What Cabinet privately feared on Magdalene Laundries: further inquiries into mother and baby homes and a redress bill

Despite the many pronouncements on the Magdalene Laundries, the State is hugely concerned at the payout it may have to make, writes Conall Ó Fátharta.

FEW people will forget the apology offered by Taoiseach Enda Kenny in February of 2013 on behalf of the State to the women who suffered in the Magdalene Laundries.

He spoke of a “nation’s shame” and of women taking the country’s terrible secret and making it their own.

“But from this moment on you need carry it no more. Because today we take it back. Today we acknowledge the role of the State in your ordeal,” he said.

However, less than two years earlier in June 2011, many members of his Cabinet were determined to distance the State as far as possible from any liability.

A series of cabinet observations on a Department of Justice memorandum for Government seeking permission for the establishment of what eventually became the McAleese Committee reveal a Cabinet concerned about three things — not conceding on the issue of that State liability, calls for further inquiries into issues like Mother and Baby Homes and foster care settings and avoiding a redress bill.

The memorandum seeks approval for the establishment of an inter- departmental committee (later the McAleese Committee) as well as the issuing of a letter to the religious orders providing them with a copy of the November 2010 Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) assessment of human rights issues arising in relation to the Magadalene Laundries and the observations of the UN Committee against Torture (UNCAT) and inviting them to make their records available and to enter a restorative justice process with former residents.

Observations provided by a number of ministers express concerns about redress, admitting State liability and, notably, that an investigation into Magdalene Laundries may lead to calls for inquiries into other related issues and instititions like Mother and Baby Homes, psychiatric hospitals and foster care settings.

The observations of then Minister for Education and Skills Ruairí Quinn state that while he supported the approach outlined in the Memorandum, he noted “that there may be demands for enquiries into other situations”.

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

“The Government decided against any extension of the arrangments and the Department for Education and skills has circulated a draft Memorandum for Government for observations, which deals inter alia, with the winding-up of the Residential Institutions Redress Board.”

This possibility of demands for other inquiries is noted by then Justice Minister Alan Shatter who states that and his proposal “only deals with the issue of Magdalene insititutions”.

The issue of financial redress is also front and centre in the Ministerial observations.

Mr Shatter is recorded as being “conscious” of the Minister of Finance Michael Noonan’s view that the proposals in the memorandum “would very likely generate pressure for opening up redress.”

However, then minister for public expenditure Brendan Howlin goes even further stating that it should be made clear that no redress would be paid to women, even if the State is found liable.

“In the circumstances the minister accepts the proposals in the memorandum. However, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform considers that the issue of possible financial or other redress supported by the Government must also be considered in advance of the measures in the memorandum.

“If this is not done, it is likely that there will be strong immediate public pressure for an agreement in principle to financial redress, which may lead to an open-ended commitment for the Government.

“In view of the severe constraints on public expenditure, the minister proposes that the Government make clear in the press release that it does not have the resources to allow for the establishment of redress measures should they be appropriate in this case.”

The importance of not conceding on the issue of the State’s liability in relation to inspection of the laundries was stressed in the observations of then minister for jobs enterprise and employment Richard Bruton.

“The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation wishes to point out that, whether under employment rights or health and safety codes, there neither was, nor is there now any obligation on the State to inspect every workplace. It is clear that the State does not have the resources to inspect every workplace.

“The minister recalls that, in another context, the ex-miners compensation issue, his department was advised by the Attorney General, that the mere fact that statutory regulation exists in relation to a sector does not , of itself, impose any duty of care on the State in relation to the employees of that sector.

“The minister believes that great care should be taken to ensure that this fundamental principle is not conceded by any action or statement of the Government on this issue.”

Mr Bruton also noted “the absence of evidence to support the claims made and no formal complaints have been made to the gardaí.”

“This strongly suggests that it would be unwise, in this case, to depart from the principle that the State is not responsible for alleged tortuous acts by third parties for whom it does not have responsibilities,” state his observations.

The lengthiest observations, however, were provided by the Office of the Attorney General which stressed the “limitations” of the proposed independent committee given its lack of any powers to compel witnesses or procure documents.

