A teenager forced to sign a false name on a consent form, an illegal birth registration, an unlawful adoption and State authorities fearful of legal cases

JACKIE Foley was just 16 years old in 1974 when she signed a consent form in Bessborough Mother and Baby Home form to have her son adopted. She didn’t sign her own name.

Instead, under instruction from a nun, and in the presence of a solicitor and her mother, she was forced to write a different name — Micheline Power* — a woman who does not exist.

As a result, all of the documentation that followed in the wake of this act was deliberately falsified.

In the furore surrounding the recent discovery of 126 cases of illegal birth registrations among St Patrick’s Guild’s records, the line pushed by the State is that all illegal registrations involved a birth being recorded in the names of the “adoptive” parents.

As a result, no adoption order was made and the couple would pass the child off as if born to them.

However, in the case of Jackie’s son, the birth was not registered in the name of his adoptive parents.

She had requested he be called Dermot Foley*.

Instead, he was given a bogus name and his birth was illegally registered as John Power*, born to Micheline Power, neither of whom exist. Both invented. Both ghosts.

An adoption order, issued by the State’s regulatory body, the Adoption Board, was contracted on the basis of these false identities.

Documents seen by the Irish Examiner reveal, and indeed name, individual nuns who worked at the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home and the affiliated Sacred Heart Adoption Society (SHAS) who were party to this.

It is clear from these records that the documentation required by the Adoption Board was falsified. It is unclear why this was done.

Jackie’s son is now 44. If he was to access his original birth certificate, he will spend years searching for his mother under the wrong name. He will be looking for Micheline Power — a woman who does not exist.

But the historic treatment of Jackie replays in the present. Almost half a century later, the attitude of certain State agencies — the Adoption Authority of Ireland (AAI), and Tusla — to her case is as cold-hearted as the nuns who forced her as a 16-year-old to sign away both her and her son’s identities.

Instead of offering support or offering assistance, emails between staff members show the attitude of Tusla to be one of institutional self-preservation.

Just last year, staff handling Jackie’s case were instructed in emails not to refer to situations like hers as “illegal” but instead as “possible illegal registrations”. Reference is made to having to “hold our powder” because “that stuff is FOI’able… and it could be used against us if someone takes a case”.

Staff are told that the AAI are the only ones that can make a determination as to the legality or illegality of any adoption.

Remarkably, a principal social worker with the AAI wrote to Tusla in February 2017 stating categorically that in the case of Jackie’s son, “the adoption is a legal adoption”.

Given that the entire tranche of legal documents used to secure the adoption relies on the false name of a woman and child, and that the AAI has known that fact for over a decade, this is an astonishing position for an employee of the State’s regulatory body to take.

The DCYA said in May that discoveries by Tusla in the St Patrick’s Guild records represent “the first time this threshold of a high level of certainty has been reached” in terms of evidence relating to illegal registrations.

However, Jackie’s case is one of the most egregious examples of an illegal registration resulting in an unlawful adoption. It is fully documented and the AAI’s predecessor, the Adoption Board, was notified as early as 2005.

Neither agency reported the case to the gardaí, not in 2005 when first notified, and at no point since. As a result, Jackie herself reported the details of what happened to the gardaí earlier this year.

Ten years later, Jackie’s case was forced onto the AAI and Tusla’s radar when she sought access to her records in 2015. Again, no one in either agency reported the matter to gardaí.

In fact, Tusla would not even release to Jackie the first name of her son — despite the fact that it was aware that the nuns had already provided her with that detail.

The details of this case — what happened in the past, and the State’s response in the present — begs the question: Has the attitude of official Ireland to women who were forced to give their children up for adoption changed over the past half century?

Instead of seeking to right a wrong, to privilege and protect the human rights of the individual citizen, the primary concern of the State agencies involved has been to insulate themselves from blame, to never admit liability, to delay access to records and information, and all in case a victim attempts to take legal action.

Where women like Jackie were once ignored, now they are feared.

Jackie’s baby boy

Jackie was just 15 in 1974 when she fell pregnant. Little more than a child herself, she had no idea that she was pregnant or what it entailed.

Unsurprisingly, her family was not happy and it was quickly decided that the pregnancy would be concealed and an adoption arranged. Her aunt was the central figure in making sure Jackie was taken to Bessborough and her son put up for adoption.

“I got pregnant. I knew very little about the whole mechanics of it. I had an idea but I didn’t know all of it and how you could end up, very fast, being pregnant. I didn’t know I was pregnant.

“I didn’t feel anything different or strange but I was obviously getting bigger and my mother said to me one day, early in May, she said: ‘Are you pregnant?’ And I said: ‘I don’t know.’ She became quite distraught but I begged her not to tell my father.

“The next thing was there was a phonecall made and my aunt was brought on the scene and I then was brought to a doctor in a very small street in Cork where I was put through an extreme examination confirming that I was pregnant.

Then the following day, late in the night, I was then brought in a car. I wasn’t really told where I was going. I was just told that I was being taken off, that I would probably end up going to a hospital and that I would have to wear glasses and a wig and I was not to say my name.

No one explained to Jackie where she was going or what was going to happen to her and her unborn child.

