The scandal the State fears – illegal adoptions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The archive contained letters from the Tuam Mother and Baby Home to parents, asking for money for the upkeep of their children, and notes that the duration of stay for children might have been prolonged by the order for financial reasons. It also contained letters to parents asking for money for the upkeep of some children who had already been discharged or who had died.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Irish Examiner asked a series of questions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the meantime, we wait.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It will not simply go away.

Advertisements

Questions raised as to whether gardaí told of Bessborough rape cases

Questions have been raised in the Seanad as to whether the cases of pregnant children in the Bessborough mother and baby home, in Cork had been reported as rapes to gardaí.

Details from maternity registers, released under the Freedom of Information Act by Tusla — the Child and Family Agency, reveal that between 1954 and 1987, girls as young as 12 had been pregnant in the institution.

The youngest child mentioned in the registers dated from 1968, and was listed as being aged 12 when transferred from Bessborough to St Finbarr’s Hospital, where her child had been delivered stillborn in January.

The presence of children in Bessborough, pregnant as a result of rape, continued into the 1980s. The Maternity Record Book 40, for example, lists a girl of 14 whose child was stillborn in 1982.

Speaking in Leinster House, independent senator and former Children’s Rights Alliance chief executive Jillian van Turnhout asked if Tusla or its predecessor — the HSE — had reported these cases to the relevant authorities.

Ms van Turnhout said: “Two cases stood out. One was in 1968 which was the year I was born. A child of age 12 who was a rape victim had a child in the home. That woman would now be 57. In 1982, there was a birth mother who was 14 years of age. I was 14 in 1982. She would now be 47. Her record states, ‘Premature, 33 weeks, gasped, and died’. I want to know if these cases were reported to the gardaí.”

Ms van Turnhout referenced the fact that, under section 19 of the Commissions of Investigations Act 2004, statements and documents given to the mother and baby home inquiry are inadmissible as evidence against a person in any criminal or other proceedings.

“These women are still alive today and I do not trust what has happened in these homes. The reports and figures show us why it is vital to have an audit,” she said.

“The State has a responsibility. These were children who were raped.

“What are we doing for them now? We can talk about times being different then but the last case goes up to 1982, it was not such a different time. What are we doing now with the full knowledge that we know? Are we ensuring that they will at last get justice? These women, very likely still alive today, were mistreated horrendously by the State. By our actions now we can show we have learnt the lessons of the past.”

Seanad leader Maurice Cummins (FG) described the revelations as “appalling”, and said they need to be dealt with “as a matter of urgency”.

The Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary declined to answer any queries on the subject, stating it would only communicate directly with the mother and baby homes commission.

http://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/senator-jillian-van-turnhout-asks-if-gardai-told-of-bessborough-rape-cases-369341.html

Bessborough order claims it was told to ‘destroy all documents’ relating to vaccine files’ in 2013

The Order which ran the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home has claimed it was instructed in 2013 to destroy “all documents” it held in relation to vaccine trials carried out on children.

The Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary made the claim via its solicitors in a letter to Tusla in January 2015 of this year which has been released under Freedom of Information.It said the instruction was issued to them by the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (CICA) – which was examining the vaccine trials as part of a separate module until legal action halted the investigation.

It said the instruction was issued to them by the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (CICA) – which was examining the vaccine trials as part of a separate module until legal action halted the investigation.

In a statement, the CICA has said it issued “no such instruction” and nor would it do so.

The Order made the claim in response to a letter sent by Assistant Principal Social Worker Pearl Doyle in August 2014 asking a series of questions in relation to material transferred by the Order to Tusla in 2011. The letter was sent as the Government was proposing setting up an investigation into Mother and Baby Homes.

A total of 23 questions were posed concerning infant mortality, burials, financial records and vaccine records.

In relation to vaccine records, Ms Doyle asked the Order where the “complete” list of vaccine records are. She also asked how children were chosen, whether the consent of the mother was obtained and, if so, where these consent forms are.

Responding via its solicitors some five months later, the Order said it had been instructed to destroy “all documents” relating to vaccine trials on the advice of the CICA.

