At the High Court in Belfast the first of what is predicted to be a number of compensation claims in relation to illegal adoptions arranged by the Catholic Church of children born in the Republic of Ireland, has been submitted.  

At present there are 148 believed to have been impacted in adoption incidents like this, a number has grown from 126 when it was first announced by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar 20 months in May 2018. At the time the Taoiseach told the Dáil that the disclosures of the adoptions were just “another chapter from the very dark history of our country” which had “robbed children – our fellow citizens – of their identity”

The plaintiff in this particular case is well known Belfast actor Patrick FitzSymons. Now 57, FitzSymons is an actor who played the character Reginald Lannister in Game of Thrones and also produced the biographical TV movie of Irish comedian Dave Allen, Dave Allen at Peace. He was born to an unmarried couple in Co Clare during the 1960s. His parents, trying to avoid the social stigma of having a child out of wedlock permitted the Catholic church agency St Patrick’s Guild to have him adopted to a married couple in Co Antrim. 

Mr FitzSymons said that his adoptive parents, who have both passed away had “loved me and provided for me as best they could’ and that his “natural parents, my birth mother in particular, had endured the institutional shaming and disapproval of Ireland at that time to do what she thought to be the right thing”.

During summer 2018, Mr FitzSymons was told by Tusla his births was mistakenly registered between 1946 and 1969 by the Dublin-based St Patrick’s Guild. He has previously talked about the emotional impact both sets of parents endured due to the incident and his initial reluctance to initiate the case.

He said: “When I was contacted by Tusla last summer and told that I was one of the 126 it was clear to me, given the turmoil I and my family had endured over the past two decades, that I should stand up and be counted. But still I agonised about the possible consequences.

“My adoptive parents – both now dead – had loved me and provided for me as best they could. Would I want anything that might reflect badly on them? Of course not. My natural parents – my birth mother in particular – had endured the institutional shaming and disapproval of Ireland at that time to do what she thought to be the right thing.”

He also spoke about how he discovered that he was adopted saying “My adopted mother and I were forever falling out, partly about religion. She possibly felt she had not properly fulfilled her promise to bring me up as a Catholic – because that had been the only stipulation. Rather cryptically, in a letter, I had written something along the lines ‘if you want to talk to kids you should talk to people who have had kids of their own’. I can’t remember what the context of that was. But one evening I was just having a regular visit with her and she asked if I had ever had the intuition that I was adopted. I just said ‘no’ and she said: ‘There’s something I need to tell you’. Well, the bottom fell out of my world. She said it was only fair that I did know. Perhaps she had been planning to tell me anyway.”

The legal firm representing Mr FitzSymon’s case, Coleman Legal Partners, are managing 25 similar cases, at present, and are expecting that number to grow even more. Mr FitzSymons solicitor, Norman Spicer of Coleman Legal Partners. said that the firm is handling a number of cases like this but admitted that there are no plans to apply for a “class action” order because of the complexity of the individual cases.

He said: “There is no provision for the North American-style of ‘class action’ under Irish law. However, a court has discretion to grant an order which may mirror to some extent the other system for a specific case or set of cases. We do not envisage making such an application. These are complex cases involving many different defendants, as a result it is difficult to say how long these cases will take as it depends on all of the parties involved and how quickly responses, replies and motions, and so on, can be turned around. Three years (the estimated time the case will take to process) would not be an unreasonable time frame but this is dependent upon many factors and is really only a ‘ballpark’ estimate.”