at the time – and that can’t be put right. But we need to ask what can we do now and one thing we can do now is to try to give them the information they need to fill in the blanks as best they can,” said Conor O’Mahony, Ireland’s Special Rapporteur on Child Protection.

“We need to enact comprehensive adoption-tracing legislation which would give adopted persons an unconditional right to access their birth and adoption records and we need to do that without any further delay,” he told RTÉ Investigates.

“Legislation on this topic was first announced by Government back as far as 2001 and there’s been subsequent versions of that legislation in 2015 and again in 2019 and we still haven’t seen that legislation come into effect so that really needs to happen and it needs to happen without any further delays in that process,” O’Mahony added.

Ireland’s Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman told RTÉ Investigates that legislation allowing access to birth information will be prepared in the next few weeks.

According to the news website Extra.ie, Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin told a meeting of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party that those affected will be “helped and supported” and that legislation to this effect will be “a priority.”

“What happened was wrong, plain and simple, and completely unacceptable, and an enormous problem has been placed on people as a result of this illegality,” Martin said.

“The people involved have been approached by [Ireland’s child and family agency] and essentially told you’re not who you thought you were, or your parents are not who you thought they were, and you don’t know who you are now, and you can’t have access to the most basic of information that any human being should have access to,” the prime minister added, according to Extra.ie.

RTÉ Investigates also showed a letter from the St. Patrick’s Guild demanding money from a birth mother for the maintenance of a child that had already been adopted at just four days old.

“The balance due is £82-10s [$3,850 in today’s money] … If you do not send, my collector will call to see you. She would prefer not to have to do this as it might be embarrassing for you and we want to safeguard your reputation. We have not failed you; you have failed us,“ the letter said.

According to Irish law at the time, it was illegal for an adoption agency to charge for anything other than the maintenance of a child in the agency’s current care – so a demand for money after a child had been adopted was illegal.

The RTÉ Investigates exposé also showed that Eamonn de Valera, Jr., the son of the former Irish president, created fake paper trails – including arranging prenatal exams for non-pregnant women – to allow couples to claim that the adopted children had been born to them.

One of those children was Brenda Lynch, who now has no way of knowing who her her birth parents actually are.

“No one is above the law, who does this person think that he is?” Lynch told RTÉ Investigates.

“That he can just decide that oh yeah here is a baby, we will take her … and give her to a good family, middle class. It is incredible.”

Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome