How two Irish sisters beat a Kafkaesque system

by Reuters
Thursday, 27 February 2014 15:15 GMT

By Carmel Crimmins

DUBLIN, Feb 27 (Reuters) - When she was 12, Ena Ronayne made a call from a public telephone box to the Cork maternity hospital where she thought she had been born. It was the wrong place.

About an hour's drive away, in the town of Clonmel, her younger sister, Edel, was peppering her adopted mother with questions about her biological family.

Neither knew the other existed. It would be 35 years before they met.

With no legislation to support their right to birth records, adopted people in Ireland who try to find their biological families enter a Kafkaesque tangle of waiting lists that stretch out for years, bureaucratic disarray, and official secrecy.

Ronayne knew her birth mother's name but social workers wasted decades searching for her at an old address. Her younger sister was luckier: She knew roughly where their mother lived. The nuns who had arranged her adoption had told her.

"There are no hard and fast rules in the system and that is the problem. It depends on who you get on the other end of the phone, who you might know," said Edel, now a mother of four.

Before she learned that she had a sister, Ena discovered she had a brother. She learned of his existence in 2000, after an eight-year fight for her records which officials had told her had been destroyed in a fire. A nun who dealt with her case knew in 1986 that Ena's mother had a baby boy four years before her, but had said nothing.

Ena's efforts to contact her brother through multiple adoption agencies were unsuccessful. He had moved to Los Angeles and was stabbed to death there in 2010, not knowing he had two sisters.

In late 2011, when Ena was finally told that she had a sister, she tried in vain to learn more.

In March 2012, out of the blue, she got a call from a social worker to say her sister was trying to reach her and that their birth mother, Mary, whom she had never managed to track down, was seriously ill.

"Drip-fed information throughout all of those decades and then a phone call to say your sister wants to get in contact with you and your mother is still alive and dying," said Ena, a horticulturist, of the call.

The breakthrough only happened because Edel, a midwife, thought to ask for medical information on her mother, found she had a sister and brother, and insisted the social worker tell her their names.

"I kept pushing her and pushing her and pushing her," she said. "She felt for me and she relented. But it's no way to run a system is it?" (Reporting by Carmel Crimmins; Edited by Sara Ledwith)

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