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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The unpublished report highlighted the “wholly epidemic” infant deaths rates at the Cork home and said: “The question whether indeed all of these children actually died while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

Bessborough Mother and baby vaccine trial files altered in 2002

The files of vaccine trial victims in Bessborough Mother and Baby Home 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 made to files Nos 5, 8, 11, 12, and 15 to 20 are then detailed.

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.”

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.

The Irish Examiner put a series of questions to the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in relation to the document. It declined to answer any of them.

A statement from Ruairí Ó Catháin solicitors, representing the order, stated that it had “no immediate knowledge of any specific event” concerning alterations made to records.

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

In a separate statement, 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,” said the statement. “This is entirely untrue; and we will continue to deal directly with the official commission on all such matters.”

The Mother and Baby Homes Commission has copied all the records relating to Bessborough and is currently analysing them alongside the other 17 institutions being examined. Its final report is expected in February 2018.

Bessborough Mother and baby vaccine trial files altered

The files of vaccine trial victims in Bessborough Mother and Baby Home 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 made to files Nos 5, 8, 11, 12, and 15 to 20 are then detailed.
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.”
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.

The Irish Examiner put a series of questions to the the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in relation to the document. It declined to answer any of them.
A statement from Ruairí Ó Catháin solicitors, representing the order, stated that it had “no immediate knowledge of any specific event” concerning alterations made to records.
“We are in contact with the commission in regard to the Mother and Baby Homes Investigation, which is having our full co-operation. For the present, as is appropriate, we will be dealing directly with the commission on all related matters,” said a statement.
In a separate statement, 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,” said the statement. “This is entirely untrue; and we will continue to deal directly with the official commission on all such matters.”

The Mother and Baby Homes Commission has copied all the records relating to Bessborough and is currently analysing them alongside the other 17 institutions being examined. Its final report is expected in February 2018.

St Patrick’s Guild sought €50k from Tusla for adoption records

St Patrick’s Guild adoption agency requested a payment of “at least €50,000” from Tusla before it would transfer the more than 13,000 adoption records it holds.

The agency made the request on numerous occasions throughout 2015 and 2016. It was excluded from the current Mother and Baby Homes Commission despite the Government being told by the Adoption Authority of Ireland (AAI) that the agency was aware of “several hundred” illegal birth registrations.

It ceased operating at the end of 2014 but, due to lengthy negotiations to ensure Tusla were indemnified against any legal action taken by people seeking their records, the files were not transferred until May 2016.

However, it has emerged that the agency had contacted Tusla a number of times throughout 2015 and 2016 seeking a payment of €50,000 before it would agree to transfer any records.

Documents released under Freedom of Information show that Sr Francis Fahy, director of services with St Patrick’s Guild (SPG), wrote to Tusla national manager for adoption Siobhán Mugan in October 2015 requesting an “immediate payment” in regard to almost €48,000 in expenses.

She had previously made a request in April of that year and stated that SPG had not been funded by Tusla since it closed in December 2014, but had continued offering a service to adopted people and natural parents “albeit in a more limited way”.

“It is now a matter of some urgency,” said Sr Fahy.

“At this time I am enclosing an account of the actual expenses to date for 2015 and would be glad to receive an immediate payment in regard of these expenses. If further details are required please let me know. A further sum will be required later as often payments fall due from October until such time as the service and the records are transferred to Tusla.”

The attached expenses from January to September 2015 included almost €10,000 on gas and electricity and phone bills of more than €2,000.

Ms Mugan responded to Sr Fahy stating that when the agency ceased operating there was no agreement with Tusla to continue funding into 2015.

She pointed out that, “in fact, it was agreed that the records would be in the possession of Tusla by late January, early February 2015 at the latest”.

However, Sr Fahy wrote to Tusla again in February of this year stating that it would need a payment of “at least 50,000” before it could transfer anything of the 13,000 adoption files. She pointed out that the agency was preserving and maintaining the records and offering a service on the understanding that its costs would be covered by the State.

“We were given to understand that upon submission of the necessary documentation and accounts funding would be made available to cover the costs incurred during this period,” said Sr Fahy. It was with this understanding that the work was carried out in good faith.

