The scandal the State fears – illegal adoptions

The focus on one institution — Tuam — and one issue — baby deaths — has proved to be convenient for the Government but the spotlight needs to shift to the glaring elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about. The issue will simply not go away.

It’s been just over three years since the Mother and Baby Homes Commission began its work examining 14 mother and baby homes and a selection of county homes.

Despite having terms of reference that include crucial issues like adoption practices and vaccine trials, its focus in that time has been almost exclusively on one institution — Tuam, and one issue — infant deaths.

This may be by accident or design but, either way, it suits the Government. It keeps the narrative focused on historic deaths in an institution in the west of Ireland and away from a key issue — the huge and glaring elephant in the room that no one likes to mention — the scale of forced and illegal adoptions and the State’s role in same.

The irony of all of this is that an inquiry into all of these matters could have happened long before the Mother and Baby Homes Commission was set up in 2015. Like the Magdalene laundries inquiry before it, the Government was dragged kicking and screaming into an investigation.

The research of Catherine Corless relating to infant deaths at the Tuam Mother and Baby Home and the subsequent international media attention the story generated forced the Government to examine these institutions.

We have since learned, through numerous revelations in this newspaper, that the State was well aware of these issues long before Tuam hit the headlines in 2012.

Indeed, calls for an inquiry into how thousands of adoptions have been contracted across decades have been bouncing around since the 1990s. Every government since then has told activists that there is nothing to see here — despite mountains of evidence stating otherwise.

So three years into the inquiry, what has been the progress of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission? In a word — slow.

That was to be expected. No one with a grasp of the scale of the task facing the Commission expected it to issue its final report by the initial deadline of February 2018. It will now issue its final report in February of next year.

However, given it has just recently moved its focus away from Tuam to examining another institution — Bessborough Mother and Baby Home in Cork — this also looks ambitious.

The Commission was established in February 2015. From then until July 2016, very little emerged as to its progress or how it operated.

In that time, a number of investigations by this newspaper revealed that both Tuam and Bessborough had been examined by the HSE prior to Catherine Corless’ revelations.

Senior management in that organisation, as well as two government departments — the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the Department of Health — had been made aware of serious concerns raised about practices in at least one of these institutions.

In June 2015, just four months after the Commission was set up, the Irish Examiner revealed that two separate reports on Tuam and Bessborough were prepared by the HSE, while it was preparing material for the McAleese investigation into Magdalene laundries.

These reports not only explicitly reference infant mortality rates, but also expressed serious concerns about the possible trafficking of children from the institutions. They also mention that these issues needed to be investigated as a matter of urgency.

In the case of Tuam, a note of a teleconference call on October 12, 2012, revealed that senior management in the HSE felt what had been discovered needed to go to the minister so that warranted a state inquiry.

The call involved then assistant director of the Children and Family Service at the HSE, Phil Garland, and then head of the medical intelligence unit, Davida De La Harpe.

During the call, concern was expressed that as many as 1,000 children may have been trafficked from the Tuam Mother and Baby Home in what could “prove to be a scandal that dwarfs other, more recent issues with the Church and State”.

These concerns had been 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”.

The archive contained 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 might have been prolonged by the order for financial reasons. It also contained letters to parents asking for money for the upkeep of some children who had already been discharged or who 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”.

Those on the conference call raise the possibility that if there is evidence of trafficking, “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 concludes by stating that, due to the gravity of what was being found, an “early warning letter” be written to 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.

At the time, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA) denied this information was ever forwarded to the then minister Frances Fitzgerald.

A week later, in a separate report sent by Mr Garland to Mr Crowley, and which CC’d then national director of Children and Family Services, Gordon Jeyes, and Ms De la Harpe, Dr Declan McKeown, of the medical intelligence unit, also outlined concerns about death rates at both Tuam and Bessborough.

Dr McKeown notes that the infant mortality rate for Tuam was “approximately 20%-25%, similar to that recorded in Bessborough”. He also raised questions as to the veracity of such death rates.

“Queries over the veracity of the records are suggested by causes of death such as ‘marasmus’ in a two-and-a-half-month-old infant; or ‘pernicious anaemia’ in a four-month-old. These diagnoses would be extremely unusual in children so young, even with the reduced nutrition of the time,” he said.

