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

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?

Illegal adoptions: Exposing the pain of one of Ireland’s hidden scandals

WHEN well-known scandals, like that of the mother-and-baby homes or the Magdalene Laundries, finally hit the public consciousness — we often hear a common refrain: “Oh it was a different time.”Journalists and commentators get accused of imposing the morality and ethics of 21st century Ireland on an Ireland which bears no comparison.

Journalists and commentators get accused of imposing the morality and ethics of 21st century Ireland on an Ireland which bears no comparison.

As a result, we hear that the religious orders and nuns who ran these homes and institutions “did their best” operating within a very different set of moral boundaries. In short, people thought differently and the treatment of unmarried mothers and their children was an acceptable, if unfortunate, aspect of that society

However, a recent discovery made by the grandson of Dr Halliday Sutherland paints a picture of an Irish clergy deeply suspicious of anyone asking questions of how Magdalene Laundries and mother-and-baby homes operated.

The British physician and author’s book Irish Journey recounts a visit made by Dr Sutherland to the Magdalene Laundry in Galway and the Tuam mother-and-baby home 1955.

Dr Sutherland’s grandson Mark Sutherland wrote a blog post “The Suitcase in the Cellar” on hallidaysutherland.com where he recounted finding an unedited transcript of Irish Journey. What he found shows a clergy fully aware of how it’s treatment of women in its care may be viewed as unsatisfactory — even in 1955.

In order to visit the Magdalene Laundry at Galway, Sutherland needed the permission of the Bishop of Galway, Dr Michael John Browne.

It is clear that there was something to hide at the laundry as the author is only granted permission to visit the laundry on the proviso that everything he writes is submitted “for approval by the Mother Superior of the Sisters of Mercy”. As a result, the account of his visit to the laundry in Irish Journey was censored.

What his grandson discovered last year in a suitcase were those sections which were removed. They paint an interesting picture to say the least.

Included in the correspondence in the suitcase is a letter from the mother superior of the laundry, Sr Fidelma, asking in no uncertain terms that specific sections of Dr Sutherland witnessed at the institution be removed from his manuscript before publication.

“If it makes no difference to you we would much prefer that you did not include this article for your book at all. Should it not be possible for you to comply with our wishes in this matter would you kindly exclude the paragraph marked on page 122, and that marked at the end of page 123. I do not remember hearing anyone say that a girl ever ‘howled’ to be readmitted. They do come along and ask sometimes. Would you also kindly omit the piece marked on page 124,” she wrote.

The sections removed were as follows:

Following a question from Dr Sutherland asking if some of the women resident in the Laundry were “backward” — the following reply was requested to be removed.

“Yes, some of them cannot read or write. A few are sent by Probation Officers into whose care the girl was placed by the Justice before she was charged with some criminal offence.”

The fact that a direct link between the State and the Magdalene Laundries was requested to be removed is instructive, particularly as countless governments stuck by the line that Magdalene Laundries were autonomous institutions, even in the face of overwhelming evidence.

Another section which was requested to be excised concerned an escape attempt by one of the inmates of the laundry:

Dr Sutherland: “Do they try to escape?”

Mother superior: “Last year a girl climbed a twenty foot drain pipe. At the top she lost her nerve and fell. She was fortunate. She only broke her pelvis. She won’t try it again.”

The mother superior also requested that a section concerning the physical abuse of women also be excluded from the final piece:

“For that kind of thing the girl gets six strokes of the cane, three on each hand.

A nun: “Sometimes on the legs.”

Dr Sutherland: “I suppose only the sister-in-charge may inflict corporal punishment.”

Nun: “Yes, and the only time I gave it I felt positively ill.”

This clearly points to physical abuse in the laundry as routine and as something that the order did not want being made public.

Well over half a century later, the McAleese Report was of the view Martin McAleese’s report found that “the ill treatment, physical punishment, and abuse that was prevalent in the industrial school system was not something they experienced in the Magdalene Laundries”.

