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SPECIAL INVESTIGATION: Concern over possible falsification of Bessborough death records raised in 2012

Concerns that death records were falsified in Bessborough Mother and Baby Home so children could “be brokered in clandestine adoption arrangements” at home and abroad were raised in an internal HSE report in 2012.

The unpublished report highlighted the “wholly epidemic” infant deaths rates at the Cork home and said: “The question whether indeed all of these children actually died while in Bessboro or whether they were brokered into clandestine adoption arrangements, both foreign and domestic, has dire implications for the Church and State and not least for the children and families themselves.”

The report, compiled as part of the HSE’s examination of the State’s role in the Magdalene Laundries as part of the McAleese inquiry, lifts the lid on the culture of cruelty at the home and found the State effectively washed its hands of the women and children.

It reveals the institution, run by the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, as a place where:

 

  • Women and babies were considered “little more than a commodity for trade amongst religious orders”;
  • “Institutionalisation and human trafficking” took place among various religious orders and State-funded institutions;
  • Women were provided with “little more than the basic care and provision afforded to that of any individual convicted of crimes against the State”;
  • Infant death rates were “wholly epidemic” and a “cause for serious consternation”;
  • The order had a “preoccupation with materialism, wealth and social status”;
  • A “cold and lonely environment” prevailed, “characterised by harrowing social, emotional and physical isolation and institutionalisation”.

The study, previously released under freedom of information, revealed that from 1934 until 1953 (the only years for which deaths were recorded at Bessborough) 478 children died — a death rate of almost one infant a fortnight for nearly two decades.

The report said it was “curious” that there were no death records for any year following 1953 and, as a result, “one cannot be certain as to the full scope of infant deaths”.

However, in a disturbing revelation, the study raises concerns that the deaths of children may have been falsified so they could be “brokered” for adoption both at home and abroad.

“Simply put, the State had a social problem that it desperately needed to make go away, while the Church had the power and control to turn the ‘problem’ of illegitimacy into a lucrative money-making enterprise,” notes the report.

It notes that, even though detailed financial records and accounts were not given to the HSE by the order, the archives reveal the order earned money from the women for the care of their children and also from the adoptive parents who took them.

One record noted that, in the period from 1929 to 1940, “adoptive parents were charged a sum ranging between £50-60, payable on a monthly payment scheme in exchange for their adopted child”. The report said “further investigation into these practices is warranted”.

The Government did not launch an inquiry into mother and baby homes for almost another two years after the report was compiled in 2012.

In a statement, the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary said it had “no knowledge of any such report”.

“We are in contact with the commission in regard to the Mother and Baby Homes Inquiry, which will be having our full co-operation. For the present, as is appropriate, we will be dealing directly with the commission on all related matters,” said the order.

The Department of Children and Youth Affairs said none of the concerns raised were brought to the attention of the then minister Frances Fitzgerald at the time, but were discussed in the context of McAleese Inquiry under the auspices of the Department of Justice.

It said the minister became involved in the issue of mother-and-baby homes once material around infant deaths in Tuam became public in mid-2014.

“The minister was subsequently tasked by Government with leading its response to these important matters and the Inter Departmental ReviewGroup was set up to assist deliberations on the terms of reference of a Commission of Investigation,” said a statement.

A request for comment from Tusla was not responded to at the time of going to print.

http://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/special-investigation-bessborough-death-record-concerns-were-raised-in-2012-334106.html

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Grave situation: Deaths at Bessborough don’t add up

Religious order reported to the State that 353 babies died in Bessborough, but its own register showed 80 fewer deaths. A report found a system of ‘human trafficking’ in which ‘women and babies were considered little more than a commodity for trade’. Conall Ó Fatharta reports

THE revelation that the order which operated the Bessborough Mother and Baby home was reporting higher numbers of infant deaths to the State than it recorded in its own death register raises some serious questions

So far, the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary have declined to offer any answers. The order says it will only deal with the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes. It can only be hoped that Judge Yvonne Murphy can get some answers. It is imperative she does.

One question is straightforward: Why was the order informing the State of higher numbers of infant deaths in Bessborough than it was recording in its own death register?

The figures are worth repeating. An inspection report from Department of Local Government and Public Health (DLGPH) by inspector Alice Litster in late 1944 revealed that between March 31, 1938, and December 5, 1944, a total of 353 infants died in Bessborough (out of 610 births).

Ms Litster stated that the figures for 1939 to 1941 “were furnished by the superioress”, while those for 1943 and 1944 had been “checked and verified and their accuracy can be vouched for”.

However, the order’s own death register — supplied by the Registrar General for Ireland “for the purpose of facilitating the accurate registration of deaths” in Bessborough — for the exact same time period, records just 273 deaths. That is a discrepancy of 80 deaths.

Take the figures for 1939 to 1941: For the year ended March 31, 1939, the DLGPH inspector was told 38 infants died. This is also what is reported in the death register.

However, for the following two years, the order informed Litster of higher numbers of deaths. For example, for 1940, Ms Litster was told 17 children died. The register records only eight. Similarly, for 1941, the DLGPH was told 38 children died, whereas the register records just 22.

For every other year cited by Ms Litster, the figures given to the DLGPH are significantly higher than what is recorded in the order’s own death register. This is particularly the case for year ending March 31, 1943, and 1944. In these years, Litster reports that 70 and 102 infants died, respectively. In the latter figure, this amounted to a death rate of 82% in that year.

However, again, these figures differ greatly to the order’s death register, which records 55 and 76 infant deaths in these years. For 1944, this brings the death rate from 82% down to 62%.

This 82% death rate had caused such concern at Government levels that it was in regular contact with the head of Bessborough on the issue. So, why was the order content for a DLGPH report to publish higher numbers of deaths than it was recording itself?

Perhaps there is another death register for the same period where the order logged the other deaths.

However, the order is on the record that the register is the only one in existence. It confirmed this to Tusla via its solicitors in January of this year, when it stated that “all records” it held were transferred to the HSE in 2011 and that it “does not hold any other death register”.

Given that Bessborough took in both public and private patients, perhaps the death register only recorded public patients. This appears unlikely, for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the figure of 38 infant deaths for 1939 provided to Ms Litster by the order matches the figure in the death register. It would therefore seem that the register was the source for the figures she received from the superioress. However, they do not match for any other year.

Secondly, Litster points out that the 102 deaths recorded in 1944 include 35 deaths of children from private patients. The death register records 76 deaths in this period. Adding the 35 private deaths to this figure comes to 111. In short, it doesn’t explain the discrepancy in any way.

The Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary is the only body that can provide an answer to all of this. It declined to answer a series of queries posed by this newspaper, stating it was dealing directly with the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes on all such and related matters.

It has stated in the past that it reported all deaths to the appropriate authorities at the time.

The question then is what is the correct number of deaths for this period? Where are the other 80 children listed as having died at Bessborough in the DLGPH report? Why were their deaths not recorded in the order’s death register? These are questions which must be answered, whether by the order or by the commission.

THE story of Ireland’s mother and baby homes is one that has taken decades to reveal. It is still not fully clear. The media has outlined the experiences of women who remain scarred by their experiences in these institutions and haunted by the fate of the children they lost, either through adoption or death.

Yet, despite all of these events happening decades ago, a shroud of secrecy continues to hang over the entire period. Firstly, we heard from the women, then we heard about deaths, then we had Tuam.

Now, we have the spectre that the number of infant deaths reported to the State at one of the country’s largest mother and baby homes are significantly higher than what the order recorded in its own records.

It is worth noting that this latest revelation comes just five months after this newspaper revealed an unpublished internal 2012 HSE report which, based on an examination of the Bessborough records, expressed concerns that death records were falsified in Bessborough, so children could “be brokered in clandestine adoption arrangements”.

Prepared as part of the HSE’s examination of the State health authorities’ interaction with the Magdalene Laundries for the McAleese Committee, it highlighted the “wholly epidemic” infant death rates at the home as revealed in the death register and added: “The question whether indeed all of these children actually died while in Bessboro or whether they were brokered into clandestine adoption arrangements, both foreign and domestic, has dire implications for the Church and State and not least for the children and families themselves.”

Those words take on a whole new significance in light of the discrepancy in the number of deaths recorded by the order compared to the State.

Rumours of such a system have abounded in Ireland for years. Mothers have spoken of being told their child had died, but having never seen the body.

The HSE report into Bessborough describes the number of recorded deaths as “wholly epidemic”, “shocking” and a “cause for serious consternation”.

Despite this, it went ignored. When it was revealed by the Irish Examiner earlier this summer, the reaction of the Government was to deny any knowledge of it, then admit that two departments — the Department of Health and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA) — had seen it, before dismissing its contents as “conjecture”.

New material released under FOI reveals that not only was the report seen by two departments, its contents compelled Dr Declan McKeown — consultant public health physician and medical epidemiologist — of the Medical Intelligence Unit in the HSE to write to principal officer at the DCYA and member of the McAleese Committee Denis O’Sullivan on November 1, 2012, to warn that “adoption, birth and registration and the recording of infant mortality” were issues that may require “deeper investigation”.