Under the cover of darkness, she was driven up that long, winding drive that leads to the front door of the imposing building that housed the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home.

It hasn’t changed much since Jackie was there as a frightened teenager.

“I arrived outside the door. There are a few steps up. I was 15 years of age. A nun opened the door. There was a room to the left and a room to the right and, to the best of my memory, I was brought into the room on the right.

“I was told to stand in there while my aunt spoke to the nun in the hall. I crouched in behind the door because I didn’t know where I was or what was happening. I am not religious but I did pray. I was absolutely terrified. You know how you can shake from fear? Well, that was going on inside of me. My breath was shaking.

 

“I was afraid to look around and I had nearly a dowager’s hump rolling on myself because I was so afraid. I just didn’t know what was going to happen to me. I just remember praying that whatever was going to happen that it would be soon. I didn’t know when I was due, nothing like that.”

From that point on, she was alone. When Jackie emerged, her aunt was gone. A nun took her to another room where a group of other women was sleeping. She was given the house name “Joan”* and told not to speak to anyone or mix with anyone.

However, Jackie was asked for her correct name and address. Given what was to happen later, the fact that a note was taken of her true identity meant the unlawful nature of her son’s adoption could be uncovered years later.

Jackie was only in Bessborough for five days but she remembers it in almost minute-by-minute detail.

She went into labour in the early hours of the second night of her stay. Her son was born the following day.

She never saw her baby’s face. She tried, but was physically restrained.

Kindness was in short supply. She begged to be told the sex of her child and, in hushed tones, one nun let it slip to her that she had had a baby boy.

When I was giving birth, I tried to sit up to see and there was definitely a nun, maybe two. I actually think there were nurses probably on either side. One put their hand across my chest one way and the other put their hand across my chest the other way and they held me down. That was it. I never saw the baby. I tried again to sit up and I saw two little feet moving. That’s all I saw.

Two days later, Jackie was instructed to put on the same clothes she had arrived in, and was sent home. Her son stayed in Bessborough for just six hours.

The records reveal his fate after birth: “Foster care 6 hours after delivery, awaiting adoption.”

Another states: “Baby — Sent to Mrs Green on same day of delivery.”

Jackie has been searching for her son ever since.

Bogus identity

Jackie was brought back to Bessborough some five months later to sign a consent form to allow her son to be adopted.

This is where things begin to take a more sinister and illegal turn.

In short, Jackie was told to sign a false name on the consent form — and all of the paperwork, including her son’s birth certificate, was subsequently falsified in this name.

It remains unclear as to why a bogus identity was constructed in the paperwork. Was this a service — one which effectively obliterated Jackie’s identity and that of her son from official memory — one offered by the nuns as an extra layer of secrecy?

The Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary declined to answer questions on Jackie’s case but said it rejected “any suggestion of impropriety by any of our sisters, some of whom are still alive, in regard to adoptions in Bessborough in 1974 or at any other time”.

The order said that it was dealing directly with the Mother and Baby Homes Commission “on all related matters” and urged anyone with information about mother and baby homes to pass it on to the commission “immediately”.

Jackie’s memory is crystal clear. Although members of her family were present when she signed the consent form, the instruction to sign the name Micheline Power instead of her own name did not come from them.

Rather, it came from those working on behalf of the SHAS at Bessborough. Jackie had never heard the name. Her mother had to spell it out for her as she signed it on the consent form.

I went in that same door and I went in that same room as I did on the first day. There was a man sitting behind a desk. There was my mother to my right and there was a nun and if I am not mistaken, another nun. A piece of paper was put forward and I was told to sign it. I looked and I didn’t know what it was.

I was then told to sign it in the name Micheline Power. That instruction didn’t come from where my family were standing. I had never come across the name before and didn’t know how to spell it, so I looked to my mother for assistance and she spelled it out for me. I just signed the form in the name Micheline Power.

The Irish Examiner has seen this consent form and it is clearly signed in a false name. It is also dated in May — just four days after the birth of her son. However, Jackie’s admission records show she was not present in Bessborough on that date.

In fact, she did not sign the consent form until the following October. The witness to the signing of this bogus name was a nun from Bessborough.

As for the consent being free and informed, Jackie points out that no one explained anything to her. She was so frightened, her overriding memory is trying to stop herself from visibly shaking.

“I was terrified. I remember my behind twitching and sticking my knees together to stop my ass twitching. And that was it. I was put into the car and brought home. I don’t remember anyone saying to me: You’re signing a baby away. You are never going to see your baby again. Nobody ever explained anything to me.”

The Supreme Court judgment in G v An Bord Uchtála is a key ruling on what constitutes a valid consent. It states that “a consent motivated by fear, stress or anxiety…does not constitute a valid consent”.

A record from September 1974 entitled “Particulars Concerning Child” is signed by a named nun of the Sacred Heart Convent, Blackrock, Cork.

Known as a Form 2 document, along with the consent form, it is a link in the chain of paperwork to be furnished by an adoption society to the Adoption Board to contract a legal adoption order. It is supposed to detail the correct names of both the natural mother and her child. However, in Jackie’s case, it is made out in the false names.

