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

Child rape victims were in Bessborough maternity registers show

Children as young as 12, pregnant as a result of rape, were in Bessborough Mother and Baby Home into the 1980s.

Details from maternity registers, released under freedom of information, reveal between 1954 and 1987, young girls were pregnant in the institution.

The youngest child in the registers dates from 1968. The girl is listed as being just 12 and had been transferred from Bessborough to St Finbarr’s Hospital in Cork, where her child had been stillborn in January 1968, as a result of “ante-partum haemorrhage”.

However, the presence of children in Bessborough pregnant as a result of rape continued into the 1980s. For example, Maternity Record Book 40 lists a girl of 14 whose child was stillborn in 1982. The record simply states the child “premature 33wks, gasped and died”.

In another case from 1963, a 13-year-old “private patient” gave birth to a stillborn boy; cause of death was listed as: “baby very poor at birth, cerebral haemorrhage”.

The children listed in the maternity register details released by Tusla include:

  • 1958 — Birth mother of 16.5 years old.
  • 1958 — Birth mother of 17.5 years old.
  • 1962 — Birth mother of 17 years old.
  • 1963 — Birth mother of 13 years old.
  • 1964 — Birth mother of 16.5 years old.
  • 1968 — Birth mother of 12 years old.
  • 1968 — Birth mother of 17 years old.
  • 1970 — Birth mother of 15 years old.
  • 1974 — Birth mother of 15 years old.
  • 1982 — Birth mother of 14 years old.

However, Tusla noted that the material released was “not an exhaustive list of all infant deaths or stillborn babies either born/delivered within or referred from Bessborough to St Finbarr’s Hospital”.

The co-founder of the Adoption Rights Alliance, Susan Lohan, said the question of whether the rapes were reported and investigated needed to be answered.

“These poor girls were clearly the victims of a vile criminal act. They were raped. The gardaí need to investigate whether or not the Order reported the rape of these children and if not, why not,” she said.

Paul Redmond of the Coalition of Mother and Baby Homes (CMABS) said child victims of rape were treated as though they brought it on themselves while their abusers escaped any punishment. “CMABS strongly encourage victims to seek counseling and then contact their solicitors before lodging formal complaints with the Garda while there is still time,” he said.

The Irish Examiner put a series of questions to the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary on the subject of children in its care that were pregnant as a result of rape. These included whether the cases were reported by the order to the Garda and/or relevant authorities at the time.

It declined to answer any of the queries, stating it would only communicate directly with the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes on all such and related matters — and it would “not be appropriate to enter into communication, other than with the commission at this time”.

Order reported 80 more infant deaths to State than were on death register

The religious order that ran the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home reported significantly higher numbers of infant deaths to state inspectors than it recorded privately.

An Irish Examiner investigation can reveal that between March 31, 1939, and December 5, 1944, Department of Local Government and Public Health (DLGPH) inspector Alice Litster was informed that 353 infant deaths occurred at the institution. The figures are contained in a inspection report from 1944 obtained by this newspaper. However, the Bessborough Death Register, released under Freedom of Information, reveals the nuns recorded just 273 infant deaths in this period — a discrepancy of 80.

A year-by-year comparison of the records reveals that, in all but one year, the State was told that a higher number of children were dying in Bessborough than the nuns recorded privately.

In her report, Ms Litster stated the figures for 1939 to 1941 “were furnished by the Superioress” while those for 1943 and 1944 had been “checked and verified and their accuracy can be vouched for”. The DLGPH report reveals the following number of infant deaths for each year ended March 31:

  • 1939 — 38 deaths
  • 1940 — 17 deaths
  • 1941 — 38 deaths
  • 1942 — 47 deaths
  • 1943 — 70 deaths
  • 1944 — 102 deaths
  • April 1, 1944 to December 5, 1944 — 41 deaths

The numbers recorded in the Bessborough Death Register for the same dates are as follows:

  • 1939 — 38 deaths
  • 1940 — 8 deaths
  • 1941 — 22 deaths
  • 1942 — 43 deaths
  • 1943 — 55 deaths
  • 1944 — 76 deaths
  • April 1, 1944 to December 5, 1944 — 31 deaths

The order confirmed to Tusla via its solicitors this year that the death register was the only one in existence and it “does not hold any other death register”.

The discrepancy in the recording of deaths comes just months after the Irish Examiner revealed that an unpublished 2012 internal HSE report raised concerns that death records were falsified in Bessborough Mother and Baby Home so children could “be brokered in clandestine adoption arrangements” at home and abroad. The report highlighted “epidemic” infant deaths rates at the home and said: “The question whether indeed all of these children actually died while in Bessboro or whether they were brokered into clandestine adoption arrangements, both foreign and domestic, has dire implications for the Church and State and not least for the children and families themselves.”

The Irish Examiner asked the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary for an explanation for the discrepancy. In a statement, it said it was dealing “directly with the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes on all such and related matters — and it would not be appropriate to enter into communication, other than with the commission at this time”.

No appetite to uncover scale of illegal adoption scandal

Calls for an audit of all the files held by accredited adoption agencies and by the State, so that the full scale of illegal adoptions and birth registrations can be uncovered, have always fallen on deaf ears, writes Conall Ó Fátharta

You really have to wonder how big a scandal needs to be before an Irish government decides to do the right thing and investigate the matter.