“It will need to exercise great care not to make any finding that could reflect on the good name of any person affected. It will not be in a position to make findings in terms of liability, causation, or culpability. These factors will be important in managing the expectations of interested parties.”

The Attorney General also stressed the need to address the possibilty that the planned independent committee may not be seen as objective and that this was an important issue in terms of the “management of expectations”.

“Furthermore, while it is the case that the committee and its work might be perceived as a serious and detailed response by the State, chaired as it will be by an “independent” chairman, we are concerned as to whether it will actually be regarded as ‘objective’ or ‘at arms length’ from any State involvement.”

While these are matters of policy for the department (and indeed for the Government as a whole), this also is an important issue as regards management of expectations. Failure to address these issues can lead to pressure for statutory inquiries and for redress.

The Attorney General also advised the Government that the religious orders were “likely to be suspicious” of any overtures by the State on Magdalene Laundries and that their attitude from a legal perspective “may be robust”.

“The congregations have in the past brought litigation in relation to fair procedures and to protect and vindicate the names of their members and to protect the good names of their congregations as a whole.

“They have both at meetings and in the media felt that they felt ‘bounced’ by the State into redress in respect of residential childhood abuse,” states the AG advice.

On the issue of redress specifically, the AG’s office states that the proposals contained in the memorandum would “very likely generate pressure for opening up redress”.

“We note from the terms of the Memorandum, that to date no form of oppression has been proven against the congregations who ran the Magdalene Laundries. As the department itself comments, the IHRC Report is full of supposition and qualifcations. It falls short of making any factual findings.”

This rather negative view of the November 2010 Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) report on the Magdalene laundries taken by the Office of the Attorney General is mirrored by then justice minister Alan Shatter who is recorded as having “serious reservations about the methodology, accuracy and conclusions” of the report.

“The IHRC report is effectively based on allegations put forward by JFM and no effort was made to obtain clarification, information or observations from the State or (apparently) the relevant religious orders on any of the issues raised.”

It is noted that the women involved “have apparently chosen not to make any complaints to the gardaí or to pursue a civil action”.

“There is an underlying presumption that any inquiry will confirm that there were serious abuses and that the State responsibility rather than the religious orders should provide redress.”


Tuam and Bessborough: Government already knew of deaths

The State has said it was horrified by the revelations about the 796 babies buried at Tuam. However, HSE reports into Tuam and Bessborough mother and baby homes had been prepared for the Government two years previously, writes Conall Ó Fátharta

The latest revelations about the Tuam and Bessborough mother and baby homes raise a number of serious questions as to why a State inquiry into the issue was not launched three years ago.

Material obtained by the Irish Examiner shows that the HSE examined both Tuam and Bessborough as part of the Magdalene laundries inquiry in 2012.

What it uncovered was so shocking that senior HSE figures recommended that the minister be immediately informed so that “a fully fledged, fully resourced forensic investigation and State inquiry” could be launched.

However, it would be almost another two years before an inquiry was announced, on foot of the revelations of historian Catherine Corless.

The HSE material directly addresses infant deaths, and records that the nuns had been soliciting money from parents of children that had been discharged or died. Most shocking of all, concern is expressed that almost 1,000 children may have been trafficked from Tuam for adoption, “possibly in the USA”, noting that “this may prove to be a scandal that dwarfs other, more recent issues with the Church and State”.

A separate 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 is “a cause for serious consternation”. Curiously, no deaths were recorded after 1953 but 478 children died in this 19-year period — which works out as one child every fortnight for almost two decades.

Perhaps most shocking of all is the view of the report 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 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”.

We also learn 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 renumeration” for the children of these women.

With regard to the money made by the order both via adoption and by making natural mothers pay for their care, the report specifically states that “further investigation is warranted into these practices”.

Thus it was that, in 2012, while preparing material for the McAleese investigation into Magdalene laundries, two separate HSE reports noted the issue of infant deaths at both Tuam and Bessborough. One noted that almost 500 children died in Bessborough in less than 20 years.

