From top: Bessborough Mother and Baby Home and Dr Martin McAleese with his report into Magdalene laundries in 2013
In the Irish Examiner.
Conall O Fatharta writes:
The Tuam babies scandal recalled a more callous Ireland we thought we had left far behind, but as late as 1990 children from the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home were still being buried in unmarked graves…
When the Tuam babies scandal broke in 2014, it immediately became a story about Ireland’s past. Babies died and were left forgotten in a mass grave in a different Ireland, a crueler Ireland. An Ireland that we have long left behind. A memory.
However, an Irish Examiner investigation has discovered that children from the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home who died as late as 1990 are buried in unmarked graves in a Cork city cemetery.
Three grave plots in St Finbarr’s cemetery in Cork city were found to contain the remains of at least 21 children. Two of the three plots are completely unmarked. The third records just one name despite 16 children being buried in the grave.
Read the story in full here
Readers may also wish to recall a special investigation by Mr Ó Fátharta published in June 2015.
During his investigation, Mr Ó Fátharta obtained material produced on foot of the HSE examining both the Tuam and Bessborough mother and baby homes in 2012, as part of the McAleese Inquiry into the Magdalene laundries.
As a result of these examinations, in Tuam, a HSE social worker made the HSE aware of concerns that up to 1,000 children may have been “trafficked” to the US from the Tuam mother and baby home.
In addition, the HSE West social worker for adoption found letters were sent from the Tuam home to parents asking for money for the upkeep of their children – even though some of those children had already been discharged or had died.
The social worker wrote “This may prove to be a scandal that dwarfs other, more recent issues with the Church and State, because of the very emotive sensitivities around adoption of babies, with or without the will of the mother” and she recommended that the information be brought to the attention of the Minister for Health, Dr James Reilly, of Fine Gael, and that a State inquiry be launched.
In addition, Mr Ó Fátharta reported:
A separate report on Bessborough, written in 2012, spoke of “staggering” numbers of children listed as having died at the institution. The author of the report says infant mortality at Bessborough between 1934 and 1953 is “a cause for serious consternation”. Curiously, no deaths were recorded after 1953 but 478 children died in this 19-year period — which works out as one child every fortnight for almost two decades.
Perhaps most shocking of all is the view of the report that death certificates may have been falsified so children could be “brokered into clandestine adoption arrangements, both foreign and domestic” — a possibility the HSE report said had “dire implications for the Church and State“.
Further to this…
On RTE Radio One’s Late Debate.
Two weeks after Ombudsman Peter Tyndall told the Oireachtas Justice Committee that less than half the €54million originally estimated for redress for the Magdalene survivors has been paid out and that 106 women have been refused payments because officials found they were not in one of 12 specific institutions…
Presenter Katie Hannon revisited the 2013 report by Dr Martin McAleese into the Magdalene laundries – five years after then Taoiseach Enda Kenny shed tears in the Dail on February 19, 2013 when he apologised to women who had been incarcerated in the institutions.
Dr Maeve O’Rourke, Senior Research and Policy Officer at the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, was on the panel.
From their discussion, Ms O’Rourke said:
“The McAleese committee that was set up in 2011 and reported in 2013 estimated that over 10,000 women went through the Magdalene laundries between 1922 and 1996 but that committee didn’t actually have access to the records from Galway or Dun Laoghaire so that is certainly an underestimate…
“…We know from the women who have spoken before the State apology – but a lot more after the State apology – including to the UCD oral history project that, by and large, their experiences were that they ended up in a Magdalene laundry without being told why they were there, that they were usually given a uniform, given a new name or a number to answer to, that they were subjected to a routine of silence and constant work.
“Some slept in dormitories, some actually slept in cells. It wasn’t an option whether the women and girls worked – they did so from eight in the morning until six in the evening and they often spend their time after that engaging in handcrafts, lace-making, for example, making rosary beads…”
Asked by Ms Hannon how Ireland has got from Mr Kenny’s speech in the Dail in 2013 to Mr Tyndall’s comments last month, Ms O’Rourke said:
“Failures to implement the scheme that was promised in 2013 are down to the failure of the State to investigate the abuse that happened to the women.
“That [narrow terms of reference of the McAleese Report] was the key problem. The mandate of the McAleese committee was to investigate the extent of State involvement with the institutions. It didn’t have a mandate to receive complaints of abuse or to investigate abuse.
“Now it found overwhelming evidence of State involvement in a number of areas and then it said, in the public interest, we decided to include a chapter on conditions in the laundries but we are, we want to say that we didn’t make findings in relation to the abuse because we didn’t have the mandate and we also had such a small sample size. They didn’t issue a public call for evidence for example.
“So what happened was, because they didn’t have a mandate to investigate allegations, there were no terms of reference about what they should be investigating. There’s actually no category or section in the chapter on conditions that looks at whether the women were locked in.
“There’s no section in that chapter that looks at whether the women were forced into unpaid labour.
“There’s a section on physical abuse that says not much physical abuse was suffered but it doesn’t actually characterise forced labour as physical abuse.
“…The women have been done a grave disservice by the lack of investigation into abuse and I think that has followed through into the administration of the scheme.”
Asked about the State’s refusal to accept liability for what happened, Ms O’Rourke said:
“The State has the power to do what it wants in this area and it has chosen to set up an ex-gratia [given as a gift] scheme which has allowed civil servants, for example, in the Department of Justice to state to the Oirechtas Committee on Justice and Equality that there is actually no legal liability in this area, that there hasn’t been a court finding and the reason there hasn’t been a court finding is, partly because, all of the women who applied for the scheme were forced to sign a waiver that they, making sure that they couldn’t sue the State.
“There is a very strict statute of limitations that, unlike in England, does not have an exception in the interest of justice so people cannot get to court.
“You cannot get the evidence of the way that these institutions operated. So the archive that the McAleese committee created is not accessible to the women or to the public.
“When it came to the religious evidence, the McAleese committee destroyed its copies and sent the originals back. When it comes to the State archive that the McAleese collected, it’s being held in the Department of the Taoiseach for safe-keeping…
“I think the State has gotten into a pattern over the last 20 years of trying to provide forms of, what it calls, redress without actually providing the truth.”
Listen back to Late Debate in full here
Previously: The Magdalene Report: A Conclusion
Pic: Conall O’Fatharta