“While every effort has been made to bring the negotiations to a conclusion this has not yet been possible. Therefore, at this time, and as a matter of urgency, it is necessary to request that a payment of at least €50,000 be made prior to the transfer of the records.”

In April, principal officer in the Adoption Policy Unit at Tusla wrote to chief executive of the AAI Patricia Carey expressing concern about the request and fact that the agency had planned to retain copies of index cards containing birth information of adoptees and their natural families.

The AAI agreed to allow the agency hold the cards for three months post transfer of the files to allow it “to complete reports for the Authority”.

In April of this year Tusla agreed to a one of payment of €30,000 to support the storage of the files while the transfer was being negotiated and to assist the agency with its closure.

Questions over section of McAleese Report

Questions surround a section of the McAleese Report which states it asked the Ryan Commission to contact seven women mentioned in the Ryan Report who were in Magdalene Laundries.

Chapter 19 of the McAleese Report outlines how it asked the Ryan Commission to write to the women it spoke to and inform them of the McAleese committee and its work.

This was done as it was not possible for the Ryan Commission (CICA) to clarify to the McAleese committee what sections of the chapter referred to Magdalene Laundries, rather than other institutions because of legal issues.

“As a second step, the Committee requested the CICA Secretariat to write to any women who had complained to it regarding a Magdalen Laundry informing them of the existence of the Committee and providing contact details should they wish to make contact,” states the McAleese Report.

However, minutes of a meeting of the McAleese Committee on June 26, 2012, obtained under Freedom of Information, which deal directly with its interaction with the Ryan Commission, completely contradict this claim.

In the minutes, it is stated that it was agreed with the Ryan Commission that it would not contact any of the women.

 

“The possibility was discussed of the secretariat of the Commission and/or Redress Board to contact those women to inform of the existence of the Committee and to provide the questionnaire for persons wishing to submit their stories to assist the Committee in fulfilling its mandate.”

“It was agreed that this might present a number of difficulties, in particular in relation to privacy issues. In light of the significant publicity which the Committee’s work had generated, it was considered unlikely that these women would not be aware of the Committee’s work.

“It was agreed that the Commission and the Board would not be requested to contact those women,” state the minutes.

The McAleese report ultimately concluded that it could not determine if any of the women’s experiences cited in the Ryan Report actually related to the 10 Magdalene Laundries within its scope.

The Irish Examiner requested clarification on the issue from the Ryan Commission and to the Department of Justice, which set up the McAleese Committee.

In a statement, the Ryan Commission said it could not respond to the request as the communications of the commission were “absolutely privileged under Section 17 of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act”.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said a clarification could not be provided at the present time as the person dealing with queries concerning the McAleese Report was on leave.

In a follow up response, the Department said the reference in the minutes was “the initial position taken but was subsequently changed”. However, this is not noted anywhere else in the minutes, nor was proof of this change of position offered in documentary form.

So clear as mud then…

 

McAleese Report promised so much but delivered so little

The fallout from the McAleese Report is sure to continue, says Conall Ó Fátharta

A week that promised so much for the survivors of Magdalene Laundries ended up delivering little.

Despite the McAleese report finally rubber-stamping a fact that has been known for years — that the State was involved in all aspects of the Magdalene Laundries — no State apology has been forthcoming.

The Government and Taoiseach Enda Kenny parsed and prevaricated, clinging to the razor-thin argument that just 26% of women in the laundries were sent by the State.

The key point here is: Regardless of how women came to be there, the fact the State monitored, inspected, and had State contracts with the laundries make it responsible for all the women who worked for no pay in these institutions.

However, the more unsettling aspect of the McAleese report is the rewriting of a narrative that has long been accepted through testimony — that these were places where women suffered physical abuse. It is noteworthy that this was not the job of Martin McAleese.

What he presented in this regard is wildly at odds with what was established in the Ryan report, in more than 700 pages of survivor testimony presented to his committee — which is rapidly being treated as the historical narrative of what went on in these institutions.

As he gave no public briefing, it has not been possible to question Mr McAleese on these findings.

