"I thought, 'that’s an awful thing to say to someone'" – Documentary on Ireland's illegal adoptees airs tonight
A new documentary airs on RTÉ One on Wednesday.
One year on from an initial documentary project examining the historic practice of illegal adoptions in Ireland, RTÉ is set to present new in-depth analysis on the difficult subject.
RTÉ Investigates: Ireland's Illegal Adoptions – Still Searching will reveal how many adoptees, 12 months on, continue to search for answers while struggling to discover their true identities.
The programme will also look at the treatment of illegal adoptees by State agencies that are designed to protect them, in addition to the lengths the State is going to in terms of legal action.
One such story that will be highlighted is that of Brian Webster, who lives in Tipperary.
Webster was told by TUSLA in January of 2020 that the people who had raised him were not his biological parents.
At almost 60 years of age, Webster learned he was, in fact, born to a young Irish woman three weeks earlier than the date listed on his birth certificate.
The placement was organised by the Sisters of Charity at St Patrick's Guild, in what was an illegal adoption occurring at a time when sending babies abroad for adoption had long been outlawed.
Following the broadcast of the initial RTÉ Investigates documentary last March, there was no further progress with TUSLA, but just weeks after the programme, Webster received worrying news that his birth mother was in hospital.
"That left me wondering – did she have Covid, did she have a broken leg?" he says.
"It’s really difficult to explain because you don’t know who the person is, you don’t know anything about them, all you know is they gave birth to you and that’s it, that’s where it ends and of course you want to reach out to them, you’d want to meet them, you’d want to talk to them."
Clip via RTÉ
Webster's wife Eilís began to try and track down the woman in question. Though the search was ultimately narrowed, the resultant joy was sadly short-lived.
"It wasn’t good news," says Webster.
"It was that my birth mother had died and it was said that the door to me meeting her is now shut, and I thought that’s an awful thing to say to someone."
To make matters worse, Webster was too late to attend the funeral.
"The worst part of reading RIP.ie was that she was buried at 12 o’clock that day," he recalls.
"I was called two-and-a-half hours after she had been laid to rest to tell me that she was gone – she had died two days previously to that.
"So, even the opportunity of even looking in on Zoom at her funeral – that was taken away from me as well."
Webster's story is just one of many similar cases throughout Ireland.
"There needs to be some urgency about this," Professor Conor O'Mahony, the State's Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, tells the RTÉ Investigates crew.
"Many of the individuals affected are now getting older. Some of them need help.
"And already the delays which have happened over the decades and addressing this have created a situation where the opportunity for people to re-establish contact has now been taken away by the fact that people have died along the way.
"Doing nothing on illegal birth registrations is not an option for the State," O'Mahony added.
RTÉ Investigates: Ireland's Illegal Adoptions – Still Searching airs on RTÉ One and the RTÉ Player on Wednesday (16 March) at 9.35pm