A separate report into Bessborough not only revealed that the deaths of hundreds of children were recorded in the order’s own register which was handed over to the HSE in 2011, but that, similar to Tuam, the operation was aimed at making money. This report was seen by both the DCYA and the Department of Health yet no action was taken on foot of the concerns.

It is understood that these revelations and what was known by key personnel within the HSE prior to the 2014 revelations is currently being examined by the Commission.

However, throughout 2015, there was no word emanating from the Commission as to the progress it was making. Indeed, even the most rudimentary of press queries were met with terse responses.

In August 2015, the Commission declined to answer any questions as to how its Confidential Committee — set up to gather testimony from survivors — operates.

The Irish Examiner asked a series of questions:

• Will all interviews with the Confidential Committee be recorded, unless a witness does not consent to this?

• Will a transcript and audio copy of the recording be provided to the witness?

• What is the area of expertise of the experienced person taking notes when a witness is being interviewed?

• Will a copy of those notes be sent to the witness?

• Will the witness have an opportunity to clarify anything s/he believes does not reflect her/his testimony?

• Will witnesses be given a copy of the general report of the Confidential Committee?

However, a statement issued by Commission director Ita Mangan simply said: “All aspects of the Confidential Committee are confidential including its procedures. People who wish to be heard by the committee are given detailed information in advance about how the meeting will be conducted.”

In fact, some information on this Committee was one aspect dealt with when the Commission finally published some information on its progress in July 2016 — well over a year after it was set up. The Commission’s first interim report ran to just five pages and was primarily a request to extend the timeframe for the completion of its Confidential Committee report and its Social History Report. These were due to be submitted in August 2017.

The Commission asked for these to now be submitted along with the overall final report in February 2018.

At the end of September, the Commission announced it was carrying out a test excavation at the site of the children’s burial ground for the Tuam Mother and Baby Home. Site work began in October and was expected to last five weeks.

Then on 3 March, 2017, and somewhat out of the blue, the Commission dropped a bombshell that thrust Tuam back into the worldwide media glare. It confirmed that “significant quantities of human remains” had been discovered in at least 17 of the 20 underground chambers which were examined as part of the excavation works.

The Commission said it was “shocked” by the discovery and that it was continuing its investigation into who was “responsible for the disposal of human remains in this way”.

It requested that the relevant State authorities take responsibility for the “appropriate treatment of the remains” and notified the coroner.

In response, Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone said the coroner for north Galway would take the steps he deemed necessary and stated that Galway County Council would engage with the Commission in relation to the next steps to be taken at the site.

In June, Ms Zappone commissioned an Expert Technical Group (ETG) to outline to Government as to what options were available in terms of managing the burial ground.

Almost a year and a half year later, there has still been no decision made as to what to do with the site.

The reason for the delay is clear. Given it is known, and indeed the State has held the evidence since at least 2011, that similarly high infant mortality rates were prevalent in other mother and baby homes — most notably Bessborough — it would appear that any decision taken at Tuam will have to be replicated in other sites of suspected infant burials.

Delays were also attached to the publication of the Commission’s second interim report.

Completed in September 2016, it was not published by the DCYA until April 2017 — one month after the discovery of infant remains in Tuam.

Running to 16 pages, the report has three main sections — on redress, its terms of reference, and on the issue of the false registration of births.

The Government managed to get its message out ahead of the second interim report’s publication, when the Irish Times reported in advance of its publication the Government’s view that it “not possible” to implement the report’s main recommendation that the 2002 Residential Institutions Redress Scheme be reopened in order to compensate those who were in mother and baby homes as children.

The report stated that the Government should re-examine the exclusion of children who lived without their mothers in mother and baby and county homes from the 2002 scheme and that “other redress options” for those involved.

It stated that former residents of the Bethany Home and other mother and baby homes like Bessborough, Sean Ross Abbey, Castlepollard, Tuam and Dunboyne all had “a strong case” that they should have been included in the 2002 scheme.

“It is clear to the Commission, from its work to date, that the decisions on which institutions to include in, or exclude from, the redress scheme are not consistent,” stated the report.

However, the Government had already got its point across that this option was out of the question. It was repeated by Ms Zappone on the day of publication. The Commission had not yet made any findings to date regarding “regarding abuse or neglect” and it “would not be appropriate” to deal with the question of redress in advance of the final report, she said.

Indeed, successive governments have been aware that the thorny issue of redress for mother and baby homes would arrive some day.