Both reports mentioned the possibility that children had been trafficked for adoption with one speculating that it was possible that death certificates were falsified so children could be “brokered” for adoption.

Both mentioned that these issues needed to be investigated as a matter of urgency; one was so concerned about the implications of what was located at Tuam that it recommended the minister be informed immediately so that a State inquiry could be launched.

It also noted the possibility that up to 1,000 children may have been trafficked from the Tuam mother and baby home, which could “prove to be a scandal that dwarfs other, more recent issues with the Church and State”.

None of the concerns are mentioned in the McAleese report. However, the issue of mother and baby homes was outside of its terms of remit.

In that report, Martin McAleese points out that the committee uncovered material that was, “strictly speaking, outside its core remit” but that he was happy to include it “in the public interest”. He said some of this material “may challenge some common perceptions” about Magdalene laundries.

The ‘Report of the Inter-Departmental Group on Mother and Baby Homes’, published by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs in July 2014, also failed to mention any of these concerns.

The Department of Children and Youth Affairs said neither it nor the minister were made aware of the concerns at the time but that the issues were being discussed in the context of the McAleese report, which was conducted 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, and launched a commission of inquiry on foot of these revelations.

The Irish Examiner reported at the time of the State apology to the Magdalene women that the Government may have been fearful that mother and baby homes would be next.

This newspaper has frequently speculated that the elephant in the room on such issues is the spectre of forced and illegal adoptions.

When, thanks to the tireless work of Ms Corless, the world was made aware around this time last year of the 796 babies that lay forgotten in Tuam, the Government expressed horror at the revelations.

The then children’s minister, Charlie Flanagan, told the Dáil that the deaths brought the horrors of the mother and baby homes to the attention of the Government, as the issue had not featured prominently before then.

“The revelations in Tuam, Co Galway, have brought to the fore the situation in other mother and baby homes throughout the country,” said Mr Flanagan. “The practices in mother and baby homes have to date not featured prominently in the various reviews and investigations which have dealt with many of the past abuses which were inflicted on vulnerable citizens, many of them women and children.”

However, we now know that the State had known about both Tuam and Bessborough for nearly two years. The HSE had investigated both institutions in 2012 when it was examining the health authorities’ interaction with the Magdalene laundries.

Just last month, the Department of Children reiterated its belief that an audit of adoption records to ascertain the scale of illegal and forced adoption that occurred here “would yield little useful information”, as there would be “little, if any, supporting information in relation to these arrangements” on the files.

This statement was issued in response to revelations that the department was told by an Adoption Authority of Ireland (AAI) delegation in June 2013 that one adoption agency, St Patrick’s Guild, had “several hundred” illegal birth registrations on its books. The agency holds 13,500 adoption files — one quarter of all adoption files in the country. The AAI speculated that the number of illegal adoptions may run into thousands.

This latest material shows that the HSE was raising extremely disturbing issues around infant deaths and the possible trafficking for the purposes of adoption relating to Tuam and Bessborough one year earlier again, in 2012.

These concerns were raised on examination of the very files that the department continue to feel are not worth auditing.

Adoption support groups have repeatedly said the Government refuses to order such an audit because it fears what will be found. Given what the HSE found way back in 2012, this may well be the case.

We finally have an inquiry into the scandal of mother and baby homes. It’s not before time. It was launched because the Government had no option — an international media storm about the Tuam revelations made sure of that.

We now know it could have and should have been launched earlier — almost two years earlier.


Vaccine trial victim to lodge complaints over altered files

One of the victims of the Bessborough vaccine trial is to make a formal Garda complaint after it emerged files were altered in 2002.

On Tuesday, the Irish Examiner revealed the files of mothers and children used in the 1960/61 4-in-1 vaccine trial were altered in 2002 — just weeks after the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse sought discovery of records from the religious order running the home.

Mari Steed was born in Bessborough in 1960 and subsequently adopted in the US. Her natural mother’s file is one of those listed as having been changed. She plans to make a formal complaint to the gardaí and Data Protection Commissioner.