The furnishing of false information to the Adoption Board was a criminal offence under Section 43 of the Adoption Act 1953, punishable on conviction by one year in prison or a fine not exceeding £100, or both.

Remarkably, the entire falsification of the documents is fully detailed in the original records which Jackie has obtained over the years.

A contemporaneous handwritten note taken from her records shows an instruction to falsify the birth register in a false name — a criminal offence. It simply states: “Please register Baby John Power.”

Another document from 1974, outlining details of Jackie’s labour, contains the following entry: “I wasn’t given any information re this baby — Mothers name was changed -? reason.”

The handwritten document confirms both Jackie’s and her son’s names were registered in different names, and it is signed by a named nun.

A medical record from St Finbarr’s Hospital Departmental of Haemotology also contain results for Jackie’s bloods in the false name.

An internal tracing document prepared by staff in Bessborough in 1994, upon a request for information from Jackie’s son, also clearly acknowledges that names were changed in the records.

The document states that a named nun is “looking after this” but asterisked at the bottom of the page is: “Reg & baptized (sic) in wrong name — NB not Power. I wrote details out for Sr.”

The records reveal that Jackie’s son’s baptism certificate was also falsified. This certificate came from the Church of the Descent of the Holy Ghost [now Spirit] in Dennehy’s Cross in Cork City in June 1974.

The endpoint for this paper trail is the falsified birth certificate — an illegal birth registration. The informant listed on the birth certificate is a named nun of the Sacred Heart Hospital at Bessborough.

It is unclear why all of this was done. However, it is clear from another record that Jackie’s family had paid money to the nuns to give to Jackie’s son on more than one occasion. A handwritten, undated document released to Jackie shows that one of her relatives went to Bessborough “on more than one occasion” and that this person “wanted to leave him [Jackie’s son] money”.

On one occasion when Sr (name withheld) was in tea room preparing for Sale of Work, she handed an envelope with some money for Bazaar. She did not know how much she just handed it on to the people counting the (sic) coming in for the Bazaar. No words were exchanged.

On recall one of her visits was to accuse her of mis-leading her into thinking the child was placed in Dublin. Sister believes that was because the B Cert was issued in Dublin.

The birth cert was, in fact, issued in Cork. However, the above suggests that money was paid by Jackie’s family to the nuns on more than one occasion since 1974 with the instruction for it to be sent to her son.

Jackie didn’t set foot in Bessborough for another 30 years, when she visited the agency in person in 2004, looking to start tracing her son. By then, Jackie had married and had further children. Her son had previously made an inquiry about finding her in 1994.

She received a call back from a nun, who told her no boy was born in Bessborough on the date of birth she had supplied for her son, or indeed on any day that week.

A short time after visiting Bessborough, Jackie received another call to tell her that a nun from the agency — Sr Sarto — had been to visit her home town and was trying to contact her. She eventually received a call from the nun.

Jackie describes the meeting as not a cordial one, but that she was told she could write to her son through the agency. So, she sent a letter and received a “lovely” response from her son. She sent another letter but heard nothing back.

Jackie had issued an instruction to the agency, enclosed with this first letter to her son. It was to request that it not give her son any information about her because she wanted to do that herself. She also gave permission for him to write letters to her through SHAS.

Material released to Jackie many years later show her son signed a typed document prepared by the SHAS which stated: “I understand that Sr Sarto has been instructed by my birth mother not to give me any information.”

By this point, Jackie decided that she would find her son herself. She didn’t need or want any help from the nuns.

In 2005, she had obtained her son’s birth certificate after contacting the Eastern Health Board. There, in black and white, on an official State document, the fraud was revealed.

Armed with this evidence, she called the Adoption Board in 2005 and informed them of her son’s unlawful adoption. She was told it would look into it.

However, the regulatory body never reported the illegal birth registration. No one was held accountable. SHAS continued to be an accredited adoption agency for another seven years until it voluntarily decided to close and transfer its records to the HSE in 2011.

And there it lay. Jackie was left waiting, like countless other women. Like Tressa Reeves, whose case was settled in the High Court in July, Jackie received no help.

She had had to drag every piece of information she could from the nuns. Now she had to do it from the State body that held the SHAS records — Tusla.

By 2015, it was well aware of Jackie’s case. It had not gone unnoticed and, clearly, Tusla was concerned about the contents of her file.

Months passed with no progress. Jackie was told her file contained anomalies. She got some records, but not her antenatal records.

After another phone call telling her how busy they were, Jackie had had enough.

I said to her: ‘It’s like this now. I have had enough of you. I know my antenatal records are there because Sr Sarto read them out to me. And now, you are telling me they are not there. I know they are there and that you have them. I want them. They are my property.’

Shortly after the call, Jackie received another 56 pages in the post. Unwilling to go away, she got what was hers.

However, frustrated by the lack of progress in arranging a meeting with her son, Jackie stopped engaging with Tusla. Tired of pleasantries and social workers whispering to her about the “elephant in the room” — the issue of false names, she had had enough.

However, privately, Tusla and the AAI had quite a lot to say about Jackie.

Jackie’s case had initially been flagged in August 2015 by a Tusla FOI officer who wrote to a senior social worker about her concerns about the case.

