Tag Archives: Mother and Baby Home Commission of Investigation

Bessborough Mother and Baby Home; the ‘Little Angels’ plot on the grounds of Bessborough House in Blackrock, Cork

The publication this morning of a report into burial arrangements at Mother and Baby homes includes a section on the former Bessborough Mother and Baby Home in Cork which was opened in 1922 and owned and run by the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.

More than 900 children who were born in, or admitted to, Bessborough died in infancy or early childhood.

The report states it had been “assumed by former residents and advocacy groups” that the children who died in the home were buried in a small burial ground on the grounds of Bessborough.

But, the commission said, from “an early stage”, the commission believed this was unlikely – as the area wasn’t big enough and because it was unlikely the children would be buried in the same burial ground as the congregation.

It has since only been able to establish that just one child was buried in the congregation’s burial ground.

After examining burial records of separate burial grounds in Cork city, the commission also established that, between 1922 and 1929, 54 children who died in Bessborough were buried in St Joseph’s Cemetery on the Tory Top Road in Cork; two infants who lived in Bessborough were buried in St Michael’s Cemetery in Blackrock, Cork in 1958 and 1986; at least one child was buried in Cork District Cemeteray, Carr’s Hill; and four children who had an association with Bessborough were buried in St Finbarr’s Cemetery in Cork.

This morning, on RTÉ’s Today with Seán O’Rourke, Paul Redmond, of the Coalition of Mother and Baby Homes, said:

“The really big headline report here is the fact that the entire Bessborough angels’ plot seems to have gone missing. What we’ve always thought of as the angels’ plot and there is a marker there for it – a little memorial mentioning the babies – the report is basically saying ‘there are no babies buried there’ or there might be one or two.

“But they don’t know where they are. Literally there are 900 bodies after going missing because of this report. It’s quite stunning.”

This morning’s report also found that, between 1927 and 1985, 12 adult women, who were former residents of Bessborough and whose deaths were not childbirth related, were buried in St Joseph’s Cemetery.

One of these women entered Bessborough in 1922 at the age of 20 and remained there until she died in 1984. Another of the women started living in Bessborough, aged 21, in 1924 and remained there until her death in 1985.

The commission also identified the deaths of 14 mothers who lived in Bessborough – nine of whom died of pregnancy or childbirth-related reasons. However the commission was unable to established the burial place of these 14 women.

The commission asked the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary about the burial arrangements but the congregation “said it had very little information as the records compiled in the institution were held by the Child and Family Agency (TUSLA) and it did not have access to these records”.

However the commission explained there is “no information about burials in these records”.

It found:

A number of members of the congregation provided affidavits and/or oral evidence to the Commission. They were able to provide remarkably little evidence about burial arrangements.

“The congregation told the Commission that the burial ground in Bessborough was opened in 1956 for deceased members of the congregation and the congregation does not know where the vast majority of the children who died in Bessborough are buried.

The Commission has not seen any evidence that the approval of the Minister for Local Government for the opening of this burial ground was sought or granted as required by the Local Government (Sanitary Services) Act 1948.

A member of the congregation who was in Bessborough for most of the period 1948-1998 told the Commission that she did not remember any child deaths during her time there but she implied that the children who did die there were buried in the congregation burial ground.

“In the years 1950-1960 (inclusive), 31 children died in Bessborough so it is rather surprising that she does not remember any deaths.

“Another congregation member who was in Bessborough from 1978-1985 told the Commission that one baby died during her time there. She said that the manager of the maternity hospital (who was also a member of the congregation) “took over the arrangements for the burial”.

“She “vaguely remembered” that the mother wanted the baby buried in St Michael’s Cemetery but she did not know where the baby was actually buried.

“The Commission has established that there is no record of this baby in St Michael’s burial records. She did not remember if the mother’s family was involved in the burial arrangements but she was clear that the congregation had bought the coffin for the baby.

“In evidence to the Commission, a member of the congregation who was there in the 1980s said that there were two children buried in the burial ground during her time there and a third was disinterred elsewhere and reinterred in this ground.

“Another member of the congregation who was in Bessborough for a period in 1971 and again between 1975 and 1981 swore an affidavit in which she said that she remembered one child who died and was buried in the congregation’s plot in the grounds.

“The recollections of these two congregation members seem to be incorrect In fact, it would appear that there is only one child buried in the congregation’s burial ground and that burial took place in 1994.

“The burial ground has some individual memorials to other children who died in Bessborough but it is unlikely that they are buried in this plot.