“Now that it’s been confirmed the information in my file has been altered, I feel I have an obligation to make both a Garda and data protection complaint. How many other files, not even relevant to the vaccine trials, may have been altered? People have a right to know this. I am awaiting legal advice on jurisdiction for the Garda filing and then will make both complaints as soon as possible,” she said.

Ms Steed also said Tusla, which now holds the records, had “an ethical, moral, and public interest” in contacting all of the people it can confirm were part of a trial.

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

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

In a separate statement, the order said it wished to “categorically state that no documents were altered” and that it would deal with the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation on all such matters.

Material obtained  under Freedom of Information shows that changes were made to the records of mothers and children used in the 1960/61 4-in-1 vaccine trials.

The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (CICA) had sought discovery of the records from the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary on July 22, 2002. An affidavit was sworn on October 3, 2002, and on a number of later dates in 2002 and 2003.

The document listing the changes opens with: “8.8.02 Checked the 20 files.” This is immediately followed by: “9.8.02 Made the changes.” The changes made to files Nos 5, 8, 11, 12, and 15 to 20 are then detailed.


The changes include:

  • The alteration of discharge dates of mothers (by a period of one year and two years);
  • The changing of discharge dates of children;
  • The changing of admission dates of mothers;
  • The alteration of the age of a mother (by two years);
  • The alteration of dates of adoption;
  • The changing of baptism dates and location of baptism;
  • The insertion of certain named locations and information into admission books.

Tuam and Bessborough: Houses of horror

The Tuam mother and baby home should not be treated as an individual scandal, but as part of a national trafficking network that commodified people, says Conall Ó Fátharta.


The women and children in Bessborough’s care were ‘considered little more than a commodity for trade amongst religious orders’.


“This may prove to be a scandal that dwarfs other, more recent issues with the Church and State…”

There’s that word, “scandal”, again. As a nation, we don’t tire of hearing it.

That time it was used by senior management in the HSE, in 2012, in relation to the contents of an archive of the Tuam mother and baby home, two years before the Tuam babies scandal broke. It wasn’t the first time the word was used in relation to mother and baby homes and the horrors they hold.

Seventy years earlier, 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.

Two things are instructive. Not only has the State known for decades about this issue, but it is impossible to look at Tuam, or mother and baby homes, in isolation. Yet, that is exactly how this issue is playing out.

First, there is a scandal. Then there is an outcry. Then, there is an inquiry, but a limited one.

Focus on the narrow and ignore the broader picture. It’s a well-worn path.

Instead of examining the bigger picture of how unmarried women and children were treated in a sprawling network of interlinking institutions, private agencies and individuals, we compartmentalise.

We treat the Magdalene Laundries, and then the mother and baby homes, as if they are distinct entities, instead of as part of the same story.

And what about the adoption agencies, private nursing homes, maternity hospitals, priests, doctors, and even some prominent Irish names?

What about the baby rackets, the trafficking of children, the thousands of illegal adoptions, the falsification of records? Maybe one day we will get to that.

While we have spent the last year laying flowers at the feet of monuments honouring the dead male Irish heroes of 1916, female heroes lie in graves that are unmarked, forgotten, and largely ignored. Their children lie in other graves, or live, having been adopted, in both Ireland and abroad, many in very dubious circumstances.

This is a history we don’t like to talk about. We have barely written about it.

This is a history in which women who didn’t fit the idealised vision of newly independent Ireland were hidden behind high walls, their children removed from them, boarded out, adopted, or trafficked abroad.

We still don’t know how many were used for medical trials. Thousands more died, while hundreds of infant bodies were used by Irish universities for anatomical research and buried in the Angels’ Plot in Glasnevin as “anatomical subjects”.

The children’s crime? Simply the circumstances of their birth. Their mothers’ crime? That they were unmarried women.

The mistake, now, would be to simply focus on Tuam and the deaths that occurred there. This is a scandal that is as much about the living as it is about the dead.

Very specific concerns about infant mortality in such institutions were raised as early as 1945. The previous year, state inspectors reported that out of 124 infants admitted to the Bessborough home after birth, 102 died — a death rate of 82%.

