Mother and baby homes: Infant died every fortnight for two decades at home

The 2014 inter-departmental report on mother-and-baby homes listed just 25 infant deaths in Bessborough mother-and-baby home, in Cork, despite two departments having figures that showed 500 deaths.

The report, published in the wake of the Tuam deaths scandal in 2014, listed 25 infant deaths at Bessborough.

This figure was taken from the 1934-35 annual report of the Department of Local Government and Public Health, which, as its title suggests, is a report on a single year and which covered the entire country.

However, both the Department of Health and Department of Children and Youth Affairs had a 2012 HSE report which showed that 478 children died at Bessborough from 1934 until 1953 (the only years for which deaths were recorded) — that’s almost one infant a fortnight for nearly two decades. This was a higher death rate than revealed by Catherine Corless, at Tuam, two years later, in 2014.

The 478 figure was also taken from the death register, which the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Order, who ran Bessborough, handed over to the HSE in 2011. The HSE report described the infant death rate as “wholly epidemic”, “shocking” and a “cause for serious consternation”.

It also said it was “curious” there were no death records for any year following 1953 and, as a result, “one cannot be certain as to the full scope of infant deaths”.

Despite two government departments being in possession of the figures, a state inquiry was not launched until the Tuam death rates made international headlines two years later.

In response to a parliamentary question by independent TD, Clare Daly, Children’s Minister Dr James Reilly said the inter-departmental report failed to mention the 478 deaths because the HSE report stated its conclusions were “a matter of conjecture”. However, the numbers of deaths were not cited in the report as a matter of conjecture, as they were taken from the order’s own death register.

The 2012 report raises a number of concerns, based on an examination of the Bessborough files, including that the deaths may have been falsified, so they could be “brokered” for adoption, both at home and abroad.

The report mentions such concerns as conjecture, but in the context of a full and forensic investigation being required to fully examine the legitimacy of these concerns.

“In order to conclusively verify interaction between the State and the Good Shepherd Sisters it is imperative that full disclosure of any and all case files, records, institutional accounts and communications between the State and the religious orders be subject to forensic investigation”.

A full state inquiry into mother-and-baby homes was launched almost two years later.

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