On Prime Time earlier this week, an angry Maeve O’Rourke, a human rights lawyer and member of the Justice for Magdalenes group, said Mr McAleese’s claim that little physical abuse occurred in the laundries was “an outrage”.

“It has been accepted for a long time that these were abusive institutions and the idea that they were not physically abusive — the thing that is coming out from this report — I think is an outrage. Martin McAleese did not refute that the women earned no money and that they were locked in,” she said.

“He spoke of the vast majority of women and girls never knowing when they would get out, if ever, and if they would ever see their families again. That was not refuted. If unpaid labour behind locked doors is not physical abuse, then I do not know what is.”

From the beginning, the attitude to the religious congregations is quite clear. The very first reference to the orders in the entire report is in the 12th paragraph, where Mr McAleese speaks of the “profound hurt” experienced by the Sisters in the way the laundries have been portrayed.

It is also worth noting that the orders themselves could have countered the allegations made against them in the past decade. They chose not to.

Meanwhile, the attitude to survivors from the start of the report speaks of the “confusion” they feel about that period of their lives.

Mr McAleese says most women said the “ill-treatment, physical punishment, and abuse that was prevalent in the industrial school system was not something they experienced in the Magdalene Laundries”, while the accounts of physical abuse are few and far between and very tame by comparison to testimony seen in the Ryan report or in the Justice for Magdalenes submission.

It is worth noting that a total of 118 women spoke to the committee. Of these, 58 are still in the care of the religious orders, indicating they have spent much of their lives institutionalised.

To supply a narrative outlining virtually no physical abuse, where half of the women interviewed remain in the care of the order, is hardly satisfactory.

Furthermore, unlike the Ryan report, the McAleese report made no public call for survivors to come forward and give testimony.

The Ryan report dedicates an entire chapter to abuse in Magdalene Laundries and is categoric in its opinion that physical abuse was routine.

More concerning is the suggestion that the committee discounted initial testimony of physical abuse from some women, as they said that under closer questioning it emerged that the women were “confusing” their time in industrial schools with time at the laundries.

Claire McGettrick of JFM outlines some concerns. “Initially, the committee didn’t even want to speak to women in person, but we fought for that. The women gave their testimony verbally and then we were given very little notice of a second meeting where we were to look at the format of the initial testimony.

“Instead, the women were brought in, one by one, for a meeting with the commission where they asked repeated questions. Their overall impression was that they were being checked to ensure that their memories were correct.

“The women came out of those meetings very quiet and subdued. None of them, none of us, had been expecting for them to be questioned like that.”

When you read the report, it is clear this was the case, as it confirms: “Subsequent meetings afforded the committee an opportunity to seek clarifications on areas of particular interest… Information provided by many of the women… included a clear distinction between some of the practices in industrial and reformatory schools and the Magdalene Laundries, in particular in relation to practices of physical punishment and abuse.”

Much of the comment has been on the final rubber-stamping of what was already well known: That the State was involved with the Magdalene Laundries. That much is now certain.

However, in recent days, survivors have expressed their outrage at Mr McAleese’s claim that they were not places where physical abuse was suffered.

It is likely that the fallout from this claim has some distance to run.

St Patrick’s finally hands over 13,500 adoption files to Tusla

More than 13,000 files from St Patrick’s Guild adoption agency have transferred to Tusla, the Child and Family Agency — almost three years after the agency ceased to operate.

The agency held approximately 13,500 adoption files — one quarter of all adoption files in the country. It closed in 2013, with the transfer expected to take between 12 to 18 months.

The Irish Examiner understands that issues around indemnity against any legal action taken by people seeking their records was a significant factor in the transfer delay.

Tusla declined to confirm it had been indemnified in respect of the records but it had “obtained the appropriate protection in respect of known potential issues”.

St Patrick’s Guild has been excluded from the Mother and Baby Homes Commission, despite the Irish Examiner revealing that the government was in 2013 informed that the agency had knowledge of “several hundred” illegal birth registrations.

An Adoption Authority of Ireland delegation told representatives of the Department of Children and the General Register Office in June 2013 that the agency was aware of several hundred cases of illegal birth registrations.