“The significance of this is evident in the fact that the child’s birth registration form is recorded under the fictitious (sic) names, and worryingly, the adoption documents including consent to adoption were filed with the Adoption Authority under the false names.

“I should think that this renders the adoption illegal. I trust you will report this information along to the Commission of Investigation [into Mother and Baby Homes] or whomever you feel is the appropriate body,” states the email.

Tusla sought and received records from the AAI relating to Jackie’s son’s adoption, in August 2015. The letter sent by the AAI to Tusla confirms that the false name Jackie was instructed to sign on the consent is also that on the adoption order.

Emails between Tusla’s national manager for adoption, Siobhán Mugan, and other Tusla staff, show Jackie’s case was still being discussed and recorded on a register of illegal and suspected illegal adoptions over a year later.

On September 19, 2016, a principal social worker emailed Ms Mugan under the subject title: “illegal adoptions”, stating that a case had come to her attention “that might imply an illegal adoption”.

“I know that you asked to be made aware of all such cases. Can you let me know what you would like me to send you in the way of information,” states the email.

Ms Mugan forwarded the email to another staff member, asking her to “get the details of this for our register”.

This staff member then emailed the principal social worker: “Could you please complete the attached register. If there are any further details, please add them to the notes part of the register.”

Curiously, Tusla has always denied it kept a register of illegal adoptions. In May 2017, the Irish Examiner asked Tusla if it held a register or database where adoption cases that raised concerns are noted. It stated: “No, there is no database or register held.”

The Irish Examiner asked Tusla a series of questions on the above register — including why its existence has been denied.

It stated that it “does not hold a register of suspected illegal/irregular adoptions” but that, in mid to late 2016, it did “consider tracking anomalies/issues of concern” as they were notified to the national manager for adoption to ensure procedures were being followed.

“This was trialled for a short period but was discontinued. Tusla does not have a legal basis to collate this information. Tusla’s only formal basis for processing this data is for the purposes of providing an information and tracing service to applicants,” said a statement.

Tusla also indicated it would no longer be making “any further comment on the issue of incorrect registrations of birth”.

Just one day after noting Jackie’s case in its register, the attitude of Tusla to releasing information to natural mothers desperately seeking information was also laid bare. Its policy was to be even more restrictive than the religious orders that once held the files.

On September 20, 2016, the FOI officer dealing with Jackie’s case emailed a senior social worker, questioning the Tusla policy not to release first names of natural mothers or children to those tracing. This information was non- identifying and was routinely released by the religious orders. Indeed, Jackie had already been given her son’s name by the nuns.

Given that Jackie already had these details, the FOI officer said it seemed “pedantic (and cruel) to censor this detail especially since she has already been given it previously”.

Two days later, the senior social worker responded. It was blunt and to the point. This information was to be redacted.

“I was in Brunel again yesterday where this direction was reiterated, we are not to confirm info. That applicant may already have relating to identifying information like name etc…,” states the email.

By February 2017, direct instructions were coming from senior management to staff members dealing with Jackie’s case, instructing them to stop referring to her case as an illegal adoption but to instead reference it as a possible illegal registration.

One email to the FOI officer from the senior social worker states that she has been told “to ask you to refer to this matter and all such matters as possible illegal registrations for recording purposes”.

The following day, February 21, 2017, the FOI officer responded, stating that the “preference for the use of the terms ‘illegal registrations’ vs illegal adoptions, noted”.

In a later response, the FOI officer refers to the choice of language requested as “political correctness”.

However, the response from the principal social worker reveals that Tusla’s concern was that of protecting itself against any potential legal action.

“I think the concern is in fairness that stuff is FOI’able…and it could be used against us if someone takes a case… the AAI [Adoption Authority of Ireland] are only ones to determine if registration is illegal or not so we hold our powder, that’s the thinking anyway so…,” states the email.

Remarkably, on the very same day, the principal social worker at the AAI emailed Tusla and insisted that Jackie’s case was not an example of an illegal registration, nor was her son’s adoption illegal.

This is not an illegal registration as an illegal registration is where a couple use their names on an original birth cert for a baby that is not born to them.

The email confirms that the mother was “falsely” named “on the original papers, but the adoption is a legal adoption and not an illegal registration”.

The AAI also confirmed that Jackie had told the AAI’s predecessor, the Adoption Board, of her case as far back as 2005, “confirming the use of a false name at the time”. It would appear that neither the Adoption Board nor the AAI reported the matter as a criminal offence in the intervening period.

In a statement, Tusla said it does not comment on individual cases but if issues of concern arise in the processing of adoption information and tracing requests, they report them to the necessary authority — the AAI, a child protection team/retrospective abuse teams or An Garda Síochána.

Tusla also said that national manager for adoption Ms Mugan asked staff to use appropriate language in relation to cases of concern.

“In relation to cases where there may be a possible incorrect birth registration, we have consistently referred to these situations as possible incorrect birth registrations, as no adoption took place and therefore they should not be referred to as an ‘illegal adoption’.

“The use of appropriate language also assists in ensuring consistency and clarity for staff while communicating with members of the public on these sensitive matters,” said a statement.