“The Congregation handed over all records held to the HSE. The Congregation were directed by the Commission of Inquiry into the Vaccine Trials in 2013 we believe to destroy all documents in their possession or under their control regarding the trials. That Commission may be in a position to assist you in this regard,” said the letter.

However, the CICA has confirmed it issued “no such instruction”.

“The Commission did not issue any instruction to destroy medical records nor would it do so. The Commission as part of its process of wind down requested the return, or in the alternative certified destruction, of all discovery material issued to the legal representatives of those who were participating and feeding into the investigation.”
“Equally any discovery material sent into the Commission was returned to its original source eg Health Board records supplied to the investigation team under discovery orders were returned to the HSE and material supplied under discovery by other various parties to the investigation were returned to them via their legal representatives,” said a statement.

Mari Steed of Adoption Rights Alliance, herself a victim of vaccine trials as a child at Bessborough, said the revelation was “gravely concerning” stating that if files were destroyed it warranted criminal investigation.

“This is gravely concerning for fellow victims who may not have been able to obtain their records or confirmation that they were part of a trial before they were destroyed. It is an outrage if vaccine records were destroyed and, in my view, this amounts to criminal obstruction of justice. It needs a thorough investigation by the relevant authorities and the Commission.”

Ms Steed, who was adopted to the USA, obtained records of her own participation in the 1960-61 Bessboro vaccine trials prior to 2000 and through a data protection request to GlaxoSmithKline.

The pharmaceutical giant also released a dossier indicating that it had been monitoring statements she had been making to the media on the vaccine trials going back almost a decade.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/bessborough-evil-monsters-made-me-give-up-my-baby-340849.html

Special investigation – Vaccine trials on children worse than first thought

The scale of use of children for vaccine trials is much greater than was first thought, writes Conall Ó Fátharta

THE latest revelations that another legacy company of pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline sponsored a fifth, previously undisclosed, medical trial on children in care here in the 1960s needs to result in action from the Government.

The fact is that the picture now emerging is now far more disturbing than that which compelled the then Fianna Fáil-led government to refer the matter for investigation by the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (CICA) in 2000.

Before that inquiry was halted following a 2002 Supreme Court ruling, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) had confirmed just three trials in the 1960s and 1970s using over 250 children. We now know there were at least five trials in this period — the fifth exposed today by the Irish Examiner.

Indeed, recent revelations have shown that, far from carrying out just four vaccine trials on children in care here, Wellcome (now GlaxoSmithKline) sponsored trials in Ireland now span almost half a century — involving dozens of institutions and thousands of children.

The records released to CICA by GSK have now been returned to the company. The commission retained no copies. Yet, no questions have been answered.

Why are victims finding out about new trials now — through the press? Why did the short-lived inquiry not know a fourth and fifth trial had occurred?

Why did the report of Inter-Departmental Group on Mother and Baby Homes published this year still refer only to three vaccine trials — when a fourth was admitted in 2011 and the 1930-1935 trials of a Burroughs Wellcome vaccine for diphtheria carried out on 2,000 children in residential institutions were uncovered by Michael Dwyer of UCC’s School of History just a month before its publication?

Nor did it mention the 1965 trial of a 5-in-1 vaccine carried out on Philip Delaney at Bessborough mother-and-baby home in Cork. Why did this report claim a total of 123 children in institutional settings were used in the first three acknowledged trials when, in fact, 180 children were used?

The revelation that vaccine trials were carried out on children in mother-and-baby homes and other institutional settings first hit the headlines in the early 1990s.

Questions were raised in the Dáil on the subject, but it wasn’t until 1997 that then health minister Brian Cowen gave assurances that the matter would be examined.

In 2000, the Kiely report confirmed that three trials had been conducted on behalf of the pharmaceutical company the Wellcome Foundation. The institutions involved were Wellcome Laboratories in Britain, the Department of Medical Microbiology in UCD, and the Eastern Health Board.

