Commission refusing to clarify questions over death registers for Bessborough Mother and Baby Home

File photo of the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home.

The Mother and Baby Homes Commission have refused to clarify a claim it has made about the existence of two death registers for the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home.

The Commission has declined to answer a number of queries about its recent report on burials stating that "the answers to all of your questions will have to await the publication of our final report".

In the report, the Commission addressed claims the Order that ran Bessborough overstated the number of deaths that occurred in the institution when reporting to the Department of Local Government and Public Health (DLGPH).

These claims were made in a 2015 Irish Examiner investigation which revealed that between March 31, 1939, and December 5, 1944, the DLGPH was informed that 353 infant deaths occurred at the institution. However, the Bessborough Death Register shows just 273 infant deaths in this period — a discrepancy of 80.

The Commission's report sought to explain this discrepancy stating that "the Bessborough Home and the Sacred Heart Maternity Hospital kept separate death registers".

"Deaths that occurred in the Home and deaths which occurred in the hospital were separately recorded and notified. This has led some commentators to suggest that the Bessborough authorities overstated deaths which occurred in the institution when reporting to the Department of Local Government and Public Health. The number of deaths reported to the department was the combined deaths in the two facilities as opposed to deaths which occurred in the Home only," states the report.

A footnote attached to this section highlighted that the Registration of Maternity Homes Act 1934 made it obligatory for the administrators of all registered maternity homes to keep records relating to the reception and discharge of patients as well as a record of all births and deaths.

The report later states that it examined the records of deaths in the Bessborough Home itself and in the Sacred Heart Maternity Hospital and cross-referenced them with information on Bessborough deaths provided by the General Register Office (GRO). It acknowledged there were "some discrepancies" that were small in number and that it was trying to reconcile them.

File photo of the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home.
File photo of the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home.

The Irish Examiner asked the Commission where it obtained the second death register relating to Bessborough. It said the documentation used in compiling information on the numbers of deaths "all came from the registers held by Tusla and formerly held by the Sacred Heart Congregation" and the GRO.

However, Tusla stated that it holds just one death register for Bessborough and that there is "no specific death register for the [maternity] hospital in Bessborough".

It pointed out that some deaths are recorded in the admissions and discharges register for both the home and maternity hospital but that it had "no way of verifying that all deaths that occurred in the home and the maternity wing were recorded in these registers".

Correspondence obtained by the Irish Examiner over a number of years also reveals that the Order handed over just one death register when its records passed to the HSE (and subsequently Tusla) in 2011.

    This correspondence includes:

  • A Tusla inventory listing all of the material transferred to the HSE/Tusla from the Order in 2011. It lists only one death register
  • A note of a meeting with two Tusla staff members and a nun from the Order in 2014 where Tusla query the existence of a second death register. In the note, Tusla staff make reference to the fact that "only one [death] register was handed over".
  • A solicitor's letter from January 2015 from legal representatives for the Order stating “all records” it held were transferred to the HSE in 2011 and that it “does not hold any other death register”.

When the Irish Examiner put this information to the Commission it responded by stating: "The answers to all of your questions will have to await the publication of our final report".

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