Clearly this was not the view of the nuns running the Galway Magdalene Laundry.

Remarkably one entry that was allowed to remain tin the chapter by the order was a reference to food being removed from inmates if they misbehaved:

Dr Sutherland: “What about discipline?”

Mother superior: We give them a good scolding when they need it.”

Dr Sutherland: “And more serious offences?”

Mother superior: We stop their food”.

Dr Sutherland: “For how long?”

Mother superior: Only one meal and we know that the other girls feed them.”

Again, here is a nun acknowledging in the mid-1950s that women were starved if they did not toe the line. Such shocking treatment jars uncomfortably with the findings of the McAleese Report.

Another nun spoke of length of stay acknowledging that some women stayed “for life” and confirming that the women were not buried on the same ground as nuns but rather in “common burial ground”.

Dr Sutherland also recounted the conversation he had with Bishop of Galway Dr Michael John Browne when seeking permission to visit the laundry.

The bishop clearly took exception to the request and issued a veiled threat concerning anything negative he might write.

“Well, if you write anything wrong it will come back on you. Remember that.”

Following an extremely tetchy conversation, Bishop Browne denied there was anything to “hide” in the laundry but stressed it was his “duty to defend these nuns. I have done so in the past and shall do again.”

Before visiting the Galway Magdalene Laundry, Dr Sutherland visited the Tuam baby home — which in the past few weeks has made international headlines.

From the chapter, it is clear that the State was paying to keep women and children in the home.

“The nuns keep the child until the age of seven, when it is sent to an Industrial School. There were 51 confinements in 1954 and the nuns had now 120 children. For each child or Mother in the Home the County Council pays £1 per week. That is a pittance… In the garden at the back of the Home children were singing. I walked along the path and was mobbed by over a score of the younger children. They said nothing, but each struggled to shake my hand. Their hands were clean and cool,” Dr Sutherland wrote.

“Then I realised that to these children I was a potential adopter who might take some boy or girl away to a real home. It was pathetic. Finally I said — ‘Children, I’m not holding a reception’. They stopped struggling and looked at me.

“Then a nun told them to stand on the lawn and sing me a song in Irish. This they did very sweetly. At the Dog’s Home, Battersea, every dog barks at the visitor in the hope that they will be taken away.”

Labour TD Anne Ferris, who is herself adopted and also lost a daughter to adoption, first wrote about Dr Sutherland’s account last July but acknowledges that the recently discovered uncensored version is of huge significance.

“The standard refrain from the Church bodies in recent years has been that where abuses occurred they happened within autonomous institutions and so were isolated incidents outside the knowledge of senior members of religious orders or the Church hierarchy.”

“Dr Sutherland’s story shows that, not only was the Catholic Church hierarchy and the senior members of the religious orders aware of the abuse, but that even then the religious people in control sought to hide the extent of what was happening. This is not a case of a different code of practice for different times. In deleting passages from Dr Sutherland’s work, it seems quite clear that Sr Fidelma considered those particular abuses to warrant a level of secrecy,” she said.

Dr Sutherland’s preface to Irish Journey from 1958 contains an accusation about money that could be thrown at the Church in 2014.

“…all the critics have ignored my main criticism, which concerns the Irish secular clergy. In my opinion they have too much political power. They hold themselves aloof from their people, and are too fond of money.”

Some might say little has changed.

 

For my natural mother — a message

By Theresa Tinggal

I KNOW it must have been difficult for you to have to hand over your baby, but what choices did you have in the 1950s — none.

It must have been heartbreaking for you. I know, as I have two children of my own, grown up now, and two beautiful little granddaughters.

I can’t imagine the pain you may have felt to hand over your baby. I have been searching for you now for 12 years since I discovered I was adopted.

I just want to know what happened to you and that you went on to have a happy life.

