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The unpublished report highlighted the “wholly epidemic” infant deaths rates at the Cork home and said: “The question whether indeed all of these children actually died while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