The Irish Examiner asked the AAI a series of questions, including if the opinion expressed to Tusla by its principal social worker was the formal legal opinion of the authority.

It said it could not comment on individual cases but that “in this case that no request for a formal review by the board or complaint has been received by the authority from the individual in question”.

“Where a specific request for a review or complaint is made to the board and where there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate irregular or illegal adoption practices, including meeting with and talking to the complainant, the board, having considered the matter, will refer the complaint to the gardaí or other third party, as it has done in other cases,” said a statement.

So despite Jackie having contacted the Adoption Board in 2005 and the AAI itself providing records to Tusla confirming what happened in Jackie’s case in 2015, the attitude of the regulatory body seems to be that it is up to the victim to ensure it carries out an investigation into irregularities.

Informing it via a direct phone call wasn’t enough — she should have ensured the Board of the AAI was directly informed.

The onus is on the victim and not the regulatory body to ensure something is done.

The Department of Children and Youth Affairs has stated on the record that where it has proof of an illegal birth registration, the State has a duty to “inform the individuals concerned”.

The State has been aware of what happened to Jackie’s son since 2005.

When can he expect a knock on his door?

* These names have been changed to protect the identities of those involved

Advertisements

State’s reaction is to deny, delay, and to buy silence

Magdalene laundries, mother and baby homes, industrial schools, illegal adoptions — Taoiseach Leo Varadkar listed them all out to the Pope in Dublin Castle this summer.

He told the Pontiff that the sorry litany of scandals “are stains on our State, our society and also the Catholic Church”.

In doing so he trod a well-worn path of previous governments of treating all these issues as if they are distinct and separate scandals, instead of part of the same story.

Instead of examining and investigating the bigger picture of how unmarried and vulnerable women and children were treated in a sprawling network of interlinking institutions, private agencies and state authorities, we break it down into separate scandals.

Focus on the narrow and obscure the broader picture. It’s a well-worn path by successive governments.

Identifying all of these issues as individual scandals deflects from what this is really about — namely the collusion of Church and State in the construction of a system of confinement of single women and the removal of their children.

What flows from this are the related practices which have shocked the world — like Tuam — but also the spectre of forced and illegal adoption, infant trafficking, alteration of identities and records, medical and vaccine trials, infant mortality and the use of infant remains for anatomical research.

Mother and baby homes, Magdalene laundries, industrials schools — these not are not individual aberrations. They are one story, one scandal which, when seen in their totality, tell us about the fundamental character of the State — right from its very foundation.

Narrative, and the controlling of a narrative, has always been an important method of limiting the impact of this story.

Scandal is a word used in relation to the treatment of women and children in Ireland for decades. The reaction to scandal hasn’t changed much down the generations.

The research of Catherine Corless and the shocking revelations at Tuam were the match that lit the touchpaper. We had the usual procession of TDs and ministers expressing shock and outrage about this latest “scandal”.

Seventy years earlier, in 1945, the same word was used by parliamentary secretary to the then minister for local government and public health, Dr Con Ward, in relation to an 82% infant death rate at the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home. That rate had been reported to state inspectors.

It briefly led to the government of the day banning pregnant women being sent to the home and led Dr Con Ward to write to then Bishop of Cork, Daniel Cohalan, to express fears about a “public scandal” over the figures.

The key word here is “public”. A scandal is one thing to an Irish Government, a public scandal is a very different animal.

Even in Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone’s letter to Pope Francis, she stressed that the issue of mother and baby homes only came to “public attention” in Ireland during the summer of 2014.

In short, for the Government’s narrative, the start date for dealing for the “Mother and Baby Homes scandal” was 2014. With a start date of 2014, it looks like the reaction to revelations at Tuam was swift.

Of course, there is a different narrative which focuses on institutional rather than public knowledge. This narrative reveals that whether it’s magdalene laundries, mother and baby homes or illegal adoptions, the State reaction is marked by deny, delay and when an issue becomes “public” in a manner that can no longer be controlled, launch an inquiry— but a limited one. A redress scheme which buys silence with compensation usually follows.

MOTHER AND BABY HOMES

Three years before Catherine Corless’ revelations about a mass grave in Tuam sent shockwaves around the globe, the Cabinet was grappling with how to deal with another part of this story — the Magdalene laundries.

Even in 2011, the issue of mother and baby homes — and how to limit calls for inquiries into such institutions — were on the agenda of the Cabinet.

In a memorandum for Government seeking permission to establish what became the McAleese Committee, concerns were expressed 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.

Controlling the narrative and limiting the scope of the Magdalene inquiry was the order of the day. Some seven years later, the mother and baby home system and the treatment of more than 40 vulnerable adults in a foster care setting are now the subject of State inquiries.

By 2012, the HSE was expressing stark concerns about the mother and baby home records it had uncovered.

The McAleese Committee had requested records relating to the 10 Magdalene Laundries be examined by the HSE.

Permission was granted to include two mother and baby homes in this trawl — Bessborough in Cork and Tuam in Galway. This decision was “based on potential pathways references by the advocacy group Justice For Magdalenes (JFM)”.

Prof Jim Smith of Boston College and JFM group had written to the chairperson of the inquiry, then-senator Martin McAleese on February 21, 2012, outlining a circular he had discovered relating to a 1948 Government survey which revealed “disturbing” infant death rates in excess of 50% at the Tuam Mother and Baby Home.

