Bessborough Mother and Baby Home: Order reported 80 more infant deaths to State than were on death register

The religious order that ran the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home reported significantly higher numbers of infant deaths to state inspectors than it recorded privately.

Bessborough Mother and Baby Home: Order reported 80 more infant deaths to State than were on death register

An Irish Examiner investigation can reveal that between March 31, 1939, and December 5, 1944, Department of Local Government and Public Health (DLGPH) inspector Alice Litster was informed that 353 infant deaths occurred at the institution. The figures are contained in a inspection report from 1944 obtained by this newspaper. However, the Bessborough Death Register, released under Freedom of Information, reveals the nuns recorded just 273 infant deaths in this period — a discrepancy of 80.

A year-by-year comparison of the records reveals that, in all but one year, the State was told that a higher number of children were dying in Bessborough than the nuns recorded privately.

In her report, Ms Litster stated the figures for 1939 to 1941 “were furnished by the Superioress” while those for 1943 and 1944 had been “checked and verified and their accuracy can be vouched for”. The DLGPH report reveals the following number of infant deaths for each year ended March 31:

  • 1939 — 38 deaths
  • 1940 — 17 deaths
  • 1941 — 38 deaths
  • 1942 — 47 deaths
  • 1943 — 70 deaths
  • 1944 — 102 deaths
  • April 1, 1944 to December 5, 1944 — 41 deaths

The numbers recorded in the Bessborough Death Register for the same dates are as follows:

  • 1939 — 38 deaths
  • 1940 — 8 deaths
  • 1941 — 22 deaths
  • 1942 — 43 deaths
  • 1943 — 55 deaths
  • 1944 — 76 deaths
  • April 1, 1944 to December 5, 1944 — 31 deaths

The order confirmed to Tusla via its solicitors this year that the death register was the only one in existence and it “does not hold any other death register”.

The discrepancy in the recording of deaths comes just months after the Irish Examiner revealed that an unpublished 2012 internal HSE report raised concerns that death records were falsified in Bessborough Mother and Baby Home so children could “be brokered in clandestine adoption arrangements” at home and abroad. The report highlighted “epidemic” infant deaths rates at the home and said: “The question whether indeed all of these children actually died while in Bessboro 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 Irish Examiner asked the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary for an explanation for the discrepancy. In a statement, it said it was dealing “directly with the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes on all such and related matters — and it would not be appropriate to enter into communication, other than with the commission at this time”.

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