The first trial took place between December 1960 and November 1961 in four Mother and Baby Homes — St Patrick’s on the Navan Road in Dublin (14 children), Bessborough in Cork (25 children), Castlepollard in Westmeath (six children), and Dunboyne (nine children). Four children from Stamullen baby home in Meath were also used for this trial.

The purpose of the trial was to look at the response the children would have to a 4-in-1 vaccine — diptheria, whooping cough, tetanus, and polio.

The second trial involved 69 children from St Anne’s Industrial School in Booterstown in Dublin being administered an intranasal rubella vaccine. A further 53 children from the wider community in Kilcullen in Westmeath were also used in this trial.

The first two trials were carried out by Professor Irene Hillary and Professor Patrick Meenan from the department of Microbiology in UCD, as well as other doctors.

The third trial involved 53 children in a number of residential institutions in Dublin including St Patrick’s Home, Madonna House, Bird’s Nest, and Boheenaburna. A total of 65 children living at home in Dublin also received the vaccine.

The aim of the third trial was to compare commercially available batches of the 3-in-1 vaccine — Trivax and Trivax D — with that of equivalent vaccines prepared for the trial. There is no published paper or report of this trial, but the Eastern Health Board was aware it was being conducted.

Dr Kiely’s report concluded that, given the reasons which the vaccines sought to counter, the decision to conduct the trials was “acceptable and reasonable”.

However, Dr Kiely said there was a lack of documentation available to clarify whether consent was either obtained or sought from the parents of the children or the managers of the institutions.

However, an entry in the 1962 British Medical Journal concerning the first trial seems to confirm that parental consent was not sought.

“We are indebted to the medical officers in charge of the children’s homes for permission to carry out this investigation on infants under their care,” it wrote.

Responding to the Kiely Report in 2000, Prof Hillary said it was her “invariable practice at the time to obtain consent of the competent authority”, be it the mother, the manager, or the medical officer.

However, no record of written consent has been acknowledged. The religious orders who ran the homes involved in the trials have also denied that they authorised any clinical trials.

Of the victims of the vaccine trials who have located their natural mothers, all mothers have said they were not asked for their permission.

In 2000, then minister for children Micheál Martin admitted the Kiely report was “incomplete” and raised “as many questions as it answered”.

However, despite this, Mr Martin reassured the Dáil that the trials appeared to have had no medically negative consequences for any of the children involved.

In an effort to deal with the matter, the Government decided to extend the terms of reference of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. This was done despite objections that the trials could not adequately be dealt with by an inquiry looking primarily into physical and sexual abuse.

The ‘Vaccines Module’ of CICA began investigating in early 2002. It obtained documentation from GlaxoSmithKline — the successor of Wellcome — and identified the names and addresses of some of those involved in the trials.

However, the probe was hit with a Supreme Court ruling which upheld Prof Meenan’s challenge against a High Court order directing him to give evidence before the inquiry.

The court also criticised the decision to ask the commission to examine the vaccine trials in the first place, stating they had “only the most tenuous connection, if any, with the appalling social evil of the sexual and physical abuse of children in institutions, which was the specific area into which the commission was established to inquire”.

Mr Justice Hardiman stated that Prof Meenan’s involvement in vaccine trials related only to one trial in 1960/61 and that the issue of the “reputational damage” associated with being involved with a Commission primarily looking at sexual abuse had to be considered.

Following this, Prof Hillary challenged the Government’s order directing an investigation into the vaccine trials. The Government did not appeal this decision. As a result, the work of the Vaccines Module’ ceased in November 2003.

However, those who suspected they were victims of the trials continued to claim that there were far more than three trials carried out by Wellcome here.

The Third Interim Report from CICA in December 2003 confirmed as much when it stated that the documentation it received from GSK “disclosed a considerable amount of information in relation to other vaccine trials conducted in the State”.

When RTÉ’s Prime Time asked the pharmaceutical giant about this statement, it confirmed a fourth trial had taken place in 1965. This trial involved giving differing doses of the measles vaccine to 12 babies aged between nine and 19 months in the Sean Ross Abbey mother-and-baby home in Tipperary.