[timgcap=A memorial at Bessborough, Blackrock, Cork.]zzzBessboroughBlackrockMotherAndBabyMemorial100317_large.jpg[timgcap]

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.

Our most recent governments fare little better, in terms of institutional knowledge of such shocking infant death rates.

In 2012, senior HSE management was expressing concern at what was being found in relation to both Tuam and Bessborough.

Two reports on the institutions were prepared by the HSE, while it was preparing material for the McAleese investigation into Magdalene Laundries.

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

IN THE case of Tuam, a note of a teleconference call on October 12, 2012, reveals that senior management in the HSE felt what had been discovered warranted a state inquiry.

The call involved then assistant director of the Children and Family Service at the HSE, Phil Garland, and then head of the medical intelligence unit, Davida De La Harpe, expressing concern that 1,000 children had been trafficked from the Tuam mother and baby home in what could “prove to be a scandal that dwarfs other, more recent issues with the Church and State”.

These concerns had been raised by the principal social worker for adoption in HSE West, who had found “a large archive of photographs, documentation, and correspondence relating to children sent for adoption to the USA” and “documentation in relation to discharges and admissions to psychiatric institutions in the Western area”.

The archive contained letters from the Tuam mother and baby home to parents, asking for money for the upkeep of their children, and notes that the duration of stay for children might have been prolonged by the order for financial reasons.

It also contained letters to parents asking for money for the upkeep of some children who had already been discharged or who had died.

The social worker, “working in her own time and on her own dollar”, had compiled a list of “up to 1,000 names”, but said it was “not clear yet whether all of these relate to the ongoing examination of the Magdalene system, or whether they relate to the adoption of children by parents, possibly in the USA”.

Those on the conference call raise the possibility that if there is evidence of trafficking, “it must have been facilitated by doctors, social workers, etc, and a number of these health professionals may still be working in the system”.

The note concludes by stating that, due to the gravity of what was being found, an “early warning letter” be written to the national director of the HSE’s quality and patient safety division, Philip Crowley, suggesting “that this goes all the way up to the minister”.

“It is more important to send this up to the minister as soon as possible: with a view to an inter-departmental committee and a fully fledged, fully resourced forensic investigation and state inquiry,” concludes the note.

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

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

“Queries over the veracity of the records are suggested by causes of death such as ‘marasmus’ in a 2 ½-month-old infant; or ‘pernicious anaemia’ in a four-month-old. These diagnoses would be extremely unusual in children so young, even with the reduced nutrition of the time,” he said.

A separate report into Bessborough not only revealed that the deaths of hundreds of children were recorded in the order’s own register, but that, similar to Tuam, the operation was aimed at making money.

The examination of the order’s own records found that the women and children in its care were “considered little more than a commodity for trade amongst religious orders”.

Minutes from meetings of the Sacred Heart Adoption Society’s board of management “further lend evidence to the order’s preoccupation with materialism, wealth, and social status”, while the wealth and social status of the adoptive parents was often the prime concern when deciding whether they would receive a child.

None of the concerns made it into the McAleese report, as they were outside its terms of remit.

However, that report did include other material that was, “strictly speaking, outside its core remit”, but deemed “in the public interest. This material “may challenge some common perceptions” about Magdalene laundries.

The Report of the Inter-Departmental Group on Mother and Baby Homes, published by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs in July 2014 also failed to mention any of these concerns.

This is despite the fact that two government department’s had seen the 2012 HSE report on Bessborough, which revealed that hundreds of children died at the institution over a 19-year period.

All of the HSE concerns were being raised almost two years before the Tuam babies scandal made international headlines.

Where adoptions fit into all of this should be of particular interest. Adoption campaigners have spent years repeatedly calling for an audit of all adoption records held by the State. So far, these calls have fallen on deaf ears.

It’s hard to understand why. The Adoption Authority informed the government in 2013 that there “may be thousands” of cases where people had their birth history falsified, so they could be illegally adopted. This has never been investigated.

The Department of Children and Youth Affairs was told by an AAI delegation in June, 2013 — more than a year before the mother-and-baby home scandal — that there were “at least 120 [confirmed] cases” of illegal registrations.