Clearly, senior medical professionals within the HSE were telling DCYA officials that the issue of how deaths were recorded needed to be investigated, not to mention how adoptions were contracted and how births were registered. Yet, it took almost another two years and worldwide headlines about a mass grave in Tuam before the Government felt compelled to act and order a State inquiry.

If any action had been taken on the contents of the HSE report or on the words of Dr McKeown, the discrepancy in the number of deaths contained in the register versus what was reported to the State could have been found years ago.

Apart from uncovering a death rate higher than that found in Tuam two years later, the Bessborough report outlined a system of “institutionalisation and human trafficking”, in which “women and babies were considered little more than a commodity for trade amongst religious orders”, in an institution where women were provided with little more than the care and provision given to someone convicted of a crime against the State.

It revealed evidence from an admission book from 1929-1940 that adoptive parents were charged a sum ranging from £50 to £60, payable on a monthly scheme in exchange for their child, before advising that “further investigation into these practices is warranted”.

While no specific criteria for assessing adoptive parents could be found, minutes from meetings of the Sacred Heart Adoption Society’s board of management suggested prospective adoptive parents were assessed “on the basis of their earnings, the size and condition of their home, and their social status within the community (not to mention the fundamental expectation that couples were practising Catholics)”.

However, despite all of this, the HSE report on Bessborough was not included in the final HSE submission to the McAleese Committee. While included in various earlier drafts, Denis O’Sullivan emailed Gordon Jeyes on November 7, 2012, to advise that any issues around mother and baby homes were outside the remit of the McAleese Committee

“Material included beyond that is beyond the scope of our work — eg, the scope does not extend to an examination of other places of refuge eg mother and baby homes, other than in the context of referrals from Magdalene laundries.

“If there are separate and validated findings of concern emerging from such additional research, obviously they should be communicated by HSE and through a separate process.”

The previous month, Nuala Ní Mhuircheartaigh of the McAleese Committee had emailed then HSE Assistant National Director of Child and Family Services Phil Garland acknowledging the Bessborough report, but stating it was “heavily focused on broad narrative and context rather than fact.”

However, it wasn’t just Bessborough that was on the radar at this point. Serious concerns were also being reported about Tuam Mother and Baby Home — again almost two years before it made headlines around the world.

In June, the Irish Examiner revealed that senior HSE officials expressed concern that up to 1,000 children may have been “trafficked” to the US from the Tuam Home in “a scandal that dwarfs other, more recent issues with the Church and State”. The revelations were contained in an internal note of a teleconference in October 2012 with Phil Garland and then head of the Medical Intelligence Unit, Davida De La Harpe.

THE note relays the concerns raised by the principal social worker for adoption in HSE West, who had found “a large archive of photographs, documentation and correspondence relating to children sent for adoption to the USA” and “documentation in relation to discharges and admissions to psychiatric institutions in the Western area”.

It notes there were letters from the Tuam Mother and Baby Home to parents asking for money for the upkeep of their children and says that the duration of stay for children may have been prolonged by the order for financial reasons.

It also uncovered letters to parents asking for money for the upkeep of some children that had already been discharged or had died. The social worker had compiled a list of “up to 1,000 names”, but said it was “not clear yet whether all of these relate to the ongoing examination of the Magdalene system, or whether they relate to the adoption of children by parents, possibly in the USA”.

At that point, the social worker was assembling a filing system “to enable her to link names to letters and to payments”.

“This may prove to be a scandal that dwarfs other, more recent issues with the Church and State, because of the very emotive sensitivities around adoption of babies, with or without the will of the mother.

“A concern is that, if there is evidence of trafficking babies, that it must have been facilitated by doctors, social workers etc, and a number of these health professionals may still be working in the system.”

The note ends with a recommendation that, due to the gravity of what was being found in relation to Tuam, an “early warning” letter be written for the attention of the national director of the HSE’s Quality and Patient Safety Division, Philip Crowley, suggesting “that this goes all the way up to the minister”.

“It is more important to send this up to the minister as soon as possible: with a view to an inter-departmental committee and a fully fledged, fully resourced forensic investigation and State inquiry,” concludes the note.

It’s unclear what, if any action, was taken on foot of this dire warning from the HSE. What is clear is that since 2012, the Government has been advised of serious concerns with both Bessborough and Tuam Mother and Baby Homes.

It was specifically told that the number of deaths recorded were “a cause for serious consternation” and that the issue of how these deaths were recorded needed to be investigated.

It was advised that what was being found in relation to Tuam warranted a full State inquiry. Now, we know that there are large discrepancies in the deaths reported to the State versus those recorded by a religious order.

We now have a State inquiry. Let’s hope it can get to the bottom of why the figures don’t add up.

http://www.irishexaminer.com/viewpoints/analysis/grave-situation-deaths-at-bessborough-dont-add-up-363812.html

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Order reported 80 more infant deaths to State than were on death register

The religious order that ran the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home reported significantly higher numbers of infant deaths to state inspectors than it recorded privately.

An Irish Examiner investigation can reveal that between March 31, 1939, and December 5, 1944, Department of Local Government and Public Health (DLGPH) inspector Alice Litster was informed that 353 infant deaths occurred at the institution. The figures are contained in a inspection report from 1944 obtained by this newspaper. However, the Bessborough Death Register, released under Freedom of Information, reveals the nuns recorded just 273 infant deaths in this period — a discrepancy of 80.

A year-by-year comparison of the records reveals that, in all but one year, the State was told that a higher number of children were dying in Bessborough than the nuns recorded privately.

In her report, Ms Litster stated the figures for 1939 to 1941 “were furnished by the Superioress” while those for 1943 and 1944 had been “checked and verified and their accuracy can be vouched for”. The DLGPH report reveals the following number of infant deaths for each year ended March 31:

  • 1939 — 38 deaths
  • 1940 — 17 deaths
  • 1941 — 38 deaths
  • 1942 — 47 deaths
  • 1943 — 70 deaths
  • 1944 — 102 deaths
  • April 1, 1944 to December 5, 1944 — 41 deaths

The numbers recorded in the Bessborough Death Register for the same dates are as follows:

  • 1939 — 38 deaths
  • 1940 — 8 deaths
  • 1941 — 22 deaths
  • 1942 — 43 deaths
  • 1943 — 55 deaths
  • 1944 — 76 deaths
  • April 1, 1944 to December 5, 1944 — 31 deaths

The order confirmed to Tusla via its solicitors this year that the death register was the only one in existence and it “does not hold any other death register”.

The discrepancy in the recording of deaths comes just months after the Irish Examiner revealed that an unpublished 2012 internal HSE report raised concerns that death records were falsified in Bessborough Mother and Baby Home so children could “be brokered in clandestine adoption arrangements” at home and abroad. The report highlighted “epidemic” infant deaths rates at the home and said: “The question whether indeed all of these children actually died while in Bessboro or whether they were brokered into clandestine adoption arrangements, both foreign and domestic, has dire implications for the Church and State and not least for the children and families themselves.”

The Irish Examiner asked the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary for an explanation for the discrepancy. In a statement, it said it was dealing “directly with the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes on all such and related matters — and it would not be appropriate to enter into communication, other than with the commission at this time”.

 

http://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/bessborough-mother-and-baby-home-order-reported-80-more-infant-deaths-to-state-than-were-on-death-register-363863.html

Mother and Baby Homes Commission stymied by own remit

An ‘Irish Examiner’ investigation published last month revealed that three grave plots in St Finbarr’s cemetery in Cork City contain the remains of at least 21 children — some of which were buried as late as 1990. Conall Ó Fátharta argues that the failure by state agents to investigate the deaths raises wider questions about the terms of reference of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission

WHEN the Mother and Baby Homes Commission was set up in 2013, the limitations of its terms of reference were well flagged but quickly dismissed.

An Irish Examiner investigation last month revealed infant burials as late as 1990 in unmarked graves in a Cork City cemetery — and has laid these limitations bare.

As a result, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs is unable to answer a very straightforward question in relation to these burials namely: Will all of the burials discovered in the three plots be investigated?

On the face of it, it seems the obvious answer is yes. All of these children are representative of the cohort of infant deaths that the commission is charged with investigating. They were all born to unmarried mothers, were destined for adoption, died, and were buried in unmarked graves.

All but one of the deaths are in plots owned by a formerly State-accredited adoption agency — St Anne’s Adoption Society, which closed in 2003 — and by the St Patrick’s Orphanage, which operated as a nursery for St Anne’s Adoption Society. Neither institution is listed as institutions under the commission’s remit.

However, of the 21 infant deaths uncovered during the Irish Examiner investigation, just five of those children were linked to an institution which falls under the remit of the commission: Bessborough Mother and Baby Home.

