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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Mother and Baby Commission yet to decide on extending inquiry

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mother and Baby Homes: ‘All aspects of Confidential Committee confidential’

I asked the Mother and Baby Homes Commission some basic questions about how its forum for gathering testimony from people will work. They didn’t answer any of the questions. It seems everything they do is “confidential”.

 

The Mother and Baby Homes Commission has refused to answer questions on how its Confidential Committee — set up to gather testimony from survivors — will work.

The Irish Examiner posed a series of questions to the commission relating to the operation of the committee, which was set up to listen to the experiences of those who spent time in mother and baby homes.

The information pack sent by the commission to people wishing to give evidence states that their testimony will be heard by a committee member, with “an experienced person” taking notes in what is described as an informal process.

An audio recording will be taken with permission. It also states people will not require legal advice or assistance, although they may choose to have a solicitor accompany them.

If the person wishes to give evidence to the commission’s investigation then, with permission, “the recording may be used by the commission’s legal team” in relation to the person’s appearance before the Confidential Committee.

 

On foot of this, the Irish Examiner asked:

  • 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 barrister with the Mother and Baby Home Commission, Ita Mangan, 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.”

It pointed out the report of the committee must be completed by August of next year and must be published.

Claire McGettrick of Justice for Magdalenes Research said she was “disappointed and concerned” that the commission declined to answer any of the queries.

“While we concur with the need for confidentiality of witnesses, the committee’s procedures should be totally transparent in order for the Irish public to have any confidence in the process. More importantly, witnesses should be made completely aware of the committee’s procedures so that they can participate in an informed manner,” she said.

 

http://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/mother-and-baby-homes-all-aspects-of-confidential-committee-confidential-346557.html