The names of almost 800 children who died in two of the country’s largest mother and baby homes were given to the HSE by a religious order in 2011, writes Conall Ó Fátharta.
This revelation shows the State was aware of the vast number of deaths in Bessborough in Cork and Sean Ross Abbey Roscrea three years before the Tuam babies scandal made global headlines.
The Irish Examiner has previously revealed that concerns over infant mortality rates and other practices at Tuam and Bessborough were raised by senior HSE personnel in 2012.
A report about concerns over Bessborough deaths was forwarded to both the Department of Health and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs that year.
The Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary, which ran the homes, gave the registers to the HSE when it ceased operating its adoption service in 2011. They are now held by Tusla.
In the case of Bessborough, the register shows that 470 infants and 10 women died in Bessborough between 1934 and 1953. A total of 273 deaths come in just a six-year period between 1939 and 1944. However, the Order reported 353 deaths to State inspectors in this period.
Running to more than 50 pages, it lists each child’s name, date of death, former residence of the deceased, gender, age at last birthday, profession (which is marked ‘son’ or ’daughter’ in most cases), cause of death, duration of illness, initials of the officer recording the death, and the date when the death was registered.
The principal cause of death in some 20% of the deaths is marasmus (severe malnutrition).
Other causes of death recorded include: Congenital debility, gastro-enteritis, spina bifida, congenital syphilis, pneumonia, prematurity, meningitis, tubercular meningitis, cerebral meningitis, congestion of the lungs, abscess of the bowel, and convulsions, among others.
In the case of Sean Ross Abbey, the death register lists a total of 269 deaths between 1934 and 1967. However, the Irish Examiner has learned that some of those buried in the plot on the site of the former mother and baby home are not listed on the register.
Unlike Bessborough, however, marasmus is far less visible with cardiac failure, prematurity and general sepsis among the most common causes of death.
None of the children recorded survive until their first year of birth. A total of nine women are recorded as having died, the youngest at 17 years old.
In a statement, the Order said it will “continue to deal directly with the Commission on all such matters”.
Meanwhile, Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe has said the Commission of Investigation into mother and baby homes must be allowed to complete its work in relation to the facility in Tuam.
Advocacy groups have called for similar excavations at other former homes around the country.
Mr Donohoe says it will be considered. “Cabinet and Minister [for Children Katherine] Zappone will of course consider whether there is the potential for any such discoveries elsewhere within our country.
“But before we go ahead with any such decisions, I think it is important to establish do we have any evidence that might prompt such excavations?”
This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner.