Mother and baby homes: Plenty of information about adoption records to be found if State wishes to look

The Government says an audit of adoption records held by the State is of very limited benefit, but recent revelations prove otherwise, writes Conall Ó Fátharta
Mother and baby homes: Plenty of information about adoption records to be found if State wishes to look

THIS Government has consistently repeated the mantra that an audit of adoption records held by the State was “of very limited benefit” — despite revelation after revelation from this newspaper.

An examination of just a fraction of these records revealed that a religious order reported significantly higher levels of infant deaths to the State than it recorded privately, and that child victims of rape were present in mother and baby homes right into the 1980s.

There are tens of thousands of files in the hands of the State in relation to how unmarried women and their children were treated in state-licensed and funded mother and baby homes and adoption agencies. It seems nobody wants to take a look at them.

It’s not like they haven’t been asked. Adoption campaigners have called for an audit of all records for years. The Government and the Adoption Authority have ignored all requests.

It’s not as if they don’t know what these files contain. In April, this newspaper revealed the adoption authority informed the Department of Children and Youth Affairsin 2013, there “may be thousands” of cases of illegal adoptions.

It named a well-known former private nursing home — St Rita’s in Dublin — where women went to give birth to their children before having to place them for adoption, as a “huge source of illegal [birth] registrations”.

The authority also named religious-run former adoption agency St Patrick’s Guild as being “aware of several hundred illegal registrations”.

A record of a meeting between two nuns from the guild and representatives from Tusla in 2014 states the agency’s records contained “some illegal registrations” and, crucially, that “full details are available on the majority of cases”.

The Government’s reaction to this? St Patrick’s Guild was excluded from the remit of the of the Commission of Investigation to Inquire into Mother and Baby Homes.

Five months later, the then children’s minister Frances Fitzgerald told the Dáil she “had no plans to initiate an audit of all files”.

She also claimed that all adoptions “which the Irish State has been involved in since 1952 have been in line with this [Adoption Act 1952] and subsequent adoption legislation”. This claim was repeated on two separate occasions by her successor, Charlie Flanagan.

More bizarrely still, the department’s response to queries relating to any audit of all State adoption records is that such an exercise would “of very limited benefit”.

“It is important to note that the only way information generally becomes available is when someone with knowledge about the event comes forward… There is little, if any, supporting information in relation to these arrangements... Accordingly, an audit of all adoption records would be of very limited benefit in establishing the number of illegal registrations that took place,” said the department.

However, an investigation of those records has shown such a statement to be patently untrue.

In June, this newspaper revealed that an internal HSE report prepared after an examination of Bessborough Mother and Baby Home records expressed concerns that death records were falsified at the institution so children could “be brokered in clandestine adoption arrangements” at home and abroad.

An examination of the order’s own death register revealed a higher infant death rate than Tuam, two years before the Tuam babies scandal broke.

The HSE also expressed concerns in 2012 that up to 1,000 children may have been “trafficked” to the US from the Tuam Mother and Baby home in “a scandal that dwarfs other, more recent issues with the Church and State”.

The warning is contained in an internal note of a teleconference in October 2012 with then assistant director of Children and Family Service Phil Garland, and then head of the Medical Intelligence Unit, Davida De La Harpe.

It ends with a recommendation that that “this goes all the way up to the minister” so that “a fully fledged, fully resourced forensic investigation and State inquiry” could be launched.

All of these concerns were raised by a social worker looking at the records the Government deem not worth auditing.

An investigation by this newspaper revealed last month that the order which ran the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home reported significantly higher levels of infant deaths to State inspectors than it recorded in its own Death Register. The order declined to offer an explanation for the discrepancy.

Yet again, this information was uncovered following an examination of records all of which are in the hands of the State.

Similarly, the records reveal that children — some as young as 12 and pregnant as a result of rape — were in Bessborough into the 1980s. The order declined to answer whether or not they reported any of these crimes to the gardaí.

All of this evidence is contained in records held by the State and which an audit could have put into the public domain before now.

Let’s hope the commission doesn’t view State’s own records as being “of limited benefit”. The women and children on those files deserve better.

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