“It is possible that children who died in Bessborough were buried within the grounds. However, to date, the Commission has found no physical or documentary evidence which indicates that this occurred.”

In relation to the commission’s efforts to establish if there are other burial grounds on the Bessborough site, the report found:

“The Commission engaged forensic archaeologists to carry out a cartographic and landscape assessment of possible unrecorded burial arrangements in the Bessborough grounds.

“As already stated, the grounds measure approximately 60 acres. It is also possible that burials took place in the grounds that no longer form part of the Bessborough estate, that is, a total area of 200 acres.

“The forensic archaeologists and the Commission’s researchers reviewed all available cartographic sources and aerial images in order to identify possible burials within the
grounds of Bessborough. A site survey was also conducted.

“It is clear that there are a number of locations within the grounds where burials could have taken place. However, there is no significant surface evidence of systematic burial anywhere except for the congregation burial ground.”

The report also examined aerial photography taken in 1951. It states:

“The Commission examined vertical aerial photography taken by the Irish Air Corps in 1951. This series includes high resolution aerial photography of the Bessborough Estate.

The majority of child deaths at Bessborough occurred before 1951 (over 700 and it would be reasonable to expect that, if there were burials there, an aerial photograph taken in February 1951 would show up some ground disturbance, or anomaly on the landscape.

“If over 700 children were buried on the Bessborough Estate before 1951 the aerial photograph would be expected to give some indication of where the remains are located.

“The aerial photographs of the Bessborough site were examined by forensic archaeologists who determined that no visible features on the Bessborough landscape were indicative of any obvious site hosting the remains of such a large number of children.”

It later states:

“…as no physical evidence of possible locations was found, the Commission did not consider it feasible to excavate 60 acres not to mention the rest of the former 200 acre estate.”

The report states that records of admissions, births, discharges and deaths were compiled by the congregation and given to the HSE in 2011 who subsequently gave them to TUSLA in 2013.

Read the 96-page report in full here

Earlier: Death In Tuam

Burials As Late As 1990

Report in The Irish Times on Wednesday, January 9; Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone; debate in the Dáil last Thursday

On Wednesday, January 9 last, the Religious Affairs Correspondent for The Irish Times Patsy McGarry reported that the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation was to seek an extension of a year before publishing its final report which was due in February.

The report took survivors, family members and supporters of people who lived in the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home by surprise.

Following on from the report in The Irish Times, Broadsheet contacted the Department of Children and Youth Affairs on January 9 and asked a spokesman to confirm if The Irish Times article was correct; if it was, to set out the reasons for the seeking of an extension; to outline when the MBHCI made the request for an extension of Government; and to explain when the survivors/survivors’ groups were informed of the request.

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone’s department responded at 5.45pm that evening, essentially confirming The Irish Times article, but without answering the other specific questions, stating:

“The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes has written to the Minister to seek an extension to the time frame for delivering its final reports. The Minister is considering the request and will meet the Commission next week to discuss it further.

“The Minister will then respond to the request in consultation with her cabinet colleagues.

“The Minister has given a commitment to interested parties to communicate any updates in relation to the Mother and Baby Home issue in as timely a manner as possible.

“The Minister will use existing channels to communicate
with interested parties, including survivors and their advocates in advance of any public statements on this matter.”

Yet, when the matter was raised with Minister Zappone in the Dáil last Thursday evening by Galway West Independent TD Catherine Connolly, Dublin Fingal Independent TD Clare Daly, and Dublin South Central Independent TD Joan Collins, Ms Zappone said “the coverage was misleading”.

She also eventually confirmed, after being asked several times, that she had received the request from the commission in December.

Ms Collins said:

“I ask the Minister to correct me if I am wrong, but my information is that the report was finalised in early December last and had been sent to the Attorney General pending transmission to the Minister and the Cabinet.

“I have also been informed that more files from the HSE have emerged which is why, potentially, a further delay is being sought by the commission.

Survivors have been waiting anxiously for this report, as the Minister knows, and have been physically and emotionally shattered by the announcement in last week’s newspaper. It was a cold and calculated way to inform survivors and their families.

Some survivors in their 70s and 80s were outside the gates of Leinster House yesterday. They were cold and they were angry. It was a disgraceful way to treat these ageing people. Their rights and justice are being denied. Will the Minister please explain exactly what is happening and set out why there was no early warning of the proposed delay? These people are losing confidence in the Minister and her Government and in the commission.”

Ms Daly said:

“The request for a second extension from the commission is the last straw for many of us here and certainly for many of the survivors. The request should be refused.

