Two Government departments had access to a 2012 report on “shocking” levels of infant deaths at Bessborough Mother and Baby home — despite initial claims that it did not have the report.
Earlier this month, the Irish Examiner revealed that a 2012 HSE report highlighted the “wholly epidemic” infant deaths rates at the Cork home and said: “The question whether, indeed, all of these children actually died while in Bessborough, or whether they were brokered into clandestine adoption arrangements, both foreign and domestic, has dire implications for the Church and State, and not least for the children and families themselves.”
The report, compiled as part of the HSE’s examination of the State’s role in the Magdalene Laundries under the McAleese inquiry, was based on an examination of Bessborough’s own records between 1922 and the late 1970s. Bessborough’s death register records 478 children died there between 1934 and 1953 — one infant a fortnight for nearly two decades.
In response to queries from this newspaper, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA) said it had not been given the report by the HSE in 2012. However, it has since confirmed that both it and the Department of Health were given the report in 2012.
Children’s Minister James Reilly said the author of the report acknowledged “its conclusions remained a matter of conjecture, until such time as a more forensic examination of the home’s records could be undertaken by the HSE”.
“As these matters were outside the direct remit of the McAleese Committee, the HSE... advised that these wider concerns would be examined separately by the HSE,” said Mr Reilly.
“At that time, my department advised the HSE that any validated findings of concern from this separate process should be appropriately communicated by the HSE through a separate process. This department is not aware of any subsequent reports supplied by the HSE in this regard.”
Mr Reilly made his comments despite the fact that the death rate cited in the HSE report was taken from the institution’s own death register. It also revealed a higher death rate than that discovered in Tuam almost two years later in a scandal that forced a State inquiry.
The DCYA said the report was not brought to the minister’s attention in 2012 and it “would not be accurate to suggest that concerns in relation to unacceptable conditions in mother and baby homes, and other institutions, were unknown prior to 2012. The [Inter-Departmental Review Group on Mother and Baby Homes as published in July 2014] Report cites a number of annual reports from relevant authorities which expressed concerns with undesirably high death rates during and following the times these institutions were in operation.
“The academic literature clearly establishes that conditions in these institutions were the subject of attention, report, and debate since the early years of the State.”
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