This is not a small number, given the small sample size that would have been examined.

However, the AAI went further, stating that this could well be the tip of the iceberg and that there “may be thousands” more. It named a well-known former private nursing home — St Rita’s, in Dublin — where women went to give birth to their children, before having to place them for adoption, as a “huge source of illegal registrations”.

It specifically named one religious-run former adoption agency — St Patrick’s Guild, in Dublin — as being “aware of several hundred illegal registrations”, stating that the agency “are not seeking the people involved”, but were, rather, “waiting for people to contact them”.

The agency’s 13,500 adoption files — one of the largest archives in the country — are now in the hands of Tusla.

In a statement to this newspaper, AAI chief executive, Patricia Carey, said that the ‘may be thousands’ comment made at the meeting was “a throwaway remark” and was “not based on verifiable facts”.

However, the fact that the department had called for a meeting on the subject, and that an AAI delegation was willing to speculate at all on such a large number, indicates that the issue was firmly on the radar of the adoption regulator.

Any woman or adopted person who was through one of the above institutions will not be examined by the current commission, unless her case can be linked to one of the institutions under its remit.

Despite this, and countless media reports of adoptions being contracted on the back of documentation which is as best extremely dubious, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs has stood steadfastly to the line that an audit of adoption records, to ascertain the scale of illegal and forced adoptions, “would yield little useful information”, as there would be “little, if any, supporting information in relation to these arrangements” on the files.

It is impossible to make such a claim without at least examining the records and, secondly, it’s blatantly clear that these records do contain evidence of illegal adoptions.

Adoption support groups have repeatedly said that government refuses to order such an audit, because it fears what will be found. Given what the HSE found in 2012, in relation to Tuam and Bessborough, this may well be the case.

More than one government minister has said, on record, that every adoption carried out by the State since 1952 was done in line with the legislation of the day.

If that level of certainty exists at official levels, then why not open the files, let everyone see them and, for once, have this country do the right thing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Government has repeatedly resisted calls by campaigners for an audit of all adoption files held in the State so that the full scale of illegal adoptions and birth registrations can be uncovered.

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

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

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

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

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

Mother and Baby Commission yet to decide on extending inquiry

It is beyond comprehension how you can examine 14 Mother and Baby Homes while excluding adoption agencies like St Patrick’s Guild – particularly considering what it has admitted in terms of illegal birth registrations


The Mother and Baby Homes Commission has yet to decide whether to ask for an extension of its remit to examine other institutions.
It comes as adoption groups have reiterated calls for a number of adoption agencies as well as a range of State and private maternity homes to be included in the investigation.
Under its terms of reference, the Mother and Baby Homes Commission will investigate how unmarried mothers and their babies were treated between 1922 and 1998 at 14 State-linked religious institutions.
The three-year inquiry — which has a €23.5m budget — will examine mother and baby homes, county homes, vaccine trials on children, and illegal adoptions where babies were trafficked abroad.
In a statement to the Irish Examiner, the Commission said it “not yet made any decision about recommending any extension of its terms of reference”.
St Patrick’s Guild has been commonly cited by campaigners as a glaring omission from the inquiry. The agency holds 13,500 adoption files — one-quarter of all adoption files in the country.
Last year, the Irish Examiner revealed that the agency was excluded from the scope of the inquiry despite the Government being told in June 2013 by an Adoption Authority (AAI) delegation that the agency was aware of “several hundred” illegal birth registrations.
A note of a meeting between two nuns from the agency and representatives of the Child and Family Agency, Tusla, on February 3 last year also revealed that  St Patrick’s Guild’s records contained “some illegal registrations” and that “full details are available on the majority of cases”.
The AAI also named St Rita’s private nursing home – also excluded from the inquiry – as a “huge source of illegal registrations”.
Claire McGettrick of the Adoption Rights Alliance (ARA) and Justice for Magdalenes Research (JFMR) said she expected the Commission to add to the current “short list” if institutions it is examining.
“The legislation makes an express provision for the Commission to add to the initial list and it has resourced the Commission very well with a team of historians led by Prof. Mary Daly, President of the Royal Irish  Academy.”
“Historians realise there were many institutions and agencies involved in the Mother and Baby home sector in Ireland – JFMR and ARA have given a list to the Commission of some 170 institutions, agencies and individuals which our organisations and academic historians are also investigating,” she said.
Paul Redmond of the Coalition of Mother and Baby Homes (CMABS) said it was a “national disgrace” that so many people were being excluded from the inquiry when so little effort is required to include everyone.
“If the Inquiry ‘sampled’ as little as four or five further institutions and a home birth, then all survivors would be included. The sample would include a holding centre such as Temple Hill, a public Maternity Hospital such as Holles Street, a so-called orphanage such as Westbank or Saint Philomena’s, a private nursing home such as St Rita’s and a home birth where the baby was forcibly removed by a social worker or a member of the religious acting on behalf of an adoption agency which would be investigated,” he said.
Kathy McMahon of the Irish First Mothers group said the Commission needed to adopt a “fully inclusive model”.
“Otherwise, we are on track to cherry-pick the truth so as to exclude the majority of women from consideration,” she said