“I am very curious to hear what the Minister’s attitude is and what level of warning she was given by the commission that this bombshell would drop a year almost after the last extension was granted. Many felt it was a step too far even then yet a year on, here we are.

“It is jaw-dropping to have a scenario in which four years later, we have had three interim reports comprising fewer than 40 pages between them. Of those interim reports, two sought more time while another focused on process. There have been no details and no findings and we must ask what in God’s name is going on in this gathering.

“As Deputy Joan Collins said, a suspicious person might wonder if things were being done in this manner so the community dies off.

The fact that they had to hear this as they did via a newspaper leak has caused more insult to them. In many ways, the process is as important as the outcome. The process here has been an abysmal failure and it has retraumatised many of the survivors.

“I do not necessarily blame the Minister and certainly not before we hear what she has to say. I assume she got the information. It is important for her to tell the House when she got it and whether it was flagged. If it was not flagged to her, why did the commission wait until the 11th hour? If it was flagged and everyone knew, why was it done like this? This is devastating and we need clarity around it. My attitude is that the request should be refused. It is too much.”

Ms Connolly said:

“Has the commission of investigation asked for an extension of time? If so, when was the request made, how was it made and how long has the Minister known?

“…From day one, there was confusion and delay. The third report asked for extension of time. While it caused real upset then, people accepted the assurance that the report would be published in February of this year.

“…Subsequent to what we found out in Patsy McGarry’s newspaper report earlier this month, it was claimed on the Department’s website that “reports in the media did not come from this Department and the speculation contained in these reports is inaccurate”.

“What specific inaccuracies are there? Has an extension been sought? If so, when and why was it sought? I will await the Minister’s answer before I give my opinion.”

In her response, Ms Zappone said:

“The scope of the investigation is broad. It was acknowledged at the outset that the timeframe was ambitious. I received the fourth interim report in December 2018. I met the chair of the commission, Judge Yvonne Murphy, last week to discuss the request for the extension of the timeframe for the delivery of the commission’s reports and to ensure I had a full understanding of the progress to date and the basis for the additional time being requested.

“I know it is important for the commission to complete this sensitive and complex work as soon as possible… There can be no shortcut to finding the truth.

“The interim report is short. Contrary to what the Deputies have suggested, it is not a proposal. It grounds the request for an extension of the timeframe to deliver the three reports from the commission by one year.

“As the request constitutes a change in the terms of reference of the commission, it is a matter for the Government to consider the request in reflection of its statutory provisions. Government approval is also required to publish the report. With this in mind, I intend to bring a memorandum to the Cabinet.

“I have already circulated a draft of the memorandum to Government Departments. I hope to have it on the agenda next week for discussion. Ahead of the Cabinet meeting, it would not be helpful to speculate on what the Government will decide.

I am conscious that the commentary on this issue in the media last week has caused distress and anxiety for those involved in this process. The coverage was misleading and did not originate from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, as one of the Deputies mentioned.

“I reiterate my commitment to use existing channels to inform stakeholders of any developments in this area in advance of a public notice. I intend to make a public announcement following the Cabinet meeting to clarify the position for them….I will engage with stakeholders ahead of any public announcements. I hope to announce the details of the interim report as soon as possible.”

Ms Collins told Ms Zappone that she still didn’t answer her questions, namely when the commission requested an extension, if it was made at the beginning of December and, if it was, why weren’t the survivors not informed of this request before reading about it in The Irish Times.

Ms Daly said the essence of what was in The Irish Times article was correct – in so far as the final report will be delayed by a year.

She called for a report to be published in February outlining exactly what the commission has done to date, what needs to be done and a timetable of when the work will be done.

Ms Connolly said:

I am afraid I am not so sympathetic. I am holding the Minister to account because her answer is not acceptable. When and how was she approached by the commission in relation to an extension? Why are the grounds for an extension not set out in the Minister’s reply? Why do we not have a copy of the report? The lines that should demarcate who is responsible for what are being blurred.

“An independent commission of inquiry was set up. It has a duty to report in a way that we can see, read and look at. It is not acceptable that the Minister is not telling us where the report is, why we do not have it and what the grounds for the request are. It is ridiculous and utterly unacceptable that she is telling us there are grounds for the request but not telling us what those grounds are or when they were set out.

“The Minister referred to a meeting that took place last week. If there is a shortage of staff, as has been mentioned, we should know about that. If there is a reason the work cannot be completed on time, it should be made known to us in an open and accountable manner. That is the least we deserve in this Dáil so we can represent the people outside who have suffered greatly.