The firm stated that this fourth trial was the only other clinical trial sponsored by Burroughs Wellcome using children in institutions in Ireland.

However, as the Irish Examiner reveals today, a fifth trial also occurred during this period.

An article in The Lancet in August 1965, discovered by Michael Dwyer of UCC’s School of History, confirms that Glaxo Laboratories Ltd carried out yet another measles vaccine trial on 34 children aged between eight months and just over two years. The trial was carried out by Prof Hillary and Prof Meenan of UCD and AJ Beale of Glaxo Laboratories. It is also the first trial which confirms Glaxo Laboratories involvement in a vaccine trial. All of the other trials were carried out by Wellcome.

Although the report does not mention an institution, it makes reference to the fact that the reaction to the children were monitored by “the adults looking after the children”. It also says examinations were done on the children from day six to 14 at the same time — 6pm — indicating the children were in a group setting.

The Irish Examiner put questions to GSK concerning this trial, what institution it was carried out in and why it failed to disclose this trial in 2011.

The company did not agree that the references in The Lancet amounted to evidence that the trial was carried out on children in care, stating that, in other papers by the same investigator, the author explicitly stated that the study was carried out on children in care. GSK said if it had any evidence that this trial was carried out on children in care, it would have handed it over to the CICA.

On the issue of whether consent was either sought or obtained for this study, GSK stated that any studies were done to the highest ethical and safety standards as a fundamental part of developing and delivering new vaccines to treat and prevent illnesses that were a major public health risk at that time.

“The studies of The Wellcome Foundation vaccines were conducted by independent healthcare professionals. The children who participated in the trials were recruited from the community and those living in children’s homes. The methodology and results of at least two of the studies were published in respected journals,” said a statement.

GSK said it had “limited archived documentation” given the trials happened decades ago, but was seeking to investigate the facts. It also confirmed it would fully co-operate with any Government investigation into the issue.

The upcoming Mother and Baby Homes inquiry cannot ignore the issue. Many victims were resident in these homes and deserve answers, justice and all of the information held on them by GSK. Otherwise this state really does view them, even now, as was said in the Dáil in 2000 as “children of a lesser god”.

 

Vaccine trial confirmed by data request

In 2011, GlaxoSmithKline released a data protection request to vaccine trial victim Mari Steed which confirmed she was part of a vaccine trial it carried out half a century earlier.

It also released a dossier indicating that it had been monitoring statements she had been making to the media on the vaccine trials going back almost a decade.

Ms Steed, who was adopted to the US from Bessborough, discovered she was a victim of the trials in the late 1990s when she was trying to trace her natural mother.

A handwritten note on her medical file released to Ms Steed — the Sacred Heart order then ran the home — confirms she was given three injections for the 4-in-1 vaccine, the third of which was “given by Prof Hillary”. This entry is immediately followed by: “Baby to America.”

Ms Steed’s natural mother Josephine, who passed away last year, always stated that she was never asked for her permission, nor was she aware that vaccines were being trialled on her daughter during her time in Bessborough.

The 4-in-1 trial took place between December 1960 and November 1961 in four mother-and-baby homes. The purpose of the trial was to look at the response the children would have to a 4-in-1 vaccine — diptheria, whooping cough, tetanus, and polio.

Following her data protection request, Ms Steed was astounded to discover that GSK had kept a substantial file on her — and not all of it related to her medical records.

Referred to as “GSK 36” in parts of the documents released to her by the pharmaceutical firm, the records confirm her participation in the trial. However, she was astounded to discover the firm also had a file monitoring media appearances she made talking about the issue.

This included press cuttings from a range of newspaper interviews given by Ms Steed — some almost a decade apart.

Also included were typed transcripts from a number of different radio interviews. These included an interview with PJ Coogan on Cork radio station 96FM and an extract from a news bulletin on the station where she was quoted.

Ms Steed said the fact that the pharmaceutical giant was monitoring her public statements was “shocking”, although “not entirely surprising”.

