Conall Ó Fátharta, of The Irish Examiner
It’s been almost two years since Conall Ó Fátharta first reported in The Irish Examiner that, two years before historian Catherine Corless raised fears about the Tuam mother and baby home in Co Galway, a HSE West social worker, in 2012, had expressed concerns that up to 1,000 children may have been trafficked to the US from the home.
The social worker came to the conclusion after she examined both the Tuam and Bessborough mother and baby homes while preparing material for the Magdalene laundries inquiry, led by then Senator Martin McAleese – material which was not included in the McAleese report.
Readers should note Fine Gael’s Dr James Reilly was the Minister for Health at the time, while Phoenix magazine has previously reported Dr Reilly paid The Communications Clinic nearly €60,000 between 2012 and 2014 – out of an Oireachtas fund, called the Special Secretarial Allowance (SSA).
Further to this.
On RTÉ’s This Week.
Presenter Conor Brophy spoke to Ó Fátharta about his research and asked what, if any, action was taken after the HSE social worker raised her concerns back in 2012.
Conor Brophy: “In 2012, the HSE had examined both the Tuam mother and baby home and Bessborough in Cork as part of the Magdalene laundries inquiry [by then Senator Martin McAleese]. It’s findings in relation to high mortality rates at both homes, as well as trafficking of up to 1,000 children from Tuam for adoption were described by officials as ‘shocking’ and ‘staggering’. The HSE recommended a fully fledged, a fully resourced investigation and a State inquiry be established.”
Brophy: “Where did the reports go and what action, if any, was taken after this?
Conall Ó Fátharta: “Well that’s where you run into… it’s difficult to understand, first of all, why nothing was done. I suppose, the answer that I’ve gotten from the departments, while they initially said they hadn’t seen it, they then said that the important thing to note was that this was outside the terms of reference of the McAleese committee. It was specifically examining… Magdalene laundries and that any issues surrounding mother and baby homes, and any validated findings of concerns, I think was the wording they used, should be reported through a separate process. But to me, to my mind, it’s pretty clear that they were being reported. I mean, the wording was clear – ‘this needs to be looked at further’. You get the sense that they had only scratched the surface and the reason they were raising this at senior levels was because they felt, you know, someone needs to look at this, they need to look at it forensically. Again, the defence has always been that, you know, the McAleese committee wasn’t really tasked with this, somebody else needs to look at it, at a later date.”
“But as I’ve always said, and I’ve said it in innumerable pieces, the line that was thrown at me was kind of that, the findings, in particular in relation to the Bessborough report, were a matter of conjecture, which is a sentence that the author of that report does use but not in relation to infant mortality, and uses it in the context of ‘well, look, this is what I’m seeing, these are the concerns that come out of it, when you examine this documentation, and these are all conjecture, until somebody has a look and sees are my suspicions founded’. That’s the context of that wording. What you can’t deny is that the death rate figures are coming directly from a register and if the work of Catherine Corless, which is fantastic, was enough to launch a State inquiry, it seems beyond me why figures held by the HSE themselves, taken directly from the order, weren’t worthy of that same level of interest two years earlier.”
Brophy: “What, for you then, are the key questions now?”
Ó Fátharta: “They key questions, we’re probably trying to answer them now. My point has always been, we could be a bit further down the track with all of this. If the concerns raised about Tuam and Bessborough had been noted when they were reported in 2012, we could be at the end of a State inquiry into mother and baby homes. Who knows? We have to hope that the commission is now going to, it does seem like it’s going to broaden the scope a bit, more than Tuam. It’s clear that the same concerns that we’ve now found in Tuam were noted in other institutions. The figures are there. The records are there. So, it’s a matter of spreading the net a bit wider and looking at other institutions which it does seem like they’re going to do but, I suppose, we could be a little further down the track if the right people had been listened to back in 2012.”
Brophy: “That’s journalist Conall Ó Fátharta speaking to me earlier. Now, in addition to asking for a spokesperson from the HSE to join us, we submitted a list of questions to the HSE this weekend. Specifically, they were related to what, if any, notification was provided to the minister [for health, Dr James Reilly] back in 2012 and what steps were taken to investigate the findings contained in its own internal documents at the time. The HSE wasn’t in a position to provide us with a spokesperson. In a statement, the HSE said it was liaising with the mother and baby homes commission in relation to the disclosure of all documentation relevant to the commission’s work.”
Listen back in full here
SPECIAL INVESTIGATION: Government already knew of baby deaths (June 3, 2015, Irish Examiner)
Related: ‘The Irish Martin Sixsmith’ Episode 56 with Conall O Fatharta (YouTube)
Previously: Open The Files
Meanwhile, In Tuam