“The Minister knows well that I have attended many of the meetings. The anger on the ground is palpable. There was an absence of trust from day one. I went out on a limb to give the system a chance. Looking back on that, it was rather foolish. Since 2015, we have had nothing but delay, obfuscation and blurring of boundaries. The very least the Minister should do is tell us precisely when the request came and how it came. Regardless of the nature of the report the Minister has, she should publish it.”

It was after this contribution from Ms Connolly that Ms Zappone said the request was made in December.

She said:

“It is an interim report.

“There are procedures in terms of the establishment of the independent commission and the commission has requested an extension for the completion of its work. That request must be presented to Government, which must agree or not to it. Once that has happened, there will be the publishing of the report.

“That is the process and those are the procedures.

“I intend to do that at the next Cabinet meeting. When I have provided my Cabinet colleagues with the rationale for this, in addition to advising them of the discussions I had with Judge Murphy, which I sought as soon as I could subsequent to the presentation of that interim report taking account of the Christmas period, I will engage with my Cabinet colleagues and we will make a decision.

We will let the survivors and those primary stakeholders know. I will publish the report and we will publish our decision. Those are the proper procedures. The Deputies will know then what is the rationale in that regard. I am happy to come back to the House and discuss those issues with them.

“Second, as the Deputies well know, this is an independent commission and therefore there are certain things I can and cannot do. The commission has made this request and laid out its rationale. I am able to talk and have talked to it about that – I have spoken of that – to more deeply understand its rationale in this regard.

“Third, as I mentioned in my opening remarks, I know the Deputies – who represent the people concerned very well – would acknowledge I also am aware of how awful and difficult this news is for these people to receive. I understand that. I will be able to provide the Deputies with the rationale with regard to the response, and my own response specifically to what they have said, next week after I have given that to my Cabinet colleagues.”

Transcript via KildareStreet.com

Previously: ‘A Dishonest Exercise’

From top: Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone in the Dáil on June 1, 2017; UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence Pablo de Greiff

Last June.

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone made a statement in the Dáil on the Mother and Baby Home Commission of Investigation.

Ms Zappone said she had appointed forensic archaeologist Niamh McCullagh, who carried out the preliminary excavations at the former Bon Secours mother and baby home in Tuam, Co Galway, to lead a team of international experts to advise the commission.

Ms Zappone said:

 “I sometimes wonder, if I’m around in 2027 or 2037, what will they say, on Reeling In The Years about 2017. Will it be the year 2017, that the international media descended on Tuam as we, once again, declared our outrage at past deeds.

Or will it be a year where we faced up, womaned up and maned up and decided that we will do things better. This is a defining moment for us.”

Further to her previously announced idea of establishing some kind of a truth commission, Ms Zappone also said she would be inviting the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence Pablo de Greiff, from Columbia, to Ireland.

She said

“I am asking my Government colleagues to support me in inviting the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, reparation and guarantee of non-recurrence, Pablo de Greiff, to visit Ireland.

Dr de Greiff has extensive experience and insights which I believe will help me as a Minister and us as a Government to promote truth, justice and reparation, as he has done with a wide range of other governments. He could help ensure we are taking the right approach in terms of our response into the future.”

On December 12, 2017, Ms Zappone told the Seanad:

“In addition, in recognition of Ireland’s absolute commitment to human rights, the Government has decided to invite the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, Mr. Pablo de Greiff, to visit Ireland. I will work with my colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, to arrange this invitation.”

On January 24, 2018, Ms Zappone, in a written answer to Sinn Féin TD Denise Mitchell, stated:

“…the Government has agreed to invite Mr. Pablo de Greiff, UN Special Rapporteur, to assist Ireland in our response to issues related to former Mother and Baby homes and I am working with my colleague the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to arrange this invitation.”

On February 13, 2018, Ms Zappone told the Dáil:

I have previously relayed my commitment to the House to inviting the UN special rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, Mr. Pablo de Greiff, to come to Ireland. I believe he can assist us in our endeavours to establish the truth and advise us on how best to move forward and deal with this part of our history. Arrangements are at an advanced stage and I expect an invitation to be issued to Mr. de Greiff in the coming days.

Fintan Dunne writes:

Guess when Dr de Greiff reaches the end of his term as Special Rapporteur?

Pablo de Greiff was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council… in 2012.

He was renewed in 2015 and will hold the position until May 2018.”

May 2018 is a mere week away!!

Fintan Dunne

Previously: ‘Will It Be A Year Where We Womaned Up?’

‘I Have Had Grown Men Cry In My Presence’