Prime Minister Leo Varadkar issued an official apology Wednesday on behalf of his country for "another dark chapter" in Ireland's history. The New York Times reports at least 126 children adopted there between 1946 and 1969 were told their adoptive parents were their birth parents, complete with altered birth certificates—and some speculate that number is just the start. In fact, hundreds or even thousands more may have been illegally adopted out, per the CEO of an Irish children's charity, all part of the nation's longtime stigma against unwed mothers. "This was a crime against these people and their mothers—mothers who were told that their babies had died," Barnardo's head Fergus Finlay tells RTE, via IrishCentral.com, adding: "Some women have gone through years and years of trauma."
The St. Patrick's Guild adoption agency was the one identified as having falsified the 126 adoptions out of 13,500 it arranged over that period. Many of those kids, now mostly senior citizens, still don't know they're adopted; Varadkar says the government is trying to contact them all. "What was done robbed children ... of their identity," he said. "It was [a] historic wrong." The 126 confirmed false adoptions were unearthed by the government's Tusla child protection agency. St. Patrick's Guild was just one of seven large adoption agencies in Ireland during that time, with many smaller ones as well, and some (if not all) of them may have practiced similar deception; Finlay believes another 150,000 adoptions should be reviewed. "I suspect every single adoption agency in the country is involved," Finlay says. (Read more Ireland stories.)