Within eight months, HSE staff in Cork and Galway had turned up enough shocking material that concerns were being expressed about whether or not these issues warranted a State inquiry in and of themselves.

By October 2012, such was the level of consternation the material was causing, an internal memo was prepared by Dr Declan McKeown — consultant public health physician and medical epidemiologist of the medical intelligence unit in the HSE — and relayed the details of a teleconference with then assistant director of children and family service Phil Garland, who was co-ordinating the HSE project for the McAleese Committee and then head of the medical intelligence unit Davida De La Harpe.

The note outlines 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 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 and Youth Affairs has said the minister was never made aware of the issues surrounding Tuam in 2012.

 

In tandem with this, in September 2012, a 20-page report had been prepared on Bessborough. It revealed that the HSE was in possession of a death register maintained by the Order that ran the institution between 1934 and 1953.

The report outlined that the almost 500 deaths recorded in this period were “shocking” and “a cause for serious consternation”.

It also expressed 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”.

The report notes that the 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”.

It also 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”.

This report was seen by both the Department of Health and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.

Given the level of concerns surrounding what was being found in relation to both institutions, Dr McKeown began work on a briefing paper on the situation for Mr Crowley. This was also forwarded to the then national director of children and family services at the HSE, Gordon Jeyes on October 19, 2012.

In one of the drafts of this paper, marked “strictly confidential”, Dr McKeown states that the records show that one child was sent to a US couple in 1957 in return for a cash payment.

Dr McKeown also said that the adoption records contained in the archive showed clear examples of multiple illegal adoptions which were not processed by the Adoption Board — then the regulatory body for adoption at the time.

Dr McKeown also revealed that letters from “senior Church figures requesting the nuns to identify babies for adoption to the USA” — indicating that the Catholic Church hierarchy was also directing this practice.

“The archives need to be examined for clinical, accounting and ethical irregularities, of which there are numerous clues in the material already uncovered.

“Additionally, there may be legal or criminal issues underlying the documentation, and it is critical that these potentials are outruled as soon as possible, given the increased public interest in the issue of adoption practice in Ireland, particularly in the 1950s,” he wrote.

None of these concerns appear in the final HSE submission to the McAleese Committee which was only concerned with the institutions in so far as referrals from to and from Magdalene Laundries.

In a cover letter attached to a draft of the HSE report sent to principal officer at the DCYA and member of the McAleese Committee Denis O’Sullivan on November 1, 2012, Dr McKeown states that that “adoption, birth and registration and the recording of infant mortality” in relation to the mother and baby homes were issues that may require “deeper investigation” and had been referred to Mr Crowley.

As a result, they would “no longer form part of the core investigation into the Magdalene system”.

Six days later, Mr 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.

It’s unclear where the HSE investigation went from here, if anywhere.

No investigation was launched. Nothing happened.

The McAleese Report was published. It included none of the concerns around mother and baby homes as they were outside its remit.

Within two years, Tuam was making headlines around the world. The Government launched another inquiry into the treatment of women and children — this time it was to be called the Mother and Baby Homes inquiry.

From the outset, it was criticised for being too narrow and limited only to institutions labelled mother and baby homes. Calls for the probe to be widened to include adoption agencies and other institutions went unheeded. Adoption would be addressed in so far as it related to the 14 named mother and baby Homes. Calls for the inquiry to focus on the scale of forced and illegal adoptions across the board fell on deaf ears.

Three years later, in May of this year, illegal adoption was to become the newest “public scandal”. Once again a piece of the same story was viewed in isolation.

ILLEGAL ADOPTIONS

It was announced in a blaze of publicity at a press conference in May with Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone — 126 cases where births were illegally registered between 1946 and 1969 had been discovered in the records of former religious-run adoption agency St Patrick’s Guild.

The media followed suit declaring the discovery Ireland’s “adoption scandal” like this had come out of the blue.

Of course, the issue of not just illegal birth registrations, but all forms of illegal adoptions has been around for years. That such issues had happened with St Patrick’s Guild had also been known for years.

You can go back more than 20 years and find references to St Patrick’s Guild in the news for all the wrong reasons.

Of course, the minister rightly acknowledged that the issue of illegal birth registrations had been known before the Tusla discovery.

However, we were quickly given the new narrative, this time was different, whereas previously we had suspicions, now we had facts.

While there have been suspicions about the practice of incorrect registrations for many years, it has been extremely difficult to uncover clear evidence of the practice because of the deliberate failure by those involved to keep records.

“The 126 cases announced by the minister on 29th May represent the first time this threshold of a high level of certainty has been reached,” the DCYA told this newspaper in June.

The DCYA went even further and said that where such evidence is found, the State’s responsibility, “is to inform the individuals concerned.” This is a unique statement for the DCYA in the sense that it is both untrue and quite the U-turn all in one.

Firstly, the 126 cases are not the first time we have found evidence of illegal registrations. The DCYA and multiple ministers have been aware of the issue for years and have chosen to do nothing.

Take the case of Tressa Reeves — who recently settled a case against St Patrick’s Guild and the State — on this very issue.