The latest revelations — that the Government was informed by the Adoption Authority of Ireland (AAI) almost two years ago that there “may be thousands” of cases where people had their birth history falsified so they could be illegally adopted — poses a very simple question: Why was this not investigated?

The Department of Children and Youth Affairs was told by an AAI delegation in June 2013 — more than a year before the mother-and-baby home scandal — that there were “at least 120 [confirmed] cases” of illegal registrations. Not an insignificant number from the sample examined.

However, the AAI went further, stating its belief that this could well be the tip of the iceberg and that there “may be thousands” more. It named a well-known former private nursing home — St Rita’s in Dublin — where women went to give birth to their children before having to place them for adoption, as a “huge source of illegal registrations”.

It specifically named one religious-run former adoption agency — St Patrick’s Guild in Dublin — as being “aware of several hundred illegal registrations”, stating that the agency “are not seeking the people involved” but were, rather, “waiting for people to contact them”. The agency holds 13,500 adoption files — one quarter of all adoption files in the country

In a statement to this newspaper, AAI chief executive Patricia Carey said that the “may be thousands” comment made at the meeting was “a throwaway remark” and was “not based on verifiable facts”.

However, the fact that the department had called for a meeting on the subject and that an AAI delegation was willing to speculate at all on such a large number, indicates the issue was firmly on the radar of the adoption regulator.

With all of this information, you would imagine that someone in Government would think that this warranted investigation. Instead, five months later, then children’s minister Frances Fitzgerald told the Dáil she “had no plans to initiate an audit of all [adoption] files”.

She also claimed that all adoptions “which the Irish State has been involved in since 1952 have been in line with this [Adoption Act 1952] and subsequent adoption legislation”. This claim was repeated on two separate occasions by her successor, Charlie Flanagan.

Both made the claim despite the fact the full-scale audit of adoption records held by the State and accredited adoption agencies which could prove the claim has ever been carried out.

To adoption campaigners, this came as no surprise. They have long called for an audit of all adoption files held by accredited adoption agencies and the State so that the full scale of illegal adoptions and birth registrations can be uncovered. These calls to both the department and the AAI have always fallen on deaf ears.

However, it has now emerged that the decision not to order such an audit was made in the knowledge that the department was informed by the very body charged with regulating adoption in Ireland — the AAI — that it believed there “may be thousands” of cases of illegal birth registrations.

Why? The Irish Examiner put a series of questions to the department asking why it had not acted on this information and launched an investigation. Did it not feel that the AAI’s belief that thousands of people in the country had their identities falsely registered — a criminal offence — warranted investigation?

The department declined to respond to the specific questions asked, but said a full audit of adoption records would be “of very limited benefit”.

“It is important to note that the only way information generally becomes available is when someone with knowledge about the event comes forward… There is little, if any, supporting information in relation to these arrangements… Accordingly, an audit of all adoption records would be of very limited benefit in establishing the number of illegal registrations that took place,” said the statement.

However, the very body regulating adoption seems to think differently. The 120 cases mentioned by the AAI in the June 2013 note refer to a 2010 audit it carried out of its records on foot of an Irish Examiner story on the case of Tressa Reeves, whose son was illegally adopted and falsely registered as the natural child of the adoptive parents without her consent. This was facilitated by St Patrick’s Guild who allowed the couple to take the child without a formal adoption order being made.

The audit uncovered approximately 99 cases, while a further 20 were identified in the following years. In a report prepared for the department in June 2011, the AAI said it considered carrying out a more comprehensive audit of the cases it uncovered, but because of the transfer of senior personnel and the “pressure on resources of the imminent establishment of the Adoption Authority no further action was taken”.

So clearly, the AAI felt the number of cases it uncovered in its own files warranted further investigation and “a more comprehensive audit”.

The statement by the department that there is “little, if any, supporting information in relation to these arrangements” is also contradicted by a record of a meeting between two nuns from St Patrick’s Guild and representatives from Tusla, the Child And Family Agency, which states that the agency’s records contained “some illegal registrations” and, crucially, that “full details are available on the majority of cases”.

The agency is in the process of transferring its records to Tusla.

Why was none of this immediately investigated by the State?

Despite being aware of this almost two years ago, no full audit has been carried out of adoption records nor is one planned. Despite loud and repeated calls from a range of adoption groups, St Patrick’s Guild was also excluded from the mother-and-baby home inquiry.

The agency has been making headlines for decades. In 1997, former justice minister Alan Shatter said the behaviour of the agency in relation to how it dealt with adopted people and natural mothers looking for information about their identity was “almost beyond belief”.

“It is unacceptable that an adoption society such as St Patrick’s Guild has deliberately misled people by giving grossly inaccurate information, both to adopted persons and to birth mothers, with regard to the background to their adoption,” he said. “It is almost beyond belief that an adoption society deliberately set out to tell adopted persons the wrong names, wrong dates of birth and the wrong ages of the birth mothers.”

Adoption, specifically forced and illegal adoption, has always been the elephant in the room for the State in relation to the mother-and-baby home inquiry. Adopted people and birth mothers are waiting decades for tracing and information legislation to grant them basic identity rights. They get told it is very “complex” but work is “progressing”. One wonders if offering tracing rights and opening up adoption files may open up another can of worms the State would rather stay firmly closed.