The McAleese inquiry into Magdalene laundries was informed in 2012 about “disturbing” infant death rates in excess of 50% at the Tuam Mother and Baby Home.
The information was sent by Prof Jim Smith of Boston College and the Justice for Magdalenes Research group to the chairperson of the inquiry, then Senator Martin McAleese on 21 February 2012 — more than two years before the Tuam babies story made global headlines.
Prof Smith was submitting archival evidence demonstrating that the Department of Health always knew that mothers of children in the Tuam Home were recorded as “In the Magdalen”.
In the letter, Prof Smith informed Senator McAleese of a circular he had discovered relating to a 1948 Government survey which recorded the number of ‘illegitimate’ children who were born and died in Mother and Baby Homes and County Homes for the year ending March 31, 1947. All Public Assistance Authorities were asked to respond to the circular.
“According to the returns submitted to the government, 12 of the 22 ‘illegitimate’ children from Co Mayo born at the Baby Home, Tuam, died within the year. Likewise, 25 of the 49 ‘illegitimate’ children from Co Galway born at the Baby Home, Tuam, for the same period also died.
“This information reveals how dangerous an environment the Baby Home, Tuam could be for illegitimate children in residence,” wrote Prof Smith.
The figures sent to Mr McAleese reported infant mortality rates of 55% and 51% for children sent to the home from Mayo and Galway that year.
Prof Smith went on to state that: “Such disturbing statistics certainly begs the question as to whether these children would have been better off remaining in their mother’s care.”
It comes as the Irish Examiner has previously revealed the HSE had reported concerns about “shocking” rates of infant mortality and trafficking in relation to both Tuam and Bessborough in Cork later that year.
Two reports on the institutions were prepared by the HSE, while it was preparing material for the McAleese investigation into Magdalene Laundries.
These reports explicitly reference infant mortality rates, but also express serious concerns about the possible trafficking of children from the institutions. They also mention that these issues needed to be investigated as a matter of urgency.
None of the above concerns made it into the McAleese report, as they were outside its terms of remit.
However, that report did include other material that was “outside its core remit”, but deemed in the public interest. This material “may challenge some common perceptions” about Magdalene laundries.
The Report of the Inter-Departmental Group on Mother and Baby Homes, published by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs in July 2014 also failed to mention these concerns.
In a statement, the Department of Justice said the McAleese Committee was “no longer exists and is therefore not in a position to respond to specific queries”.
The Department also said there was “no record” of the McAleese Committee having drawn the attention of the department or the minister to archival material relating to the Tuam Mother and Baby Home.
Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone has confirmed the Government would be seeking international advice on identifying the Tuam remains.
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