While all of the deaths are indicative of the same issue, involve the same cohort of women and their children, the same lived experience, only the five that are linked to a mother and baby home which is under investigation can be examined.

The Irish Examiner raised this point with the department and asked if it would seek to extend the commission’s terms of reference to include St Anne’s Adoption Society.

In response, the department simply restated the commission’s terms of reference, pointing out that it is “required to investigate the relationships between mother and baby homes and other key institutions and organisations — these include children’s homes; orphanages; and adoption societies”.

It stated that it was, therefore, “not accurate” to suggest that St Anne’s Adoption Society was outside the terms of reference. However, in the next breath it stated that the deaths can be examined “in so far as they relate to the children who were resident for a time in the named institutions”.

As a result, the department said it had “no plans” to further extend the terms of reference of the commission.

Of course, this is the very point that was put to the department in the first place.

Outside of the five burials linked to Bessborough, none of the other children in these plots were resident in a named institution. Yet they are part of the very same system and the very same cohort of people that the commission is investigating.

However, according to the terms of reference as stated by the department, they are excluded as they do not relate to a listed mother and baby home.

The Irish Examiner then put a direct follow-up question to the Department of Children: Will the commission investigate all of the burials in the St Anne’s Adoption Society and St Patrick’s Orphanage society plots?

It responded by stating it was “not in a position to address the question raised” as it does not hold the records of the specific adoption society or burial plot.

The Irish Examiner then offered to provide the information confirming the accuracy of its investigation — and confirmed via Cork City Council, Tusla, and through accessing birth and death certificates in the General Registration Office.

The department replied within eight minutes advising to “contact the commission directly”.

The same question had already been put to the commission.

A response was issued eight days later: “The commission has advertised for people to come forward to provide any information about burials from Bessboro. We are following all possible leads. We do not announce our intentions in advance in respect of any aspect of the investigation.”

In preparation for the investigation, the Irish Examiner sought to confirm a number of details pertaining to the deaths with Tusla — which holds the records for St Anne’s Adoption Society. After examining the relevant records, it responded to these queries the following month.

However, the Tusla press office also advised that, in future, it would be “most appropriate for further queries of this nature to be submitted via the FoI process which is more suitable for queries as extensive as this”.

However, when the Irish Examiner sought the relevant material under FoI following publication, Tusla refused the requests, stating that the material predates the commencement of the FoI Act, known as the “effective date”.

This reasoning had been used to refuse a previous request by this newspaper and failed on appeal to the Office of the Information Commissioner. It had never previously been used by Tusla in relation to requests by this reporter for information on mother and baby homes.

All of this serves to highlight the wider problem with the commission and its terms of reference and goes right to the very heart of the Government’s deliberate or wilful ignorance of the issue.

This is a scandal that cannot be limited to examining simply mother and baby homes and issues “in so far as they relate to” mother and baby homes.

You cannot limit the experience of unmarried mothers and their children simply to those women who went through the mother and baby homes system.

The issue is not one of individual institutions but rather one of how unmarried women and children were treated in a sprawling network of interlinking institutions, which included registered adoption agencies, private agencies, industrial schools, maternity hospitals, and in many cases private citizens.

Under the current commission, these other institutions are only examined in terms of specific links to mother and baby homes.

That ignores a whole swathe of people and severely limits the inquiry’s capability to investigate the real elephant in the room — that of illegal adoption.

Take the case of Tressa Reeves, for example. The Irish Examiner first wrote about Tressa in 2010.

She was an English woman born to Irish parents. In 1960, at the age of 20, she became pregnant. Unmarried at the time, she was sent to Ireland to stay in a private nursing home in Dublin along with other young women in the same predicament.

She gave birth to her son in 1961 and baptised him alone in her room.

She called her son André because she felt the name would be unusual enough that she would be able to find him again. Just hours after giving birth, he was placed in the care of a religious-run adoption agency, St Patrick’s Guild in Dublin.

In its offices, she signed consent forms which, she presumed, would allow for her son to be legally adopted.

However, in 1997, more than 30 years later, she discovered the agency had allowed for her son to be illegally adopted. In short, a couple seeking a child was given the baby boy by the agency to register as if he was born to them. No formal adoption order was ever made.

It took another four years for St Patrick’s Guild to inform Tressa that André’s birth was falsely and illegally registered through the nursing home where she gave birth.

This had the effect of removing all legal evidence that Tressa ever had a child and was done without her knowledge or consent. Her son would have no idea that he was even adopted.

Even though the Adoption Act of 1952 was introduced to ensure such activity did not occur, St Patrick’s Guild

admitted to Tressa that it allowed other children to be placed in the same way, including another boy to the same family that took André.

Despite this, St Patrick’s Guild remained a fully accredited adoption agency through the Adoption Authority of Ireland until it closed in 2014.

Tressa’s experience mirrors that of thousands of other women, many of whom went through Ireland’s mother and baby homes. However, because she was not in one of these institutions, her cases and others like hers will not be examined by the commission. The illegal adoption of her son will also not be examined. Both will have to wait for their apology.

Adoption and the scale of illegal adoption is one of the key areas being examined by the commission, but only adoptions linked to the 15 listed mother and baby homes under the terms of reference for the inquiry.

Remarkably, St Patrick’s Guild, which has been making headlines in this regard for decades, is not a listed institution under the terms of reference.

Campaigners have repeatedly called for the agency to be included in the inquiry, but these calls fell on deaf ears in Government.

This was all the more remarkable a decision when the Irish Examiner revealed in April 2015, just two months after the commission was set up, that the Department of Children was informed by the Adoption Authority of Ireland in 2013 that St Patrick’s Guild had knowledge of “several hundred” illegal birth registrations.

The revelation was contained in a note of a meeting between the Adoption Authority and representatives with the department and the General Register Office. “St Patrick’s Guild is aware of several hundred illegal registrations but are waiting for people to contact them; they are not seeking the people involved,” read the note.

“Must consider how revelations of this sort would affect a family unit.”

Given that the department was to set up an inquiry tasked with examining these very arrangements two years later, it seems extraordinary that it would exclude St Patrick’s Guild.

The Government has repeatedly resisted calls by adoption campaigners for an audit of all adoption files held in the State so that the full scale of illegal adoptions and birth registrations can be uncovered.

It has said an audit of adoption records “would yield little useful information”, as there would be “little, if any, supporting information in relation to these arrangements” on the files.

However, a note of a meeting between two nuns from St Patrick’s Guild and representatives of Tusla, also obtained by the Irish Examiner, revealed that with regard to records on illegal birth registrations that the agency held, “full details are available on the majority of cases”.

And year after year, this newspaper has revealed more and more aspects of this scandal — coming directly from these files which have “little useful information” in them.

So whether it is infant deaths or illegal adoption, the mother and baby homes inquiry will only scratch the surface of a scandal.

Tusla silence on evidence of child graves

Tusla has refused to say if it informed the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of evidence it has held since 2003 that children from the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home were buried in unmarked graves as late as 1990.
Last month, an Irish Examiner investigation uncovered three grave plots in St Finbarr’s cemetery in Cork City which contain the remains of at least 21 children. Two of these graves are completely unmarked, while all three contain the remains of children from the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home.
One of the unmarked plots was purchased by the now closed St Anne’s Adoption Society. It closed in 2003 and its records have been in the possession of the HSE, and now Tusla, since that time.
The details of 16 of the 21 deaths between 1957 and 1990 were confirmed by Tusla after it accessed the records.
The Irish Examiner asked Tusla whether or not any of this material was notified to the Mother and Baby Homes Commission previously – given the material relates directly to its area of investigation.
It declined to answer the question and was unable to provide any details on whether or not it had submitted or informed the Commission of the records it has held on these deaths before the Irish Examiner raised the matter.
“Tusla – Child and Family Agency is cooperating fully with the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes,” said a statement.
The Mother and Baby Homes Commission  has been operational since 2015 and last month made a public call for information relating to the burials of a “large number” of children who died at the Bessborough Mother and Baby Homes between 1922 and 1998.
It has declined to comment on the Irish Examiner revelations.
Despite St Anne’s Adoption society having been a State accredited  adoption agency until its closure in 2003, the Adoption Authority of Ireland (AAI) said it was “not aware” had owned an unmarked grave containing remains of children who died as late as 1990.
In a statement, the chief executive of the AAI, Patricia Carey said: “We have reviewed the files the Authority holds in relation to St Anne’s Adoption Society. We are not aware of any records of purchase of plots or arrangements for burial of children.
“Having reviewed the records we hold, we have no information on the four questions raised.”
The first of the three plots discovered in the Irish Examiner investigation is unmarked and was purchased by the now closed St Anne’s Adoption Society. It contains the remains of three girls and one boy. Their deaths occurred in 1979, 1983, 1988, and 1990.
In the case of the last burial in 1990, the child’s death certificate notes that while she died in St Finbarr’s Hospital in Cork, she was in the care of the nuns at Bessborough Mother and Baby Home. A birth entry for this child in this name could not be located.
The second plot belongs to the former St Patrick’s Orphanage run by the Mercy Sisters. It operated a nursery for St Anne’s Adoption Society, where children were kept until the society could arrange for an adoption to be contracted.There are a total of 16 children buried in this plot — their deaths occurring between 1957 and 1978.
This grave is marked but just one name is recorded — that of the final child buried in the plot. The other 15 children in the plot are not named.
Two of these children died in Bessborough in 1976 and 1978, while a third was born in Bessborough but died in St Finbarr’s Hospital.
The third plot is a non-perpetuity plot — indicating it is unowned. It holds the remains of at least one child.
The death certificate states her death occurred at St Finbarr’s Hospital in 1989 but that she was in the care of “c/o Sacred Heart Hospital, Blackrock, Cork” — the address of the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home.