“It was somewhat shocking to realise that GSK had been keeping such data on me, although not entirely surprising,” she says. “Just prior to receiving my DPA reply from GSK, I had received my entire file from the HSE South, which included a six-page dossier that Sister Sarto of Bessborough had kept on me, noting similar media references and untoward comments regarding my search for my mother.”

Ms Steed said she was aware of a number of Bessborough adoptees who had made DPA requests from GSK, but said she was not aware of anyone else that has had their participation in a vaccine trial formally confirmed by the company.

“I personally know one individual who came forward as part of the initial Laffoy investigation, but has not filed a request under DPA as far as I know; and of course, one other who participated in the Prime Time investigation,” says Ms Steed. “Many more have unexplained marks and scarring on their bodies, including outside areas where vaccines would typically be given.

“And every person I know, among hundreds, who were adopted from Ireland to the US, reported that as children we all came up as testing positive for TB during routine childhood doctor visits, despite not actually suffering from it. This anomaly has never been able to be explained by our family practitioners here in the US.”

The Philadelphia woman said the fact that the vaccine issue has never been fully investigated defied belief, and said many US adoptees were considering going to the courts unless the issue was included in the upcoming Mother and Baby Home inquiry.

“Failing that, I believe there are enough of us to move forward through the courts on the matter, including the EU court and potentially the UN,” says Ms Steed.

“There seems to be an inexplicable reluctance on the part of the Irish legal community to represent victims of such trials and proceed with cases. Although we are now making inroads to US law firms who have handled legal cases against GlaxoSmithKline and may be willing to provide representation.”

 

Waiting for some answers

Mari Steed is one of the few people that knows she was used in a vaccine trial. Others are not so lucky.

For people such as Christopher Kirwan, the wait for answers goes on.

He has written to numerous ministers of children to no avail. He has also written to GSK and to the Sacred Heart Sister — both of which have told him he was not used in any vaccine trial carried out in Bessborough.

A investigation by the Data Protection Commissioner in 2011 also confirmed that neither GSK nor the records then held at Bessborough indicated that he was part of a vaccine trial. That would be fine if the Cork man didn’t have eight unexplained scars on his arms and legs.

Mr Kirwan was born in Bessborough in November 1960 and was adopted the following June. He was in Bessborough during the period of the first Burroughs Wellcome vaccine trial, and even had his photo taken with Mari Steed as a baby.

Despite his scars, his records simply state that he was inoculated for the BCG and smallpox and that no documentation indicating he was part of those trials.

Mr Kirwan believes he was involved in a vaccine trial of some form as the marks on his body do not make sense for someone who just received two inoculations. His adoptive mother told him that when he left Bessborough as a child he had bandages on his arms. “I just want answers,” he says.

Philip Delaney has also been told he was not part of any vaccine trial, despite his medical records indicating he was give three injections of a 5-in-1 vaccine for polio, measles, diptheria, whooping cough, and tetanus. Beneath the record showing this injection, the words “Contact Dr Hillary, Dublin” are crossed out.

His adoptive mother told Prime Time in 2011 that she was told by a doctor who came to take the blood in a follow-up visit that Mr Delaney was one of 20 babies used for a trial for a 5-in-1 vaccine and that the babies were not supposed to have been given up for adoption.

“The Government are saying there have been no ill effects,” says Mr Delaney. “How do they know? Because they don’t know about this trial.”

Garda probe of baby deaths discrepancy in Bessborough sought

Campaigners have called for a Garda investigation into why the religious order which ran Bessborough Mother and Baby Home reported significantly higher numbers of infant deaths to state inspectors than it recorded privately.

An Irish Examiner investigation found between March 31, 1939, and December 5, 1944, Department of Local Government and public health inspector Alice Litster had been informed 353 infant deaths occurred at the Cork-based institution. The figures are contained in a inspection report from 1944 obtained by this newspaper.

However, the Bessborough Death Register revealed the nuns had recorded just 273 infant deaths in that period — a discrepancy of 80.

The discrepancy in the recording of deaths comes just months after this newspaper revealed an unpublished 2012 internal HSE report had raised concerns death records had been falsified in Bessborough Mother and Baby Home so children could “be brokered in clandestine adoption arrangements” at home and abroad.