I hope from the bottom of my heart that you did. I discovered 12 years ago that I was illegally adopted. “Illegally” meaning I was registered as the child of James and Kathleen Hiney and grew up thinking I was Theresa Hiney. The truth came out in May 2002 when my uncle revealed to me that they were not my parents.

My response was “well my birth certificate says I am”. He wasn’t able to tell me how it was done, only that he came back to Ireland from England on holiday one year, and I was an infant. My adoptive parents told him they had adopted me but not in the legal way. I was struck dumb when I heard, and thought it couldn’t be true and if it was, I must be the only one. However, that myth was soon shattered when I started searching and was astonished to discover that there are many, many more like myself, living in limbo without and identity.

This is my story: I was born on 9 June 1954. At two days old, I was handed over to my adoptive mother and taken to be baptised, accompanied by Nurse Doody. I was baptised as Theresa Hiney and six weeks later, again formally registered as Theresa Hiney, like I was their natural child.

What happened to my birth mother, I wonder? Separated from her baby and expected to carry on as though nothing happened. My heart still feels for her and all of the mothers in her situation. I grew up not knowing, but feeling very different from everyone in the family so in some respects I wasn’t surprised.

My search began in zest and I spent a lot of time going back and forth to Dublin looking through archives and searching for information. I was more than surprised when a file turned up from the HSE detailing my childhood from the age of two to 16 years old.

The health board had accidentally discovered about the illegal adoption and through a duty of care called to check on me on a monthly basis. Within the file detailing all those visits is the name and address of Nurse Doody, where I was handed over, and also the name of the social worker involved.

From that information, my birth mother could have been tracked down, but it was totally ignored. I was also given an index card with the name of foster child Margaret O’Grady and foster mother Kathleen Hiney. Is this my real or made-up name? The HSE can’t clarify whether it is or not due to the fact that people gave false names in the 50s.

In 2009, I set up a website for illegal adoptees http://www.adoptedillegally-ireland.com and requested meetings with Frances Fitzgerald, then the children’s minister, which were always declined.

In 2012, Adopted Illegally Ireland held a protest in Dame St and also submitted a petition to Ms Fitzgerald’s office of 1,600 (including paper-based) signatures calling for access to records. The response was a polite thank you letter and the issue was never addressed.

Last October, I finally met with Ms Fitzgerald with Paul Redmond (Adoption Rights Now) and Susan Lohan (Adoption Rights Alliance). She instantly promised she would have her department attempt to gather all records, including Church-held files, and this would go to the heads of bill, which she also said would happen in 2011. The issue of an investigation was not mentioned and we ran out of time. She was meant to arrange another meeting which has never happened. I believe this serious issue should have received more consideration.

I don’t think it can be avoided any longer in view of the Tuam babies scandal. What has been discovered, although gruesome, has been seen as a breakthrough for those of us who have lobbied tirelessly over the years, but our requests have been ignored

Mother and Baby Homes: Revelations put State in uncomfortable position

The reaction of the Government to a shocking 2012 HSE report on Bessborough Mother and Baby Home has been instructive.

The revelations contained in the report have clearly put it in an uncomfortable position. Despite the shock displayed once the Tuam babies story went global — it is now clear that the Government had possession of a report showing a higher death rate in Bessborough almost two years earlier.

When the report, compiled as part of the HSE’s examination of the State’s role in the Magdalene Laundries as part of the McAleese inquiry, was made public by the Irish Examiner in June, along with equally disturbing material relating to Tuam Mother and Baby Home, the reaction of Government was to first deny it had ever seen it, then admit that, in fact, two departments had the report before finally labelling the entire study “conjecture”.

Even if you accept the “conjecture” line, it is impossible to get away from the finding on the number of infant deaths at Bessborough.

They are worth repeating. Between 1934 and 1953, Bessborough’s Registration of Deaths ledger records a “shocking” 478 children as having died at the institution.