Tressa’s son, was the victim of an illegal registration facilitated by St Patrick’s Guild. Her story first appeared in the Irish Examiner in 2010. Tressa had evidence of this since 1997. The former Adoption Board, now the Adoption Authority of Ireland (AAI), knew about her case since 2001. In the years that followed, three former children’s ministers were informed of Tressa Reeves’ case.

If, as the DCYA says, the State had a responsibility to tell those victims of illegal registrations the truth about their identity, why didn’t it see fit to do this for her son?

After all, all Tressa asked for, for more than a decade, was that the State tell her son the truth. It took until 2012 — and a threat of further negative publicity — for this to happen.

Remarkably, despite full knowledge of St Patrick’s Guild’s involvement in such practices, it was the very first adoption agency accredited under the Adoption Act 2010.

However, if Tressa’s case wasn’t enough evidence for the DCYA, its own regulatory body had been telling it about the issue for years also.

Following the Irish Examiner’s story on Tressa Reeves, the AAI committed to an audit of its records. It found approximately 99 illegal registration cases, while a further 20 were identified in the following years. This has subsequently risen to 131. Not all of these cases refer to St Patrick’s Guild.

In a report prepared for the DCYA in June 2011, the AAI said it considered carrying out a more comprehensive audit of the cases it uncovered, but because of the transfer of senior personnel and the “pressure on resources of the imminent establishment of the Adoption Authority no further action was taken”.

In June 2013, an AAI delegation told the DCYA again of there being “at least 120 [confirmed] cases” of illegal registrations found as the result of the 2010 audit.

It even name-checked St Patrick’s Guild for the department, stating that the agency was “aware of several hundred illegal registrations”, and that it was “not seeking the people involved” but were, rather, “waiting for people to contact them”.

The AAI went further, stating its belief that this could well be the tip of the iceberg and that there “may be thousands” more.

In 2015, the DCYA was again notified by its regulatory body about the issue of illegal registrations. This time the AAI sent three reports — including a spreadsheet of 90 specific cases it believed were likely illegal registrations.

Clearly, the department has been put on notice about this issue and, indeed had been told about specific cases, for years and has chosen to do nothing.

The department has defended the lack of action on the 90 cases it was notified about in 2015. It said these were cases “where the appearance of irregular activity suggested the possibility of an incorrect registration having occurred”, before pointing out that the 126 cases found by Tusla this year were confirmed cases of illegal birth registration.

“The 126 cases currently being dealt with by Tusla were confirmed, once a rigorous process was completed to ensure that the State could be as sure as possible that these individuals’ births were, in fact, illegally registered,” said the department.

Why were three separate reports — including a spreadsheet of some 90 cases — sent by the very body that regulates adoption not subjected to the same “rigorous process” that Tusla’s cases were? Do the concerns of the AAI, the regulatory body for adoption, count for nothing?

Just five months after the June 2013 meeting, then children’s minister Frances Fitzgerald told the Dáil she “had no plans to initiate an audit of all [adoption] files”.

She also claimed that all adoptions “which the Irish State has been involved in since 1952 have been in line with this [Adoption Act 1952] and subsequent adoption legislation”.

This claim was repeated on two separate occasions by her successor, Charlie Flanagan. Both made the claim despite the fact that no State agency had ever examined all the records.

This claim is also supported by the AAI, which said that “to its knowledge”, all adoptions carried out by the regulatory body “have been conducted in accordance with the relevant legislative framework for adoption”.

“Certain illegal birth registrations have been found to have occurred but these were conducted outside the legislative framework for adoption and can therefore not be classified as adoptions,” said the AAI in a statement.

However, as the Irish Examiner revealed last week, we now know that some illegal registrations also resulted in adoption orders.

Jackie Power (named changed to protect identity) was instructed as a 16-year-old in Bessborough to sign a false name on an adoption consent form. All of the paperwork that followed — including her son’s birth certificate and the adoption order — are made out in false names.

St Patrick’s Guild could have been included in the Mother and Baby Homes inquiry in 2014 on the back of the AAI’s notifications to the DCYA but it was not. However, the cases found by Tusla were reported to the Commission this year. Once again, the inevitable was delayed.

When the Irish Examiner published details of the 2013 meeting in 2015, it asked the DCYA did it not think that the AAI’s belief that thousands of people in the country had their identities falsely registered — a criminal offence — warranted investigation?

The department declined to respond to the specific questions asked, but said a full audit of adoption records would be “of very limited benefit”.

It is important to note that the only way information generally becomes available is when someone with knowledge about the event comes forward…

“There is little, if any, supporting information in relation to these arrangements…Accordingly, an audit of all adoption records would be of very limited benefit in establishing the number of illegal registrations that took place,” said a statement.

Recently, Ms Zappone has acknowledged the cases found by the AAI and says “a validation exercise is underway” in relation to them. However, she didn’t say that these cases had been found as far back as 2010. This action could and should have been taken years ago.

The DCYA’s view that an audit of the records would be of little use has also been shown up as without foundation. Indeed, the 126 cases Tusla found were specifically marked “adopted from birth”. No detective work was required.