Susan Lohan of the Adoption Rights Alliance said the gardaí now needed to become involved in order to ascertain why such a large discrepancy in the figures exists.

“We have been advised on numerous occasions by both the Minister for Children James Reilly and chairman of the Adoption Authority Geoffrey Shannon that if we believed there was evidence of wrongdoing to report it to the relevant authorities. It’s now time the gardaí investigate where these 80 infants are,” she said.

Ms Lohan said her organisation was regularly contacted by people who believe they were adopted from Ireland but when they contacted the Department of Foreign Affairs, they had been told they did not appear in the records relating to the export of babies to the US found in the National Archives in 1996.

Paul Redmond of the Coalition of Mother and Baby Homes Survivors has also called for a garda investigation into the issue of how deaths had been recorded at Bessborough.

“The Bessborough Death Register is another example of the Sacred Heart nuns’ complete disregard for the lives of babies and children in their care who died from neglect and indifference. The missing babies should be reported to the Garda and a full criminal investigation is necessary,” he said.

Independent senator and former Children’s Rights Alliance chief executive Jillian van Turnhout said she was “hugely concerned” at the discrepancies.

“If there is no register, as the order have said, then where are the other 80? We know that clandestine adoptions happened. It is reasonable to ask the question: ‘Is there a chance that there are people out there in their 70s that are adopted and do not know?’”

The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes has said it will investigate the discrepancy in the figures.

The Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary said it was dealing directly with the commission on all such and related matters — and it “would not be appropriate to enter into communication, other than with the commission at this time”.

http://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/state-feared-public-scandal-over-infant-deaths-at-mother-and-baby-homes-366523.html

State feared public scandal over infant deaths at mother and baby homes

The State feared a “public scandal” in relation to the alarming number of children dying in mother and baby homes — 70 years before the Tuam babies scandal made worldwide headlines.

The revelation is contained in a letter sent on behalf of parliamentary secretary to the Minister for Local Government and Public Health Dr Con Ward in 1945 to the Bishop of Cork Daniel Cohalan.

The letter was in response to an angry letter sent to Dr Ward by Bishop Cohalan where he questioned the department’s request that the order remove the head of Bessborough over the “trouble” of infant mortality at the institution.

Records show there was an 82% infant death rate at Bessborough at the time.

“Rev Mother Martina has informed me that the Mother Superior in England was asked to remove her. That procedure was scarcely correct. Mother Martina is Reverend Mother of the Community of Sisters, it is an ecclesiastical appointment; it was not a correct thing to call for he removal,” he wrote.

However, in response, the department was clear that should information about the number of children dying leak into the public domain, it would result in a “public scandal”.

“The parliamentary secretary is only concerned with her position as matron of a home in which the death rate has reached an exceptionally high figure. The fact that 102 babies died in the institution before reaching the age of 12 months during the year 31st March last — the total infants born in the home and admitted after birth in that year being 124 — is viewed with disquietude.

“Apart from any public scandal which might result, the parliamentary secretary felt that the case called for immediate action and that to allow the Rev Mother Martina to continue as manager would mean acquiescence on his part in the state of affairs which has been disclosed,” stated the letter.

The 102 deaths referred to an 82% death rate at Bessborough reported to inspector Alice Litster for year ended 31 March 1944. Last week, the Irish Examiner revealed that this figure was substantially higher than the level of deaths the order recorded in its own death register.

Bishop Cohalan informs the department that he had spoken to the ex-chaplain at Bessborough and Sr Martina and that “the seriousness of the problem is realised”.

“The view is that a young doctor is needed, not a general practitioner but a specialist in gynaecology; that with a young doctor — gynaecologist — the cause of the mortality would be soon discovered and a remedy found,” he said.

The department agreed with this assessment but also expresses the hope that the re-organisation proposed by the superior-general of the order, whereby “an efficient and energetic Matron was to be transferred from Shan Ross to Bessboro, will have Your Lordship’s support”.

http://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/state-feared-public-scandal-over-infant-deaths-at-mother-and-baby-homes-366523.html