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

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