Bessborough: ‘Evil monsters made me give up my baby’

This woman wrote to me after I published a two-day series on Bessborough Mother and Baby Home. I have since spoken to her numerous times. She had never spoken about her time there.

This happenes almost every time I write something of note. These people ask for help in tracing. To them, a journalist is their best bet as they have no legal right to information. A story in a newspaper is a better bet.


A woman who was in Cork’s Bessborough Mother and Baby Home in 1975 has described the nuns who ran the institution as “evil monsters”.

She was made sign adoption forms to give up her child despite being under the legal age of consent.

The woman, who still lives in Cork and asks not to be identified, is still in possession of a calendar given to her on entering the institution, where she marked off the months she stayed.

She sent a letter to this newspaper following an Irish Examiner two-day special investigation into Mother and Baby Homes.

Simply signed ‘M’, the woman said her experience in Bessborough in 1975 “had a lasting effect on my life” and, only in recent months, she had found “the courage to seek counselling to try and rid myself of some of the guilt I have felt for the past 40 years”.


She described the fear she had entering Bessborough as a pregnant teenager: “When I arrived in Bessborough in February 1975, I was 16-years-old with no idea of what was ahead of me.

“My name was changed straight away and I was warned not to tell anybody who I was, or where I was from.

“One of the women there was about 70 and I was told that she had been there all her life. Lots of the women there never left. I wondered if I would ever again go home,” she wrote.

‘M’ outlined in detail the treatment of the residents, from the lack of preparation for labour and the refusal to allow mothers to bond with their children.

“There was no preparation for childbirth and as we slept in dorms, almost every night it seemed someone went into labour and I knew all that was ahead of me without having a clue as to what was really going on.

“My daughter was born in August and I cared for her for about four weeks. During that time I became very attached to her but the nuns put me on night duty caring for all the babies and labour ward duties so my time with my daughter would be less,” she wrote.

Shockingly, she reveals how mothers had to drink Epsom salts on the premise it would help their digestive systems.

“Once the babies were born the mothers were given Epsom salts dissolved in hot water to drink first thing in the morning. We were told that it was for our digestive system but it was purely to deter breast feeding.”

At the age of just 17, ‘M’ was brought to a solicitor’s office and made sign the consent forms to adopt her child, despite not being of legal age to do so.

“One day the nuns sent me into Cork city for something and when I came back my daughter was gone.

“It is hard to explain how I was feeling at that time but I am sure you can imagine,” she wrote.

“Shortly after that I was brought to a solicitor’s office on Patrick’s Hill and made swear on the bible that I would never try and contact my daughter again and then I was told to sign adoption papers. There was no one with me, only a nun from the convent. Remember I was only 17 and I could not legally sign any document at that age but I signed the adoption papers.”

Her daughter’s adoptive mother told ‘M’, many years later every time someone knocked on the door she hid the girl in the wardrobe in case the natural mother was coming back for her.

“That speaks for itself,” said ‘M’. “The adoption of my daughter was illegal and I am sure some money changed hands,” she wrote.