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.

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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.

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.

http://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/special-investigation-government-already-knew-of-baby-deaths-334260.html