Bessborough children were buried in unmarked graves as late as 1990

When the Tuam babies scandal broke in 2014, it immediately became a story about Ireland’s past. Babies died and were left forgotten in a mass grave in a different Ireland, a crueler Ireland. An Ireland that we have long left behind. A memory.

However, an Irish Examiner investigation has discovered that children from the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home who died as late as 1990 are buried in unmarked graves in a Cork city cemetery.

Three grave plots in St Finbarr’s cemetery in Cork city were found to contain the remains of at least 21 children. Two of the three plots are completely unmarked. The third records just one name despite 16 children being buried in the grave.

One of the unmarked plots was purchased by the former St Anne’s Adoption Society. Founded in 1954 by the then Bishop of Cork Cornelius Lucey, it was set up with the purpose of arranging the adoption of babies born to Irish unmarried mothers in Britain. It closed in 2003 and its records transferred to the Southern Health Board. They are now in the possession of Tusla.

Buried in this plot are three girls and one boy who all died in early infancy. Their deaths occurred in 1979, 1983, 1988 and 1990. The death certificate for the last child buried in the plot in 1990 reveals that, although she died in St Finbarr’s Hospital, she was in the care of the nuns at the Bessborough Home. A birth certificate could not be located for the child in this name.

Just a stone’s throw from this plot is a marked plot belonging to the former St Patrick’s Orphanage run by the Mercy Sisters. It operated a nursery for St Anne’s Adoption Society where children were kept until the society could arrange for an adoption to be contracted.

A total of 16 children are buried in this plot from between 1957 and 1978. Although the grave is marked, it does not have a headstone and just one name — that of the final child buried in the plot — is recorded on a small brass plaque attached to a small wooden cross.

Some of the children buried in this plot were born to unmarried Irish women living in Britain. They had been sent back to be adopted by Irish families. Some of the children have been buried in the names of their putative adoptive parents.

However, three of the 16 were from the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home. Death certificates for two

infants in the plot reveal that they died at the institution, while in another case, the child is listed as having been born in Bessborough but died in St Finbarr’s Hospital.

In another part of the cemetery, another little girl in the care of Bessborough who died in 1990 is buried in another unmarked grave. This is recorded as a non-perpetuity plot indicating that it does not have an owner.

The Irish Examiner put a series of queries to Tusla in relation to these deaths.

It stated that, between 1957 and 1990, there were 16 recorded infant deaths in St Anne’s Adoption Society and St Patrick’s Orphanage. It is unclear whether or not all of the mothers of these infants were informed of their deaths.

“Records which were accessed indicate that 13 mothers were informed. This does not mean the remaining three mothers were not informed; records of notification to mothers/family members are not always held on files.

“All 16 births were officially registered. Fifteen of the 16 deaths were identified as recorded on the Register of Births, Deaths and Marriages. Records in relation to the death of one child were not located,” said a statement.

The Irish Examiner also put a series of questions to the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary which ran the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home. These centred on why it used plots owned by other agencies to bury children that were in its care and why what appears to be a pauper’s grave was used for the burial of one child.

It was also asked why headstones or some sort of marking was not provided.

In a statement, it declined to answer any of the questions but said it would deal with the Mother and Baby Homes Commission in relation to all matters.

“As indicated previously all records relating to Bessborough were passed to the HSE in 2011 and are now in the possession of Tusla. We will continue to deal directly with the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes on all such matters.” said the statement.

Similarly, the Sisters of Mercy said they would “deal directly with this Commission on all related matters”.

The Irish Examiner investigation comes as the Mother and Baby Homes Commission has made a public appeal for information on burials of the “large number” of children who died at Bessborough between 1922 and 1998.

It stated: “The Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation is tasked with investigating and reporting on the burial arrangements of children and mothers who died while resident in the institutions within our remit.

“We are currently investigating the burials of a large number of children who died while resident in Bessboro Mother and Baby Home in Cork between 1922 and 1998. The Commission would like to hear from anyone who has personal knowledge, documentation or any other information concerning the burial arrangements and/or burial places of children who died in Bessboro in this time period.”

In 2015, the Irish Examiner revealed that 470 infants and 10 women were recorded as having died at Bessborough between 1934 and 1953.

More than half of these children died between 1938 and 1944. The cause of death in around 20% of the deaths is listed as ‘marasmus’, or malnutrition.

A death register listing these details, as well as those for infant deaths at the Sean Ross Abbey Mother and Baby Home in Roscrea, was maintained by the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary and has been held by the HSE (and now Tusla) since 2011. This was two years before Catherine Corless’s research made headlines worldwide.

Indeed, further material obtained by the Irish Examiner revealed that the HSE had raised specific concerns about deaths and adoption practices at Tuam and Bessborough in 2012 — two years before the Tuam babies scandal broke.

An unpublished HSE report on Bessborough, written in 2012, spoke of “staggering” numbers of children listed as having died at the institution.

The author of the report says infant mortality at Bessborough between 1934 and 1953 was “a cause for serious consternation”.

Curiously, no deaths were recorded after 1953 but 470 children died in this 19-year period — which works out as one child every fortnight for almost two decades.

It also raised the concern that death certificates may have been falsified so children could be “brokered into clandestine adoption arrangements, both foreign and domestic” — a possibility the HSE report said had “dire implications for the Church and State“.

It is worth noting that the HSE was making such allegations after examining the institution’s own records. The report, which runs to more than 20 pages, notes that these records reveal a culture “where women and babies were considered little more than a commodity for trade amongst religious orders” and that they were “provided with little more than the basic care and provision afforded to that of any individual convicted of crimes against the State”.

The report, prepared as part of the HSE’s examination of interventions by Irish State health authorities in the Magdalene laundries, highlights the “intricacies of Bessborough’s accounting practices”, and that “detailed financial records and accounts were not handed over to the HSE by the Sacred Heart Order”.

It spoke of the nuns’ “preoccupation with material assets” and “preoccupation with materialism, wealth, and social status”, and that the women provided “a steady stream of free labour and servitude”. The nuns also received “financial remuneration” for the children of these women.

The report also revealed the existence of the death register and noted that the numbers recorded “are a cause for serious consternation“.

“As Bessborough’s death register contains less than two decades of details of Sacred Heart Adoption Society’s almost 75-year history, one cannot be certain as to the full scope of infant deaths. Curiously there are no death records for any years following 1953,” the report notes.

However, the HSE report does specifically raise the issue of what sort of conditions were present in the institution to allow such a “shocking” rate of infant death to occur and asks “what conditions precipitated the deaths of so many babies under the trust of the Sacred Heart Order”.

“While a thorough inquiry is beyond the remit of this paper, one cannot help but ponder the implications of this phenomenon,” stated the report.

In addition to revealing the number of babies that died between 1934 to 1953, the death register lists each child’s date of death, address, name, gender, age at last birthday, profession (marked as son or daughter), cause of death, and, in some cases, the duration of illness and the date when the death was registered.

The recorded causes of death in the entries include: Marasmus, gastro enteritis, congenital debility, spina bifida, congenital syphilis, pneumonia, bronchitis, congenital heart, tubercular peritiorities, cardiac shock, heat stroke, tonsillitis, and prematurity.

It concludes by the stating that the “interconnectedness between Church and State demands a much more comprehensive exposition than has been offered here.”

When the Irish Examiner first revealed details of the HSE report, the Department of Children said it had no knowledge of the report. The department later changed its position, stating that not only did it have a copy of the report, but so did the Department of Health.

In a series of responses to parliamentary questions, the then children’s minister Dr James Reilly sought to defend the lack of action on the deaths — described as “wholly epidemic”, “shocking” and a “cause for serious consternation” — by stating the 2012 report’s findings are “a matter of conjecture”. The view that the report was conjecture has been reiterated on numerous occasions since.

However, the report is based on an examination of Bessborough’s own records spanning from 1922 to 1982. These were transferred to the HSE by the order that ran the home — the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary — in 2011. The 478 deaths recorded are taken directly from the order’s own death register.

The author does state that the conclusions of the report were conjecture but this was in reference to establishing the interaction between the State, the order running Bessborough and the order operating the two Magdalene laundries in Cork.

