Earlier this week a Government minister called for a public inquiry into the events that led to hundreds of children being buried in a former septic tank at a former home for unmarried mothers in Tuam.
Adoption Rights Alliance Co-Founder, Susan Lohan said that the Tuam scandal is not isolated and that mother-and-baby homes in Ireland were known to have high mortality rates.
In his 1989 book To Cure and To Care — Memoirs of a Chief Medical Officer, former Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Health James Deeny spoke of his concerns at the inordinately high child death rates at Bessborough Mother and Baby Home in Cork.
He estimated that 100 out of 180 babies born at the home for unmarried mothers, run by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, died in one year.
“Dr Deeny was so concerned that he travelled to Cork to visit the home,” said Ms Lohan. “Initially he couldn’t see any reason for the high death rate but then asked one of the nuns if he could look at the babies’ nappies.
“When the nappies were opened, it emerged the babies and toddlers were sitting in putrefying diarrhoea that was being ignored and the nuns wanted it all covered up.”
Ms Lohan said it is widely believed that many children who died in the homes had health and disability needs that were not addressed, or suffered generalised neglect.
Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin also said that “if a public or state inquiry is not established into outstanding issues of concern surrounding the mother-and-baby homes, then it is important that a social history project be undertaken to get an accurate picture of these homes in our country’s history”.
Dr Deeny had Bessborough closed temporarily in the 1950s but it reopened and was a home for single mothers until the 1980s.
Minister of state at the Department of Education, Ciaran Cannon, is hoping that anyone who may have had connections to the Tuam Mother and Baby Home will co-operate with any inquiry established. He has assured family members that discretion will be ensured.
The Bons Secours Sisters, who ran the home until 1961, are due to meet with the Archbishop of Tuam, Dr Michael Neary to discuss erecting a memorial to the children who died there.