Questions have been raised in the Seanad as to whether the cases of pregnant children in the Bessborough mother and baby home, in Cork had been reported as rapes to gardaí.
Details from maternity registers, released under the Freedom of Information Act by Tusla — the Child and Family Agency, reveal that between 1954 and 1987, girls as young as 12 had been pregnant in the institution.
The youngest child mentioned in the registers dated from 1968, and was listed as being aged 12 when transferred from Bessborough to St Finbarr’s Hospital, where her child had been delivered stillborn in January.
The presence of children in Bessborough, pregnant as a result of rape, continued into the 1980s. The Maternity Record Book 40, for example, lists a girl of 14 whose child was stillborn in 1982.
Speaking in Leinster House, independent senator and former Children’s Rights Alliance chief executive Jillian van Turnhout asked if Tusla or its predecessor — the HSE — had reported these cases to the relevant authorities.
Ms van Turnhout said: “Two cases stood out. One was in 1968 which was the year I was born. A child of age 12 who was a rape victim had a child in the home. That woman would now be 57. In 1982, there was a birth mother who was 14 years of age. I was 14 in 1982. She would now be 47. Her record states, ‘Premature, 33 weeks, gasped, and died’. I want to know if these cases were reported to the gardaí.”
Ms van Turnhout referenced the fact that, under section 19 of the Commissions of Investigations Act 2004, statements and documents given to the mother and baby home inquiry are inadmissible as evidence against a person in any criminal or other proceedings.
“These women are still alive today and I do not trust what has happened in these homes. The reports and figures show us why it is vital to have an audit,” she said.
“The State has a responsibility. These were children who were raped.
“What are we doing for them now? We can talk about times being different then but the last case goes up to 1982, it was not such a different time. What are we doing now with the full knowledge that we know? Are we ensuring that they will at last get justice? These women, very likely still alive today, were mistreated horrendously by the State. By our actions now we can show we have learnt the lessons of the past.”
Seanad leader Maurice Cummins (FG) described the revelations as “appalling”, and said they need to be dealt with “as a matter of urgency”.
The Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary declined to answer any queries on the subject, stating it would only communicate directly with the mother and baby homes commission.