Mother & Child Homes: Terms of reference of new probe welcomed and criticised

The terms of reference for the new investigation into mother and baby homes received a broad welcome — but also criticism over its exclusion of Magdalene Laundries and adoptions involving state hospitals.

Mother & Child Homes: Terms of reference of new probe welcomed and criticised

Among the groups welcoming the announcement on the shape of the three- year investigation were the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission; One Family; the Coalition of Mother And Baby Home Survivors; and the Children’s Rights Alliance.

Geoffrey Shannon, chair of the Adoption Authority of Ireland, particularly “a thorough examination of all adoption practices from 1922 to 1998”.

Susan Lohan of the Adoption Rights Alliance said she was “broadly happy” but had “some concerns”, specifically regarding adoptions involving the “huge number of children in state hospitals”, claiming “the terms of reference has specifically sought to exclude them”.

“We want all of it to be investigated,” she said. “The number of women and babies involved could be as high as the tens of thousands.”

She said the Magdalene Laundries should also have been included — a point forcefully echoed by the executive director of Amnesty International Ireland, Colm O’Gorman, who said he was “astounded” by the exclusion, claiming it was a “glaring gap”.

He said: “The proposed terms of reference for the commission are a missed opportunity to finally address Ireland’s responsibility to provide justice and truth to women and girls placed in Magdalene Laundries.

“Many of those women and girls came from those mother and baby homes. We are shocked at the minster for children’s statement that this matter has been adequately investigated by the McAleese interdepartmental review.”

Helen Murphy, of the Bessborough Mother and Baby Support Group said the focus was not just on the Tuam site which gained international attention last year. “It’s not just Tuam where the bodies are buried, Bessborough where I was born had a very high mortality rate — many of the people who were born there the same time as me may not have made it out and we have women in our group whose babies died in Bessborough.

“To this day they do not know where their bodies are buried; they didn’t see their babies when they died and have never been told where they’re buried despite asking over and over again.”

Catherine Corless, who brought the Tuam issue to prominence and is a member of the Home Baby Graveyard Committee, said: “We’re all very pleased — it’s a good day for everyone who never had a voice.” She added that the onus was still on the Bon Secours to provide more information regarding the bodies discovered at the Tuam site.

Terry Harrison, who gave birth to her son, Niall, in October 1973 in St Pat’s on Dublin’s Navan Rd, having been first in Bessborough, said she “celebrated” the announcement, adding: “I never thought I’d see this day.” As for her son, she said: “My son must make that decision to open that file that’s waiting for him. And Niall if you’re out there, I want you to know I am the woman who brought you into this world, I named you cuddles when I carried you and I nursed you and I sang to you, and I hope one day you find it in your heart to allow me to give you one hug.”

The new Mixed Race Irish organisation also welcomed its inclusion in the Terms of Reference.


Within its mother and baby homes remit, the inquiry has been tasked with finding out how women and their babies entered and left the facilities; if they consented; their living conditions; mortality rates; and what happened to children after they died.

This means it can examine clear links between the related scandals of mother and baby homes, county homes, vaccine trials on vulnerable children, illegal adoptions and touch on the Magdalene laundries controversy. A total of 14 mother and baby homes will be examined:

-Ard Mhuire, Dunboyne, Meath

-Belmont Flatlets, Belmont Ave, Dublin 4

-Bessborough House, Cork

-Bethany Home (originally Blackhall Place), Dublin 7 (previously Orwell Rd)

-Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home, Tuam, Galway

-Denny House (originally Magdalene Home), Eglington Rd, Dublin 4 (previously 8 Lower Leeson St)

-Kilrush, Cooraclare Rd, Clare

-Manor House, Castlepollard, Westmeath

-Ms Carr’s Flatlets, 16 Northbrook Rd, Dublin 6

-Regina Coeli Hostel, North Brunswick St, Dublin 7

-Sean Ross Abbey, Roscrea

-St Gerard’s, 39 Mountjoy Sq, Dublin 1

-St Patrick’s (originally Pelletstown), Navan Rd, Dublin

-The Castle, Newtowncunningham, Co Donegal.

A “representative sample” of county homes, for women who had a number of crisis pregnancies, will also be examined.


The investigation will also be able to dip into the murky waters of vaccine trials on children who were in mother and baby homes.

Under terms of reference outlined by Children’s Minister Dr James Reilly yesterday, the inquiry can compel pharmaceutical firms to provide full information and files on these cases, if they exist.

The move — which can lead to criminal action if there is a failure to comply — is likely to be particularly focussed on levels of consent; who if anyone benefited financially from the trials; who knew or authorised them; and health implications on the children.

The original terms of the Ryan report into institutional abuse allowed scope for pharmaceutical firms’ actions in Ireland for a number of decades to be examined.

However, at least one multinational drug company successfully argued that including it in any abuse inquiry wrongly implied it was involved in the abuse itself.

While still in its early stages, the same argument could be brought forward again in the event of any attempt to find out exactly what firms were doing with vulnerable children for decades, and if any consent was ever sought.

More than 2,000 children are believed to have been subjected to unsolicited vaccine trials in religious-run institutions between 1930 and 1936 alone.


While the planned three-year State investigation is wide- ranging, groups representing those affected have still noted “glaring gaps”.

In June 2013 Dr Martin McAleese published his report into the Magdalene laundries abuse scandal.

While the document was criticised by the UN, the Irish Human Rights Commission, and Amnesty International as failing to explain what happened, it is now being used as a reason for the current inquiry not to examine Magdalene laundries.

Yesterday, Dr Reilly said the institutions would be examined within the context of mother and baby homes.

This means the Magdalene laundries issue will only be touched on as part of questions on where women ended up, and how.


The State investigation will be able to examine instances of illegal adoptions connected to mother and baby homes. However, campaign groups have noted much of what happened could remain unanswered.

Illegal adoptions relate to children removed from women taken to mother and baby homes or Magdalene laundries.

In many cases, a number of which were revealed by the Irish Examiner since 2009 and identified by ex- RTÉ journalist Mike Milotte’s 1990s book Banished Babies, they were removed and given different identities by religious groups which then refused to help reunite them with their mothers.

It is believed between 50,000 and 70,000 children may have been removed from their birth parents in this way since the formation of the State, with many effectively trafficked to wealthy families in the US and UK.

However, only adoptions linked to 14 named homes and a sample of county homes can initially be examined. Tens of thousands of these “adoptions” also took place at State hospitals and nursing homes, and may be outside the inquiry’s remit.

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