The Irish Examiner revealed in March 2017 that concerns were expressed at Cabinet as far back as 2011 that, if there was an inquiry into Magdalene laundries, it could lead to calls for inquiries into abuses in mother and baby homes, psychiatric institutions, and foster care settings.

The concerns are in a memorandum for Government seeking permission to establish what became the McAleese committee.

The observations of the then minister for education and skills Ruairí Quinn state that, although he was supportive of the approach outlined in the memorandum, “there may be demands for enquiries [sic] into other situations”.

“Following the publication of the ‘Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (the Ryan Report)’, there were renewed demands for the Redress Scheme to be extended to include other institutions, such as Magdalene laundries, mother and baby homes, psychiatric hospitals and foster care settings,” he said.

It went on to state that, while Mr Quinn recognised the demands being made on behalf of the women who had been through Magdalene laundries were for a separate redress scheme, “he is conscious of the implications of any move towards redress, for the Residential Insititutions Redress Scheme”.

The Commission’s second interim report acknowledged calls for an extension of its terms of reference to examine private nursing homes/maternity homes and a range of adoption societies but said such a decision could not be made until the current investigation is concluded. At that stage it “may be in a position to make further recommendations”.

Given a major part of its remit is to examine practices in relation to how adoptions were contracted, the second interim reports section on illegal adoption is remarkably lukewarm. In fact, the relevant chapter of the report is titled “False registration of birth” — a rather euphemistic term favoured by government departments. The false registration of birth, which was often facilitated by registered adoption societies, is after all, a serious criminal offence.

The report notes that illegal adoptions cover a “wide variety of situations including actions taken (or not taken) prior to the adoption and illegality in the adoption orders made”.

However, it makes no effort to highlight any of these. Instead, the focus of the section is on illegal birth registrations.

These occurred where the birth was registered in the name of adoptive parents and — crucially, from the State’s perspective — no formal adoption order was ever made.

In short, most of these cases can’t be called illegal adoptions as no formal adoption order was ever granted by the Adoption Board. The State is off the hook.

While the Commission acknowledges that the false registration of a birth is a criminal offence, it speculates that those involved in such practices may have been engaging in a crime for what they thought were the right reasons.

“It is possible that such registrations were carried out for what were perceived to be good reasons (this does not change the fact that it was an offence). Formal legal adoption did not become available in Ireland until 1953.

There is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that, prior to the availability of formal adoption, “adoptive” parents may have falsely registered the birth in the belief that they were conferring legal status on the child.

This narrative, offered without anything other than “anecdotal evidence”, indicates that such activity was done by ordinary, well-meaning couples rather than being facilitated by any other power structure such as a religious order or, indeed, the State.

However, what about the possibility that the opposite of this scenario may also be true? Namely, that such activity may have been facilitated for less than well-meaning reasons?

In December 2017, the Commission published its third interim report. The prime focus of the four-page report was to seek permission to push back the deadline for submitting its final report until February 2019.

However, as with the second interim report, some of the language seemed to seemed to be dampening expectations in terms of what the investigation could achieve.

The key line in the report is the Commission’s belief that it will be “difficult to establish the facts” surrounding the burials of children who died in all of the homes it is investigating.

It noted that that while there are “detailed death records available” in relation to mother and baby homes, there are also “significant gaps” in the information available about the burials of babies who died in a number of the institutions it is examining.

“The Commission is continuing to make inquiries about burials and burial records but it appears that this is an area in which it will be difficult to establish the facts,” stated the report.

Following the publication of the report, Ms Zappone announced other measures which would operate in parallel to the Commission’s work. Most notably, a collaborative forum would be established to support former residents of mother and baby homes. in developing solutions to the issues of concern to them.

One week later, the Government published the findings of the ETG report into the site at Tuam.

As with the second interim report, a very specific element of the report’s findings was leaked to the Irish Times in advance of publication.

This focused on the ETG assertion that it would be difficult to isolate individual remains at Tuam and that the Government should seek to ensure that expectations as to what is possible should be set at “realistic levels”.

However, a full reading of the report revealed other key points of interest in terms of what the State obligations may be in terms of investigating the circumstances of the burials at Tuam.

It outlined five options which the Government could pursue when managing the location.

These range from doing no further investigative work to a full forensic excavation and analysis of all human remains.

It also revealed Ireland may be bound by law to investigate the deaths to the fullest degree possible.