“St Patrick’s Guild are aware of several hundred illegal registrations, but are waiting for people to contact them; they are not seeking the people involved. Must consider how revelations of this sort would affect a family unit,” states a department note of the meeting.

St Patrick’s Guild has hit the headlines on numerous occasions — most notably when this newspaper revealed its role in the illegal adoption of Tressa Reeves’ son.

The agency was criticised by Alan Shatter in the Dáil as far back as 1997, when he hit out at it for having “deliberately misled” people by giving “grossly inaccurate information” to both adopted persons and birth mothers. He said such behaviour by an adoption agency was “almost beyond belief”.

The Government has repeatedly resisted calls by 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.

Susan Lohan of the Adoption Rights Alliance said the fact the transfer of files overran significantly showed the “complete indifference” of the Adoption Authority of Ireland and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs towards the rights of adopted people and natural mothers.

“Both bodies are fully aware of the very significant numbers of illegal registrations on the files and, on the back of other scandals around child trafficking to the US, high mortality rates, mass graves, etc, are fearful of the potential scale of this operation becoming known,” she said.

Paul Redmond, chairman of the Coalition of Mother and Baby Homes Survivors, said the agency had been “exposed on numerous occasions” and called on Tusla to carry out a full audit of the files.

“If the HSE or Tulsa find suspicious issues in the files, the gardaí should be called in immediately and no one should be immune, including the nuns,” he said.

Kathy McMahon of the Irish First Mothers group said it was imperative that the Mother and Baby Homes Commission seek Government sanction to include St Patrick’s Guild in its investigation so it can fully audit all the files.

Two complaints a week made by abuse survivors about Caranua

Almost two complaints a week were made against Caranua last year by survivors of institutional child abuse.

Caranua was established by the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Act 2012 to oversee the use of the cash contributions of up to €110m, pledged by the religious congregations, to support the needs of survivors of institutional child abuse.

The fund is to provide survivors with their health, educational and housing needs.

Figures released under Freedom of Information show that, between April 2015 and February of this year, 75 formal complaints were made by survivors about the service offered by Caranua — almost two every week. The vast majority relate to “disrespectful/poor treatment”. However, others include “failure to protect confidentiality”, “discriminatory treatment” and “failure to meet timeline”.

Tom Cronin of Irish Survivors of Institutional Abuse International said he believed the figures to be “the tip of the iceberg”.

“ A lot of survivors are vulnerable and timid and don’t bother to complain. If Caranua is working, then why are so many survivors unhappy with it? We are just ignored. It’s a situation where we have to beg for our own money — money that we are entitled to. It’s disgraceful what they are doing,” he said.

Mr Cronin said the system was “completely ad hoc” and that while surivivors could get money for certain home renovations, finance for essential white goods like fridges, washing machines, and cookers was denied.

He also queried Caranua’s refusal to release money to survivors who wanted finance to help pay for their own burials.

“Many survivors are worse off now than they were when they received the redress awards. In their twilight years, survivors are being denied what was awarded to them by bureacracy,” he said.

Mr Cronin said he believed the State was hoping survivors would die off so the fund could be closed and re-directed into other areas.

A spokesperson for Caranua denied the level of complaints was high and said that it was always working to make the application process more survivor centred.

“Ideally, we would have no complaints. However, of the over 5,180 part one applications we have received up to February, that figure [75 complaints] represents about 1.5%.

“Obviously, we want that figure down to 0%. In general, we are always trying to iron out our processess to make them as person centred as possible. We talk to a lot of survivors and groups and we are always trying to adapt to best suit the needs of the people we are supporting,” she said.

The spokesperson acknowledged that goods and money for burial was not permitted under the current guidelines but said that, due to survivors’ concerns on this issue, it was “currently under review”.

She also denied that there was any intention to close the fund before all the money has been spent.

“We don’t intend to have any money left over as we can see that the need is there for the money to be spent in the survivor population and that is our intention. As of today, we have spent around €45m in different supports out of the €110m so we are going through it rapidly,” she said.

http://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/abuse-survivors-unhappy-at-funds-operation-392260.html