The DCYA has now committed to “a scoping exercise” led by independent reviewer Marion Reynolds and involving the Adoption Authority of Ireland (AAI) and Tusla. This exercise will clarify whether or not a full audit – which up to now was deemed a waste of time — is necessary.

The DCYA has now declined to reveal how this scoping exercise will work. It won’t say what sample of records will be examined or what methodology is being used.

Of course, the real point of the scoping exercise is to delay and buy time. Like the decision at Tuam, we all know there is no real decision to be made. These matters require a full and thorough investigation.

The report of the scoping exercise originally due at the end of October, won’t be with us now until mid-December. Word is the December deadline won’t be met either.

Everyone knew the right call was the fullest possible exhumation at Tuam and other sites like it. As with illegal adoptions, everyone knows that the fullest audit of adoption records is also the right decision.

Even the DCYA knows this. A note of a meeting between representatives of the department and the AAI and prepared by the department’s adoption policy unit, contains an acknowledgment that evidence of illegal registrations was not confined to St Patrick’s Guild.

It was stressed that a full investigation of these issues would be “onerous, requiring massive resources”.

Indeed Tusla itself has raised concerns about a further 748 cases from St Patrick’s Guild. These cases contain evidence of names being changed, payments being made to the agency, placements of children with no corresponding adoption order, and other “irregularities”.

So everyone knows — the DCYA, Tusla and the AAI — that this is an issue that requires a full investigation of all adoption records held by the State. Yet it persists with a scoping exercise that the public has been given no information about and which will please no one.

MAGDALENE LAUNDRIES

 

Another tale of denial and delay is yet another arm of the same story — the Magdalene laundries. It’s now taken as fact that the State was directly involved in referring large numbers of women to the Magdalene laundries and, indeed paying the religious orders for the privilege.

That the State was involved in the laundries was taken as accepted fact by a number of groups and survivors who spent decades campaigning on the issue. As with much of this story, their voices went unheard.

In the early 2000s, the then-government refused to include the Magdalene laundries in the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse and the resulting redress scheme.

This stance was defended by then education minister Michael Woods in 2002 on the grounds that the laundries were “entirely private institutions, in respect of which public bodies had no function”.

This was the line of the Government and it was stuck to rigidly.

By 2009, the country was reeling from the revelations of the Ryan Report and the Government was again facing down calls to examine the Magdalene laundries. The line remained the same.

This time, then education minister Batt O’Keeffe said categorically that the “State did not refer individuals to Magdalen laundries nor was it complicit in referring individuals to them”.

He also said that they “were not subject to State regulation or supervision”.

Of course, survivors and campaigners knew this was categorically untrue. In 2010, Justice For Magdalenes (JFM) made an application to the Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) seeking an inquiry into the State’s failure to protect the human rights of girls and women detained in the Magdalene laundry system.

Later that year, the IHRC issued a recommendation to government to immediately launch a statutory inquiry into abuse in the laundries.

 

With the Government failing to respond, JFM went to the United Nations Committee Against Torture (UNCAT), which in June 2011 recommended the same course of action to the Government as the IHRC.

The Government finally relented and launched an interdepartmental committee to look into the issue — the McAleese Committee.

The McAleese report was published in February 2013 and confirmed what everyone knew. Indeed it said that over one-quarter of all referrals to Magdalene laundries were made or facilitated by the State.

Despite this, an apology took two weeks to come.

The report itself and the redress scheme put in place in the aftermath of the State apology have been subjected to enormous scrutiny and criticism in the five years since.

It took until 2018 for the Department of Justice to allow a small cohort of women access to the redress scheme. They had been wrongfully excluded. Some had gone to the High Court to fight for access, while revelations by this newspaper and a scathing report by the Ombudsman following a year-long investigation eventually led the Department of Justice to grant them access.

However, campaigners say women are still not getting the full range of healthcare provisions promised to them.

When Taoiseach Leo Varadkar addressed the Pope and asked him to use his “office and influence” to ensure that “justice and truth and healing” is granted to survivors of institutional and clerical abuse, he specifically name-checked the Magdalene laundries.

However, at the same time his Government recently told the United Nations Committee Against Torture (UNCAT) that there is “no credible evidence of systematic torture or criminal abuse being committed in the Magdalene laundries” and that it has no intention of setting up a formal state inquiry into the matter.

Indeed the Government has been accused of “walking back” the state apology offered by then taoiseach Enda Kenny in 2013, now claiming, repeatedly, that the report made “no finding” in relation to state liability with regard to Magdalene laundries.

It continues to cite the McAleese Report as the de facto narrative of how the Magdalene laundry system operated in Ireland.

That would be fine if researchers could access any of the material in order to challenge the findings of the McAleese Report. However, they can’t.

The archive has been held in the Taoiseach’s own department for “safekeeping” since 2013. It is exempt from Freedom of Information and the department told the Irish Examiner it has “no plans” to open it up to public inspection. We must simply accept that the McAleese Report as we find it.

So while Mr Varadkar is quick to call on the Pope to use his “office and influence” to offer “justice and truth and healing”, he declines to use his own office to open the archive so people can challenge or confirm the findings of an investigation into the Magdalene laundry system.

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.