“These include human rights issues around the right of an individual to a respectful and appropriate burial,” said the report.

“There is also the possibility that there may be an obligation under international human rights law, including under the European Convention on Human Rights, arising from the right to respect for family life. This could arguably entitle living family members to know the fate of their relatives.

“There is an obligation on the State, pursuant to the Irish Constitution (Bunreacht na hÉireann) and under human rights law, to fully investigate the deaths so as to vindicate the right to life of those concerned.”

As a result, Ms Zappone has asked Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Dr Geoffrey Shannon, to examine these issues and to report to her on the matter.

If Mr Shannon finds that these rights exist, then it may influence which of the five options the Government chooses when dealing with the Tuam site, or indeed any of the other institutions where children are known to have died. His report is due next month.

In the meantime, we wait.

It would seem obvious that the fullest possible exhumation and analysis of the remains should be pursued. However, that would commit Government to the same course of action at every other potential site linked to a mother and baby home. This raises all manner of further issues — most notably cost.

In March, Catherine Corless hit out at the Government for focusing “on cost” rather than committing to a full forensic excavation, exhumation, and DNA testing of the remains at Tuam.

She expressed her anger at the “callous and cold voting system” put in place by Galway County Council as part of an independent consultation process on the five options presented by the ETG.

On forms issued by Galway County Council, interested parties were asked indicate their preferred option “by placing an X in the appropriate box” next to one of the five options.

Ms Corless’ intervention came just one month after the Irish Examiner uncovered evidence that children from the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home and another State-funded and accredited former adoption agency in Cork were buried in unmarked graves in a Cork City cemetery as late as 1990.

Tusla, who now hold the records, declined to say whether they had informed the Commission of these deaths before the Irish Examiner revealed them.

Both the Commission and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs have also declined to say whether or not all of the burials found would be investigated.

Whatever the Government decides to do with Tuam is just one part of the picture. The Commission will publish its final report in February of next year.

What it says on adoption will be crucial. It is too big a scandal to be simply tacked onto a report.

The children who died in these institutions can no longer speak for themselves.

However, there are thousands of adoptees out there — many of whom have no idea that there adoptions were illegal or that their identities were falsified. The scale of this scandal and the State’s role in this needs to be fully examined.

It will not simply go away.

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St Finbarr’s infant burials may not be investigated

The Mother and Baby Homes Commission and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYAhave refused to say whether all theinfant burials discovered in unmarked graves in a Cork city cemetery will be investigated.
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.
Two of the graves are completely unmarked, while the third has just one name recorded despite 16 children being buried in the plot.
One of the unmarked plots is owned by the now closed St Anne’s Adoption Society, while the largest plot was owned by the St Patrick’s Orphanage run by the Mercy Sisters. It operated a nursery for St Anne’s Adoption Society. The final plot is a non-perpetuity plot – indicating that it is unowned.
All three plots contain children that were in the care of the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home – one of the institutions under the remit of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission.
The remainder of the infants – one of whom died as late as 1988 and is in an unmarked grave – have no connection to Bessborough and are therefore outside the remit of the Commission.
However, they represent the same cohort of infant deaths being examined – namely the children of unmarried women who were to be adopted.
The Irish Examiner asked both the Commission and the DCYA if all of the burials in the plots would be investigated and if the terms of reference would be extended to include St Anne’s Adoption Society.
In a statement, the DCYA said there are “no plans” to further extend the Commission‘s terms of reference saying it had “sufficient scope to examine the issues raised in so far as they relate to the children who were resident for a time in the named institutions [listed under the terms of reference]”.
Asked again if all of the burials – including those which are not connected to Bessborough – would be examined, the DCYA said it was “not in a position to address the question” as it does not hold the records of St Anne’s Adoption Society or those of the cemetery.
When this information was then offered to the DCYA, it responded by stating that the Irish Examiner should “contact the Commission directly”.
The same question was put to the Commission which responded one week later but declined to answer the question.
“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,” said a statement.
Earlier this month,  the Adoption Authority of Ireland (AAI) said it was “not aware” that St Anne’s Adoption Society – a formerly accredited adoption agency – owned an unmarkedgrave.
Founded in 1954 by the then Bishop of Cork Cornelius Lucey, St Anne’s Adoption Society 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 have been in the possession of the HSE, and now Tusla, since that time.

Mother and Baby Commission of inquiry 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.

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”.