The report is rock solid on the issue of infant death numbers and the author clearly indicates the Bessborough files reveal enough disturbing information to warrant a full forensic investigation.

None of the concerns raised in the Bessborough report are mentioned in the McAleese Report, nor does it appear any further investigation was done into the report’s findings.

The 2014 inter-departmental report on Mother and Baby Homes listed just 25 infant deaths at Bessborough, despite two government departments being in possession of the order’s own figure of 470.

Dr James Reilly defended these omissions stating the findings were not “validated” and Mother and Baby Homes were outside the remit of the McAleese Committee.

“As the issues raised in this draft report regarding death rates in Bessborough were outside the direct remit of the McAleese Committee, the HSE advised that these and other concerns would be examined separately by the HSE.

“At that time my department advised the HSE that any validated findings of concern from this separate process should be appropriately communicated by the HSE. My department is not aware of any subsequent report on this matter by the HSE,” he said.

It is worth noting the HSE also was in possession of another death register at the time — that of Bessborough’s sister Mother and Baby Home Sean Ross Abbey.

This death register lists a total of 269 deaths between 1934 and 1967. However, some of those buried in the plot on the site of the former mother and baby home are not listed on the register.

Unlike Bessborough, marasmus is far less visible with cardiac failure, prematurity and sepsis among the most common causes of death.

None of the children recorded survive until their first year of birth. A total of nine women are recorded as having died, the youngest at 17 years old.

In relation to the above material, the Order has stated it will “continue to deal directly with the Commission [of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes] on all such matters”.

It it is true that Mother and Baby Homes were outside the remit of the McAleese inquiry. However, that report points out that the inquiry uncovered material that was, “strictly speaking, outside its core remit” but chose to include it “in the public interest”.

Another Irish Examiner investigation later in 2015 found that the religious order that ran Bessborough Mother and Baby Home reported significantly higher numbers of infant deaths to state inspectors than it recorded privately.

Between March 31, 1939, and December 5, 1944, Department of Local Government and Public Health (DLGPH) inspector Alice Litster was informed that 353 infant deaths occurred at the institution. The figures are contained in an inspection report from 1944 which was obtained by this newspaper.

However, the Bessborough Death Register, released under Freedom of Information, reveals the nuns recorded just 273 infant deaths in this period — a discrepancy of 80.

A year-by-year comparison of the records reveals that, in all but one year, the State was informed of a higher number of infants dying in Bessborough than the nuns recorded privately.

In her report, Ms Litster stated the figures for 1939 to 1941 “were furnished by the Superioress” while those for 1943 and 1944 had been “checked and verified and their accuracy can be vouched for”.

The DLGPH report reveals the following number of infant deaths for each year ended March 31:

  • 1939 — 38 deaths;
  • 1940 — 17 deaths;
  • 1941 — 38 deaths;
  • 1942 — 47 deaths;
  • 1943 — 70 deaths;
  • 1944 — 102 deaths;
  • April 1, 1944 to December 5, 1944 — 41 deaths.

The numbers recorded in the Bessborough Death Register for the same dates are as follows:

  • 1939 — 38 deaths;
  • 1940 — 8 deaths;
  • 1941 — 22 deaths;
  • 1942 — 43 deaths;
  • 1943 — 55 deaths;
  • 1944 — 76 deaths;
  • April 1, 1944 to December 5, 1944 — 31 deaths.

The Order confirmed to Tusla via its solicitors in 2015 that the death register it gave to the HSE in 2011 was the only one in existence and it “does not hold any other death register”.

However, it wasn’t just issues found in the Bessborough records that were concerning staff within the HSE in 2012. Tuam — later to erupt as an international scandal in 2014 — was also raising extreme concern at senior levels.

Indeed senior management felt that material found in relation to Tuam, as part of its examination of the health authorities’ interaction with the Magdalene laundries, was so concerning that the minister needed to be informed so a full state inquiry be launched. Such an inquiry wouldn’t be launched for a further two years until the research of Catherine Corless emerged.

The concerns are contained in an internal note of a teleconference in October 2012 with the then assistant director of Children and Family Service Phil Garland and then head of the Medical Intelligence Unit Davida De La Harpe.

The note, obtained by the Irish Examiner, relays the concerns raised by the principal social worker for adoption in HSE West who had found “a large archive of photographs, documentation and correspondence relating to children sent for adoption to the USA” and “documentation in relation to discharges and admissions to psychiatric institutions in the Western area”.

It notes there were letters from the Tuam mother and baby home to parents asking for money for the upkeep of their children and notes that the duration of stay for children may have been prolonged by the order for financial reasons.

It also uncovered letters to parents asking for money for the upkeep of some children that had already been discharged or had died. The social worker, “working in her own time and on her own dollar”, had compiled a list of “up to 1,000 names”, but said it was “not clear yet whether all of these relate to the

ongoing examination of the Magdalene system, or whether they relate to the adoption of children by parents, possibly in the USA”.

At that point, the social worker was assembling a filing system “to enable her to link names to letters and to payments”.

“This may prove to be a scandal that dwarfs other, more recent issues with the Church and State, because of the very emotive sensitivities around adoption of babies, with or without the will of the mother.

“A concern is that, if there is evidence of trafficking babies, that it must have been facilitated by doctors, social workers etc, and a number of these health professionals may still be working in the system.”

The report ends with a recommendation that, due to the gravity of what was being found in relation to the Tuam home, an “early warning” letter be written for the attention of the national director of the HSE’s Quality and Patient Safety Division, Philip Crowley, suggesting “that this goes all the way up to the minister”.

“It is more important to send this up to the minister as soon as possible: with a view to an inter-departmental committee and a fully fledged, fully resourced forensic investigation and state inquiry,” concludes the note.

The Department of Children has said none of the concerns raised were brought to the attention of the minister at the time, but were discussed in the context of the McAleese inquiry under the auspices of the Department of Justice.

It stated that the minister became involved in the issue once material around infant deaths in Tuam became public in mid-2014.

Material through FOI also revealed that children as young as 12 were pregnant in Bessborough Mother and Baby Home into the 1980s. Given the age of the girls, they were the victims of rape.

Details from maternity registers reveal that between 1954 and 1987, very young girls were pregnant in the institution.

The youngest child in the registers dates from 1968. The girl is listed as being just 12 and had been transferred from Bessborough to St Finbarr’s Hospital in Cork, where her child had been stillborn in January 1968, as a result of “ante-partum haemorrhage”.

However, the presence of children in Bessborough pregnant as a result of rape continued into the 1980s. For example, Maternity Record Book 40 lists a girl of 14 whose child was stillborn in 1982. The record simply states the child “premature 33wks, gasped and died”.

In another case from 1963, a 13-year-old “private patient” gave birth to a stillborn boy; cause of death was listed as: “baby very poor at birth, cerebral haemorrhage”.

However, Tusla noted that the material released was “not an exhaustive list of all infant deaths or stillborn babies either born/delivered within or referred from Bessborough to St Finbarr’s Hospital”.

In relation to all of these issues, the Order has stated that it would only communicate directly with the Mother and Baby Homes Commission “on all such and related matters” and it would not be appropriate to enter into communication, other than with the Commission

Then, in November 2016, the Irish Examiner revealed that the files of vaccine trial victims in Bessborough were altered in 2002 — just weeks after the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse sought discovery of records from the order running the home.

Material obtained by the Irish Examiner under Freedom of Information shows that changes were made to the records of mothers and children used in the 1960/61 4-in-1 vaccine trials.

The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (CICA) had sought discovery of the records from the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary on July 22, 2002. An affidavit was sworn on October 3, 2002, and on a number of later dates in 2002 and 2003.

The document listing the changes opens with: “8.8.02 Checked the 20 files.” This is immediately followed by: “9.8.02 Made the changes.”

The changes include:

  • the alteration of discharge dates of mothers (by a period of one year and two years)
  • the changing of discharge dates of children
  • the changing of admission dates of mothers
  • the alteration of the age of a mother (by two years)
  • the alteration of dates of adoption
  • the changing of baptism dates and location of baptism
  • the insertion of certain named locations and information into admission books

A data protection request released to Bessborough vaccine trial victim Mari Steed in 2011 also confirms this timeline.

A file listing details about both her and her natural mother was created on August 6, 2002. This was done following a request “for Solicitor re Vaccine”.

Ms Steed’s natural mother is listed as “No 19 on Doctor’s List”. The record lists “All Counties DUBLIN” above discharge information pertaining to her mother.

The document listing the changes notes that this information was inserted into Ms Steed’s original file.

The entry reads: “No 19 [house name redacted] Crossed out the Indoor Reg entry as it is corssed (sic) out in the Book. Inserted DUBLIN after All Counties.” Ms Steed has since made a formal complaint to the gardaí and Data Protection Commissioner concerning the matter.

Another entry reads: “No 17 [house name redacted] Changed nm [natural mother] disch from x/x/60 to x/x/62”.

