An Irish Examiner investigation found between March 31, 1939, and December 5, 1944, Department of Local Government and public health inspector Alice Litster had been informed 353 infant deaths occurred at the Cork-based institution. The figures are contained in a inspection report from 1944 obtained by this newspaper.
However, the Bessborough Death Register revealed the nuns had recorded just 273 infant deaths in that period — a discrepancy of 80.
The discrepancy in the recording of deaths comes just months after this newspaper revealed an unpublished 2012 internal HSE report had raised concerns death records had been falsified in Bessborough Mother and Baby Home so children could “be brokered in clandestine adoption arrangements” at home and abroad.
Susan Lohan of the Adoption Rights Alliance said the gardaí now needed to become involved in order to ascertain why such a large discrepancy in the figures exists.
“We have been advised on numerous occasions by both the Minister for Children James Reilly and chairman of the Adoption Authority Geoffrey Shannon that if we believed there was evidence of wrongdoing to report it to the relevant authorities. It’s now time the gardaí investigate where these 80 infants are,” she said.
Ms Lohan said her organisation was regularly contacted by people who believe they were adopted from Ireland but when they contacted the Department of Foreign Affairs, they had been told they did not appear in the records relating to the export of babies to the US found in the National Archives in 1996.
Paul Redmond of the Coalition of Mother and Baby Homes Survivors has also called for a garda investigation into the issue of how deaths had been recorded at Bessborough.
“The Bessborough Death Register is another example of the Sacred Heart nuns’ complete disregard for the lives of babies and children in their care who died from neglect and indifference. The missing babies should be reported to the Garda and a full criminal investigation is necessary,” he said.
Independent senator and former Children’s Rights Alliance chief executive Jillian van Turnhout said she was “hugely concerned” at the discrepancies.
“If there is no register, as the order have said, then where are the other 80? We know that clandestine adoptions happened. It is reasonable to ask the question: ‘Is there a chance that there are people out there in their 70s that are adopted and do not know?’”
The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes has said it will investigate the discrepancy in the figures.
The Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary said it was dealing directly with the commission on all such and related matters — and it “would not be appropriate to enter into communication, other than with the commission at this time”.