To put this into context, this death rate is higher than that found by Catherine Corless in Tuam almost two years later – research which led directly to the State inquiry.

If the Government was so horrified by the death rate found in Tuam that it felt compelled to launch a State inquiry, then why was it not similarly moved in 2012?

When the Irish Examiner first revealed details of the HSE report, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs said it had no knowledge of the report. The department has since altered this 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, children’s minister Dr James Reilly has sought to defend the lack of action on the deaths – which are described as “wholly epidemic”, “shocking” and a “cause for serious consternation” – by stating the 2012 report’s findings are “a matter of conjecture”.

It is important to put this “conjecture” line to bed. Firstly, the 2012 HSE 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. Based on the records, the author outlines a “narrative of patterns and practices of the Sacred Heart Order in the provision of adoption services at Bessboro”.

The records reveal an institution where women and babies were considered “little more than a commodity for trade amongst religious orders”, where “institutionalisation and human trafficking” took place among various religious orders and state-funded institutions and where women 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 is rock solid on the number of deaths listed, but says the question of whether or not all these children died but were instead “brokered” in clandestine adoption arrangements both at home and abroad was one which needed to be examined as part of a forensic investigation. It also says “further investigation is warranted” into the order’s accounting practices.

The records reveal clearly that the order requested payment from adoptive parents for the children they were adopting, while also requiring payment from the natural mothers for the care both they and their children received at the institution.

The author of the HSE report does state that the conclusions of the report were conjecture but, as always, context is everything.

The remark was in reference to establishing the interaction between the state, the order running Bessborough and the order operating the two Magdalene Laundries in Cork, and clearly indicates the Bessborough files reveal enough disturbing information to warrant a full forensic investigation.

“In order to conclusively verify interaction between the State and the Good Shepherd Sisters (who operated Magdalene Laundries in Sunday’s Well and Peacock Lane, Cork) and the Sacred Heart Order, it is imperative that full disclosure of any and all case files, records, institutional accounts and communications between the State and the religious orders be subject to forensic investigation. Until such time the conclusions of any such examination,” states the report.

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 478.

Dr Reilly has 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.

This indicates that the department does not feel that a figure of 478 deaths taken directly from Bessborough’s Registration of Deaths transferred to the State by the order constitutes a “validated finding”.

While it is true that Mother and Baby Homes were outside the remit of the McAleese inquiry, that report points out that the committee uncovered material that was, “strictly speaking, outside its core remit” but chose to include it “in the public interest”.

This was because some of this material “may challenge some common perceptions” about Magdalene Laundries.

SPECIAL INVESTIGATION: Fears over ‘trafficking’ of children to the US from Tuam

Concerns that up to 1,000 children may have been “trafficked” to the US from the Tuam mother and baby home in “a scandal that dwarfs other, more recent issues with the Church and State” were raised by the HSE in 2012.

The warning is contained in an internal note of a teleconference in October 2012 with then assistant director of Children and Family Service Phil Garland and then head of the Medical Intelligence Unit Davida De La Harpe.

It ends with a recommendation that the then health minister be informed with a view to a state inquiry being launched. This was almost two years before revelations of a mass grave at the home forced the Government into launching a state inquiry into all mother and baby homes.

The note 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 Sisters of Bon Secours said it ceased operating the Tuam mother and baby home in 1961 and, at the instructions of the local authority, handed the files on the running of the facility back to them.

“As the Commission of Investigation has now been established the Sisters of Bon Secours do not believe it would be appropriate to comment further except to say that they will co-operate fully with that commission,” said the order.

The Department of Children and Youth Affairs 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.

“The minister was subsequently tasked by government with leading its response to these important matters and the Inter Departmental ReviewGroup was set up to assist deliberations on the terms of reference of a Commission of Investigation,” said the statement.

A request for comment from the Child and Family Agency Tusla was not responded to at the time of going to print.

http://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/special-investigation-fears-over-trafficking-of-children-to-the-us-334315.html