Given that the trial took place between December 1960 and November 1961, this change has the effect of placing this woman in Bessborough during the period her child was vaccinated.

If she was, in fact, discharged from Bessborough at the date given in 1960, she could not have been present to consent for her child to have been part of the vaccine trial.

The question of consent was the key issue being examined by the CICA’s Vaccines Module before it was shut down in 2003 following a Supreme Court ruling.

At the time the story was published, the Irish Examiner put a series of questions to the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in relation to the document. In a series of statements, the Order said it wished to “categorically state that no documents were altered”.

“In your recent correspondence, you are suggesting that something illegal or inappropriate had occurred in regard to the documents to which you refer.

“This is entirely untrue; and we will continue to deal directly with the official Commission [of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes] on all such matters,” said a statement.

Seven die in wait for Magdalene laundry redress payments

Seven vulnerable Magdalene laundry survivors have died without receiving a penny of the redress they were granted in 2013.

Justice for Magdalenes Research said it was “devastated” that women had died while awaiting a payment they are entitled to.

The figures were provided to the Oireachtas justice committee by assistant secretary at the Department of Justice, Jimmy Martin.

Mr Martin appeared before the committee in January to discuss the findings of the Ombudsman’s scathing report into the department’s administration of the Magdalene redress scheme.

Mr Martin confirmed that, of the 39 women deemed “as not having the necessary capacity to sign the required legal documents”, seven had “unfortunately” died without receiving any redress payment — despite being accepted to the scheme five years ago.

A further 17 of these women have yet to receive any payment. Three are now in the wards of court process.

In his report in November, Ombudsman Peter Tyndall said these women had been “effectively forgotten” by the department due to a delay in fully enacting the Decision-Making (Capacity) Act, labelling the delay “inexcusable”. He said this was particularly so when Mr Justice Quirke alluded to the delay in his report, while it was also flagged in internal communications within the department.

There are 17 women in this position, nine of whom had spent more than a decade in the institutions and are entitled to the maximum payment of €100,000.

Mr Martin also confirmed that 75 women who were in Magdalene laundries were subject to an interview, as no records could be found showing them having been admitted to a laundry.

Of the 68 of these women who received a redress payment following the interview process, 16 received lump sum payments which were less than what they had claimed for.

Two women received more than they claimed for and the remaining 50 received the amount they claimed for or else they did not receive a specific amount. Justice for Magdalenes Research (JFMR) said it has spent years asking the department to provide independent advocacy services to all the Magdalene survivors still living in settings controlled by the religious orders.

“These women have few, if any, friends or family to ensure that they are empowered to use their entitlements for their own benefit,” said the statement.

“We are devastated for the women who have died without receiving any concrete measures of recompense for their exploitation in Magdalene laundries.”

JFMR also expressed concern about how the formal interviews of 75 women by the Department of Justice were carried out.

“We repeatedly asked the department for information on the format of the interviews,” said the statement.

“However, no details were forthcoming about the process. It is completely unacceptable to subject vulnerable women to interviews such as these without first supplying them and their representatives with full details on what the process will entail, and without ensuring they have access to legal advice.”

The department has yet to fully accept and implement all of the Ombudsman’s recommendations in relation to the redress scheme.

Mr Tyndall stated that in his 10 years as an Ombudsman, he had never come across such an intransigent attitude from a Government department or State agency.

He said the department “absolutely, categorically refused to engage” with the process around accepting and implementing its recommendations.

Independent TD Clare Daly said the department has “a duty to see that there are no more delays and the women who are awaiting redress be awarded payments immediately”.

Children who died as late as 1990 in two unmarked graves: Shame of what lies beneath

Children from the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home, some of whom died as late as 1990, are buried in unmarked graves in a Cork City cemetery.

The discovery comes as the Mother and Baby Homes Commission has called for information relating to the burials of a “large number” of children who died at the home between 1922 and 1998.

An Irish Examiner investigation has uncovered three grave plots in St Finbarr’s cemetery in Cork City which contain the remains of at least 21 children.

The first of these plots is unmarked and was purchased by the now closed St Anne’s Adoption Society. Founded in 1954 by the then Bishop of Cork Cornelius Lucey, it was set up with the purpose of arranging the adoption of babies born to Irish unmarried mothers in Britain. It closed in 2003 and its records are now in the possession of Tusla.

The discovery comes as the Mother and Baby Homes Commission has called for information relating to the burials of a “large number” of children who died at the home between 1922 and 1998.

An Irish Examiner investigation has uncovered three grave plots in St Finbarr’s cemetery in Cork City which contain the remains of at least 21 children.

The first of these plots is unmarked and was purchased by the now closed St Anne’s Adoption Society. Founded in 1954 by the then Bishop of Cork Cornelius Lucey, it was set up with the purpose of arranging the adoption of babies born to Irish unmarried mothers in Britain. It closed in 2003 and its records are now in the possession of Tusla.

This plot contains the remains of three girls and one boy. Their deaths occurred in 1979, 1983, 1988, and 1990. The plot is unmarked and contains no headstone or any markings to indicate that it is a grave.

In the case of the last burial in 1990, the child’s death certificate notes that while she died in St Finbarr’s Hospital in Cork, she was in the care of the nuns at Bessborough Mother and Baby Home. A birth entry for this child in this name could not be located.

In the case of the three other children buried in the plot, just one has both the birth and death recorded. The other two children have birth certificates but no death certificates could be located in those names. It may be the case that the deaths were recorded in the names of the foster/prospective adoptive parents.

The second plot belongs to the former St Patrick’s Orphanage run by the Mercy Sisters. It operated a nursery for St Anne’s Adoption Society, where children were kept until the society could arrange for an adoption to be contracted.

There are a total of 16 children buried in this plot — their deaths occurring between 1957 and 1978.

This grave is marked but just one name is recorded — that of the final child buried in the plot. The other 15 children in the plot are not named.

Two of these children died in Bessborough in 1976 and 1978, while a third was born in Bessborough but died in St Finbarr’s Hospital. In the case of the other children, a number were born in UK, with others born in Ireland.

The third plot is a non-perpetuity plot — indicating it is unowned. It holds the remains of at least one child.

The death certificate states her death occurred at St Finbarr’s Hospital in 1989 but that she was in the care of “c/o Sacred Heart Hospital, Blackrock, Cork” — the address of the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home.

In 2015, the Irish Examiner revealed 470 infants and 10 women were recorded as having died at the Bessborough mother and baby home between 1934 and 1953.

The Irish Examiner put a series of questions to Tusla on the latest revelations. It stated that, between 1957 and 1990, there were 16 recorded infant deaths in St Anne’s Adoption Society and St Patrick’s Orphanage.

“Records which were accessed indicate that 13 mothers were informed,” said a statement. “This does not mean the remaining three mothers were not informed; records of notification to mothers/family members are not always held on files.”

“All 16 births were officially registered. Fifteen of the 16 deaths were identified as recorded on the Register of Births, Deaths and Marriages. Records in relation to the death of one child were not located.”

In a statements, the Sister of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary said: “As indicated previously all records relating to Bessborough were passed to the HSE in 2011 and are now in the possession of Tusla. We will continue to deal directly with the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes on all such matters.”

Similarly, the Sisters of Mercy said that they would “deal directly with this Commission on all related matters”.

McAleese report queried on “a number of rather serious fronts”

A US academic wrote to the UN in 2013 claiming material relating to the Magdalene Laundries called parts of the McAleese report “into question on a number of rather serious fronts”.

James Smith of Boston College wrote to the UN Committee Against Torture (UNCAT) in November 2013 to inform it of material he discovered in the Galway Diocesan Archives in the spring of 2012 which related to the Sisters of Mercy Magdalene Laundry in Galway.

Prof Smith, who is also a member of the Justice For Magdalenes research body, had brought the relevant files to the attention of the McAleese Committee at the time and they were examined by the Committee.

However, documents obtained by the Irish Examiner show that, following the publication of the McAleese report in February 2013 and UNCAT’s subsequent one-year follow-up examination of the issue, Prof Smith wrote to the body’s vice chair, Felice Gaer, claiming that the McAleese report “fails to adequately reflect, and indeed mischaracterises, the material in the Galway Diocesan Archive”.

In particular, Prof Smith pointed to detailed financial records that he claimed “contradict” the McAleese report’s conclusions on the profitability of such institutions.

MORE than four years after its publication in February 2013, the McAleese Report on the Magdalene Laundries continues to generate headlines, but for all the wrong reasons.

It has been criticised by survivors, advocacy groups, the human rights community, and the United Nations.

The reaction of the Government to it has been rather odd. It continues to cite the report as the essential narrative of the Magdalene Laundries, a narrative which states that the “ill-treatment, physical punishment, and abuse” prevalent in the industrial school system was not something the women experienced in the Magdalene Laundries. Yet, it is surprised that, based on a reading of the McAleese Report, religious orders have refused to contribute any money to the redress bill.

