Calls have been made in the Dáil to carry out examinations at the Cork site in the wake of the revelations of mass burial chambers at the Tuam facility.
AAA-PBP TD Mick Barry said 470 infants and 10 women had died between 1934 and 1953 at Bessborough. He claimed the nuns took a “business decision” not to give each child a marked grave as it would make a bad impression on Americans visiting to adopt babies from the home.
He told the Dáil that of 180 babies born over one year, 100 died. “One in five of those who died in the 1934 to 1953 period died of marasmus, that is, severe malnutrition.”
Mr Barry gave graphic accounts of “a house of pain” where mothers in childbirth were “denied pain relief and women who suffered vaginal tearing in childbirth were refused stitching as punishment for their sins”.
During statements on the commission of inquiry into mother and baby homes he said he had been contacted by a survivor of the home who expressed his “strong opinion” that not all of the babies were buried in the “tiny” angels burial plot at Bessborough.
“He believed the decision not to give babies who were buried a gravestone or a white cross was a business one.
“Simply put, the Americans rolling up the driveway at the end of their journey from Shannon Airport would be less likely to buy their baby from the nuns if they were to look out of the car window and see a small forest of white crosses on the grounds of the home.”
Noting reports byreporter Conall Ó Fátharta, Sinn Féin’s Donnacha Ó Laoghaire said the register recorded 273 deaths at Bessborough between 1939 and 1944. But he went on to say that the religious order reported 353 deaths to State inspectors during this period, which he said was a “significant disparity and raises some very worrying questions”.
“Did deaths happen which were unreported to the authorities or were false records created? If neither frightening possibility is the case, then what happened?” Mr Ó Laoghaire asked.
Labour’s Jan O’Sullivan said the percentage of children aged under four who died at Bessborough was “way higher” than average at the time. “The question must be asked as to why children died in these homes.
“One of the answers is they died because they were undernourished and they were not fed properly, yet their mothers were still put in these homes by the State, their families, and other institutions that were in a position of power and authority in our society,” she told the Dáil.