Despite the report confirming what was known for years — that the State was involved in all aspects of the Magdalene Laundries — and despite the then taoiseach, Enda Kenny, admitting the same and apologising to the women, the Government is now claiming, repeatedly, that the report made “no finding” in relation to State liability with regard to Magdalene Laundries.

In July, an examination of Ireland’s second periodic review, by the UN Committee Against Torture (UNCAT), raised more issues relating to the McAleese Report and its findings.

UNCAT’s vice-chair, Felice Gaer, said the body had received information from an individual who had access to the Galway diocesan archive and who had discovered “significant material” demonstrating the extensive involvement of the bishop of Galway in the operations and financial dealings of the Sisters of Mercy Galway Magdalene — one of two laundries for which, according to the McAleese Report, no records survive. Also found was a list of 107 women who were in the Galway Magdalene Laundry in December 1952.

“This individual also brought Senator McAleese’s office’s attention to the existence of these files. He provided the senator with a summary of the materials, but says they were not accurately reflected in the McAleese Report. The files reportedly document physical abuse, and the Galway Magdalene’s practice of calling the Irish police to prevent family members from removing women from the institutions,” said Ms Gaer.

The individual in question was Prof James Smith, of Boston College, who was granted permission to access the archive in May 2012.

Prof Smith is a member of the Justice For Magdalenes Research Group and the author of an award-winning book: Ireland’s Magdalen Laundries and the Nation’s Architecture of Containment.

Prof Smith found the material in the course of research he was undertaking on Church and State discussions related to adoption and government provisions for unmarried mothers and their children. He subsequently informed the McAleese committee about the existence of the material, going so far as to compile a list of the relevant files, and a 10-page summary of their contents, for committee chair, Dr Martin McAleese, on May 10, 2012.

The material contained accounts detailing significant physical abuse and medical neglect, as well as financial records for the institution.

Although the Department of Justice declined to say who from the McAleese committee visited the archive and on what date, the minutes of the committee’s meeting of June 10, obtained by the Irish Examiner, show the material had been examined in the intervening four weeks.

The minutes indicate the material was deemed “useful”. Minutes from the committee’s next meeting, on June 26, indicate that Mr McAleese had “analysed” the financial records. They also note that the Sisters of Mercy “would also be asked for input” and that he and committee member, Nuala Ní Mhuircheartaigh, had met with the order’s solicitors and “this issue had been discussed”.

As part of an agreement he signed to gain access to the archive, Prof Smith had agreed not to publish or reproduce any of the material he viewed without the permission of the Galway Diocesan archive. He says he has abided by these conditions.

Following the publication of the McAleese Report, in February 2013, Prof Smith again sought permission to publish the material he had viewed, as he felt it was not adequately reflected in the final report.

He was informed that he should submit the article to the Galway Diocesan Trustees, for approval, prior to permission being granted for publication.

Prof Smith was also assisting an elderly Magdalene survivor in a personal capacity, as the Department of Justice’s Magdalene Implementation team was having difficulty determining her duration of stay at the Galway Magdalene Laundry, for the purpose of paying her lump-sum compensation. The woman had said she escaped the laundry in early December 1951, but there was no way to document this as fact.

On May 14, 2014, Prof Smith informed the department of the list of 107 women and said that while the list did not confirm her date of exit, it did confirm she was not resident in the Laundry in December 1952.

Prof Smith said he wanted to help the survivor, but that he had also signed an archival users agreement with the diocese of Galway not to “quote from, refer to, or reproduce’ material from the archive without permission”. The department responded by asking Prof Smith to ask the diocese for permission to share the document, but the academic informed it that it should apply directly to the diocese for a copy.

Two weeks later, on May 27, Prof Smith received a letter from the Galway diocesan archive advising him that he had “retained personal data” and that “it is now incumbent upon you, if the information is in fact true, to destroy, erase, or return such data to the data controller”. He was then informed that the archive was now “embargoed”.

“Also, please note that permission has not been given by the diocese, or its agents, to you to publish, or otherwise reproduce, the material.

“In all circumstances, please be advised that the xxx Archive is now embargoed until such time as it is definitively, absolutely, entirely, totally and objectively established that ‘personal data’ within the Data Protection Act no longer arises,” read the letter.

Prof Smith first informed UNCAT of the existence of the material in the Galway diocesan archive, in November 2013, as the body was preparing its List of Issues Prior to Reporting (LOIPR), in advance of Ireland’s second periodic review — which occurred in July this year.

In an email to UNCAT’s vice-chair, Felice Gaer, he outlined what was held in the archive — namely, financial records, a copy of the rules of the institution, letters of complaint about physical abuse, a list of names for the women in the Galway Magdalene Laundry in 1952, and letters from family members and their solicitors attempting to gain release of their sisters/daughters.

He also outlined that he had informed the McAleese committee of the archive’s existence and had outlined his interaction with the archive, with a view to publishing material he had seen.

Prof Smith then expressed his concern that the McAleese report “fails to adequately reflect, and, indeed, mis-characterises, the material in the Galway Diocesan Archive”.

“I do, however, think that the Galway archive, when examined carefully (and fully), undermines a number of findings of the McAleese Report. It also demonstrates a lack of care and/or insufficient resources/expertise in evaluating such materials.

“This calls the McAleese Report into question on a number of rather serious fronts,” wrote Prof Smith.

IN particular, Prof Smith points Ms Gaer to the financial records held in the archive, which, he claims, “contradict” the McAleese Report’s assertion on profitability.

“Ultimately, the committee did not conduct a thorough review of all the files, because, if he did, he would have discovered two additional years of records, which he fails to report, and he would have uncovered annual accountant reports that demonstrate profit margins greater than what the McAleese Report contends,” he wrote.

Prof Smith then details what summary reports for the Sisters of Mercy Galway Reserve account reveal, in terms of the profitability of the institution.

“And, crucially, he would have uncovered annual reports for the Sisters of Mercy Galway Reserve Account, which document how the Magdalen Laundry transferred significant monies into the Reserve Account every year, from 1957 through 1968, well in excess of (by the factor of three or four times as much) what was spent in any given year on provisions, clothing, and health care for the ‘penitents’ in the institution.

“Indeed, the financial accounts for Galway reveal that profitability only ever considered income from laundry receipts, and ignored additional income, related to the charitable status of the institution (namely, bequests, donations, dividends from investments, rents from 12 properties bequested to the institution, annual appeals, etc),” he wrote.

The McAleese Report dedicated an entire chapter to the financial viability of the laundries. Although it was not required to do this, the committee decided that, “in the public interest”, it would conduct an analysis of the available financial records.

“In summary, the analysis of the available financial records suggested that, in general, the Magdalen Laundries operated on a subsistence or close to break-even basis, rather than on a commercial or highly profitable basis and would have found it difficult to survive financially without other sources of income — donations, bequests, and financial support from the State,” the report found.

Prof Smith also outlined that the archive contained correspondence detailing physical abuse and medical neglect. He pointed to multiple letters written by the reverend mother, in the 1940s and 1950s, to the bishop, justifying the use of disciplinary practices and defending decisions not to release women into the care of their family. The archive also contains evidence of the gardaí being called to remove family members from the door of Galway Magdalene Laundry.

Prof Smith states that of the 107 women listed in the institution in December 1952, 19 are listed on the headstone in the Magdalene graveyard in Galway — a percentage, he claims that is “at odds” with the McAleese Report’s statistics.

“…the fact remains that there is a hand-written letter from a survivor, dated in 1955, asserting physical abuse and medical neglect, and a letter from a priest in England confirming the survivor’s allegation of abuse.

“There are multiple letters written by the reverend mother of the institution, in the 1940s, justifying to the bishop the disciplinary practices of the institution and defending decisions not to release women to their families (and, indeed, calling the Irish police to help remove family members from the door of the institution). The only term used to refer to women throughout the archive is ‘penitent’,” wrote Prof Smith.

This information fed directly into UNCAT’s questioning of the Government during Ireland’s second periodic review, in July, where Ms Gaer expressed concern that the McAleese committee may not have fully investigated all of the archives available to it.

That same month, and at her request, Prof Smith wrote again to Ms Gaer, expressing his concern about how the archives were characterised in the McAleese Report.

He also stressed the wider significance of the archive, in that it shows the Bishop of Galway was, “without question”, directly involved in how the Galway Magdalene Laundry operated — a revelation which would place the Catholic Church, and not simply the religious orders running the institutions, and the State, on the hook, in terms of the redress bill for survivors.

“In conclusion, and from my perspective, the Diocese of Galway archives establish — without question — the extensive involvement of the Bishop of Galway in the day-to-day life of the Sisters of Mercy Galway Magdalen. Moreover, it establishes that the bishop exerted significant control over the financial dealings of the Galway Magdalen, including control over bank accounts, transfers of funds, investment portfolios, property sales, purchasing, etc. The fact that such an extensive archive of material exists in the Diocese of Galway’s archives underscores the extent and nature of the relationship… the question of redress for the Magdalen Laundries is one confined to the State and the four religious congregations.

“The Galway Diocesan Archive — and potentially other diocesan archives — puts the Bishop of Galway — and potentially other members of Ireland’s Catholic hierarchy, and therefore the Catholic Church proper — squarely on the hook!,” he wrote.

The Irish Examiner put a series of questions to the Department of Justice on Prof’s Smith’s claims and the McAleese committee’s treatment of the Galway diocesan archive. It declined to answer any of them, stating that the committee “no longer exists and is, therefore, not in a position to respond to specific queries”. “The report of the Inter-Departmental Committee refers to the fact that the four relevant religious congregations maintained archives were opened fully, and without restriction, to the committee and that the archives of each diocese in which a Magdalen Laundry was located were also searched in the course of the committee’s work,” said a statement.

THE Galway diocesan archive stated that Prof Smith agreed not to publish, or otherwise reproduce, material “without the written permission from the Diocesan Archive” and that he was requested to furnish any material in order that permission might be considered.

“Neither the individual or his solicitor have furnished such material. Representations were received that personal data under Section 1 of the Data Protection Act, 1988 – 2003, sourced within the Diocesan Archive, was retained and an individual was advised of the requirements and duties imposed under Sections 2 & 5 of the said Act.

“The bequest donating the Browne Archive specified an embargo of 70 years from the death of Bishop Browne. However, in the interests of academic endeavours, it was believed that the making of a declaration, as described in 2, above, would enable the archive to be viewed, while simultaneously respecting the embargo.

“However, because of recent experiences involving data protection issues, the legal advice instruction states: “The Browne Archive shall be embargoed, until such time as it is definitively, absolutely, entirely, totally and objectively established that ‘personal data’ within the Data Protection Act no longer exists,” said a statement.

In its recommendations published in August, UNCAT called on the Irish State to “promote greater access of victims, and their representatives, to relevant information concerning the Magdalene Laundries, held in private and public archives”, and that it must provide additional information on these measures, when it next reports to the committee.

The Magdalene redress scheme that only added to the hurt

The Ombudsman has been scathing of the Department of Justice over the Magdalene redress scheme and its ‘inexcusable’ treatment of survivors, writes Conall Ó Fátharta.

It has not been a good week for the Department of Justice. Still embroiled in the Maurice McCabe email controversy, the Ombudsman has now heaped more woe on the beleaguered department.

It comes in the form of the findings of its almost year-long investigation into how the department administered the Magdalene redress scheme. It’s findings are scathing.

Central to the investigation was evidence uncovered by the Irish Examiner and reported in June 2015 — namely an unpublished HSE report from 2012 that found that the An Grianán training centre and the High Park Magdalene laundry in Drumcondra in Dublin were “one and the same thing”.

So how did information relating to An Grianán lead to a full formal investigation into the Magdalene redress scheme?

It all started with the determination of two former residents of An Grianán deciding to go to the High Court to fight a decision by the Department of Justice to exclude them from the scheme.

In June, the High Court ruled that the women were denied fair procedures in how that decision was reached.

They were denied access to the redress scheme by the department because they had been admitted to An Grianán and not to the laundry directly.

The view of the department — and which was publicly stated on numerous occasions by then justice minister Frances Fitzgerald — is that An Grianán was a separate entity to the High Park laundry which served a different purpose.

The Government also repeatedly defended the exclusion of the training centre from the scheme by stating it was included in the Residential Institutions Redress Board scheme (RIRB).

After the Department of Justice refused the women on appeal in June and October 2015, proceedings were lodged.

Separately, in June 2015, the Ombudsman upheld a decision by the department to refuse three women who were in An Grianán access to the scheme.

The Ombudsman’s decision came on June 2, 2015 — just two days before the Irish Examiner revealed evidence that the HSE has found that An Grianán and the High Park Magdalene laundry were “one and the same thing” — in an unpublished report in 2012.

This HSE evidence relating to An Grianán was to become central to the High Court case and the Ombudsman’s investigation of the Magdalene redress scheme.

The three women sought a judicial review of the Ombudsman’s decision and in December 2015, as part of a settlement, the Ombudsman agreed to re-examine the cases.

By April 2016, the Ombudsman completely changed its position on the matter and had formed the view that An Grianán residents should be eligible for the Magdalene redress scheme.

Documents obtained by the Irish Examiner in June of this year then revealed an extraordinary nine-month dispute between the Ombudsman and the Department of Justice over the latter’s interpretation of An Grianán and over the redress scheme itself.

It was to culminate with the Ombudsman stating, in December of last year, that it had no choice but to launch an investigation into whether the scheme had been administered fairly.

That report, published yesterday, found that the Department of Justice wrongly refused some women access to redress.

Speaking at the report’s launch, Ombudsman Peter Tyndall said that from the start, there were “elements of injustice creeping into the way the scheme was administered” and that it “showed no evidence of good administration”.

He also said the investigation by his office was “totally exceptional” and that he was “very disappointed” at how the department had handled the issue.

“Normally my office, when we have launched reports of this kind, we’ve launched them in conjunction with the department or agency concerned.

“In the course of the investigation, we would reach an agreement with the department as to what’s gone wrong and also reach agreement with them about what they are going to do to put it right. This has been totally exceptional in my experience as Ombudsman.

“I am very disappointed by it. I think the evidence is very powerful, particularly the testimonies of the women.

“I should say that, in the course of the investigation, not only did we see evidence that the department had seen, but when we looked at some of the cases we found evidence that was available that hadn’t been considered,” he said.

The report found that the department gave “undue weight to the evidence supplied by the religious congregations “to the exclusion of other evidence” when wrongly excluding some women access to the Magdalene Laundries redress scheme.

“It is the manner in which the history of the individual applicant and the available information was interrogated and followed up on by the department that is at issue. It was ad hoc and at times incomplete, with gaps, questions, or inconsistencies left unanswered.

There was an over-reliance on the records of the congregations and it is not apparent what weight, if any, was afforded to the testimony of the women and/or their relatives.”

The report further stated: “Interviews with applicants were a last resort and were only undertaken late in the day and in a small number of cases which were not resolved one way or the other.

“In other words, an applicant could be excluded on the basis of a record showing she was not admitted to one of the 12 named institutions and she was not interviewed as part of the process.”

The Ombudsman noted “a flawed administrative process” where women had to apply for a scheme without being told what the criteria was, and where “great reliance” was placed on the congregations’ records “to the exclusion of other evidence”.

The report noted that the department would have been aware of the links between units where the women lived and the Magdalene laundries and that the evidence it uncovered showed that training centres and industrial school located in the same building, attached to or located on the grounds of the laundries were in reality “one and the same” institution.

It also noted a “serious inconsistency” in the application of the eligibility criteria in that women were admitted to the scheme who were recorded as admitted to one particular
institution closely associated to a named laundry while women who were recorded as admitted to different institution closely associated with another named laundry, were refused admission to the scheme.

The report recommends that, where there is evidence that a woman worked in one of the listed laundries but was officially recorded as having been “admitted to” a training centre or
industrial school located in the same building, attached to or located on the grounds of one of the laundries, the department “should fully reconsider their application with a view to admitting them to the scheme”.

It has been asked to commence these reviews“immediately”, provide an estimate of the numbers involved, and the anticipated timeframe for completion.

A report should be provided to the Ombudsman within three months at the latest.

The Ombudsman is particularly critical of the department in how it dealt with a group of women who do not have the capacity to make decisions on their own behalf.

Some 18 women — nine of whom had spent more than a decade in the institutions and were therefore entitled to the maximum payment of €100,000 — have been approved for
redress but have yet to be issued a payment due to a delay in fully enacting the Decision-Making (Capacity) Act.

Mr Tyndall said these women had been “effectively forgotten” and that the delay in paying the women redress they were entitled to since 2013 was
“inexcusable”.

This was particularly so when Mr Justice Quirke alluded to the delay in his report while it was
also flagged in internal communications within the department.

“Despite this, the department failed to consider other options to address this issue and facilitate payments to the women concerned.

“It is therefore my view that the actions (and inactions) of the department in this regard constitute maladministration as being the result of negligence and carelessness, improperly discriminatory and otherwise contrary to fair or sound administration,” notes the report.

As a result of the delay, the Ombudsman said he had “reluctantly” accepted the department’s request that these women be made wards of court.

Perhaps the most damning conclusion of the Ombudsman was his finding that the very scheme set up to offer redress and healing to women who worked for years in laundries for no pay ended up adding to their pain.

“It [the redress scheme] was supposed to contribute to healing and reconciliation, but unfortunately for some women these failings in how the scheme was administered served to reinforce their feelings of marginalisation and deep hurt, and to undermine the restorative effect of the emotional apology delivered by Taoiseach Enda Kenny in February 2013 when the McAleese Report was published.