Irish nuns sold ‘dead’ babies to America

nuns

By Patricia Devlin

A SHELVED report which revealed concerns nuns falsified the deaths of babies before selling them to parents in the USA was seen by two Ministers, a former HSE chief has claimed.

Former Children and Family Services assistant director Phil Garland says the explosive 2012 report was passed to then Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald and Health Minister James Reilly.

But despite recommendations for a State inquiry, no action appears to have been taken.

Breaking his silence for the first time on the reports he helped compile, Mr Garland told The Star: “The HSE and the government weren’t interested. And they still aren’t.”

The sensational “draft reports” surround both Bessboro institution in Co Cork and Sacred Heart Mother and Baby facility in Tuam, Co Galway and reveal how:

  • the church was defrauding the government, women and adoptive parents of cash
  • doctors, social workers and workers still employed in HSE helped ‘traffick’ children
  • bishops sent written requests for babies to be made available for adoption
  • Over 1000 records were unearthed by civil servants including letters and photographs.
  • chiefs believe actions uncovered ‘could be criminal’

Mr Garland told The Star: “I know this information went to the very top of the HSE and to the then Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Frances Fitzgerald. The departments and the Minister just weren’t interested.We wanted this to go much much further. It didn’t and I don’t know why.”The allegations transpired after the discovery of a “large archive” of files by a HSE worker in Co Galway in 2012.Health chiefs were immediately notified how the records, which included photographs and documentation, pointed to posisbly criminal activity operating in institutions during the 40s, 50s and 60s.The evidence uncovered was so strong it led HSE Chief Dr Declan McKeown to warn: “This may prove to be a scandal that dwarfs other.”

Two “draft” reports on “deep concerns” were then written by the then Consultant Public Health Physician.

They included recommendations for a State inquiry to then Health Minister James Reilly. 

The documents include an email sent on October 12, 2012, by Dr McKeown to Mr Garland and another HSE colleague.

bessboroughmotherandbabyhomeexam020615_large

Bessboro/Bessborough institution, Co Cork.

He said a social worker trying to “piece together” the information, which included photographs and documents, had collated a database of “up to 1,000 names”.

He added he would draft an “early warning” letter for the attention of Philip Crowley, National Director Quality Improvement, “suggesting that this goes all the way up to the Minister.”

The email goes on: “This may prove to be a scandal that dwarfs other, more recent issues with the church and state, because of the very emotive sensitivities around adoption of babies, with or without the will of the mother.

“A concern is that, if there is evidence of trafficking babies, that it must have been facilitated by doctors, social workers, etc. And a number of these health professionals may still be working in the system.

“It is important to send this up to the Minister as soon as possible: With a view to an inter-departmental committee and a fully fledged, fully resourced forensic investigation and state inquiry. “

On the same day a more detailed account of the concerns raised in the records was again sent via email to Dr Davida De La Harpe and Mr Garland.

In this paper, labelled “strictly confidential”, Dr McKeown said that there were serious concerns surrounding the infant mortality rate in the Co Cork home.

Death records over a 19 year period showed that a quarter of all babies born at the institution were recorded as having died within the first 12 months of their life.

However Dr Mc Keown said evidence was pointing to the belief that until the introduction of adoption legislation in 1950, nuns in Bessboro were falsely recording baby deaths.

It has been mooted that this combination of evidence may point to babies being identified for adoption, principally to the USA, but has been recorded as infant deaths in Ireland and notified to the parents accordingly.

“This would have been possible before the introduction of adoption legislation. However it will take a more detailed study of practices and the accounting in Bessboro before this theory proven or disproven.”

The documents also touched upon evidence of similar – and more serious – practices taking place in Tuam.

“In common with Bessboro there is some evidence of coercion in that women were forced to stay in the home with their babies until well past the point that they were fit for discharge.

“During this time parents were charged with the upkeep of their children but it appears now that adoptive parents were also charged for the upkeep of the same baby.

“Babies were offered for adoption from the Bessboro and Tuam homes at up to three years of age. The trauma involved in this is revealed in an archive of photographs of children who were sent for adoption to the USA.”

It concluded: “In both of these cases, there are issues of concern in relation to historic patient safety, medical care, accounting irregularities and possible interference with birth and death certification which requires further investigation. 

“Children, if not the mothers who passed trough these systems are likely to still be alive and at the very least any knowledge of their histories should be fully investigated and made available to them if they so choose.”

Mr Garland, who says he believes the archive is still in the property of the HSE, left his Assistant Director position shortly after the reports were made in 2012. But he says he remains troubled that no action seems to have been taken four years on.

His claims are the latest cover-up scandal to rock the HSE in a matter of weeks.

Just last week the health authority was force to apologise after an independent report found it failed to properly investigate abuse claims surrounding a Waterford foster home over a prolonged period despite two internal reviews.

RESPONSE

I contacted a number of government departments over these allegations. Here is what each had to say in full.

HSE (Health Services Ireland)

 “All information gathered HSE-Health Intelligence Unit during the course of their research has been passed to TUSLA.

 “Any records relating to children and families in Ireland, both past and present are now owned by Tusla. The Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and Certain Related Matters) was established in 2014 under the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004 by Order of Government under the stewardship of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. The Commission’s work is on-going and any individuals who were resident in or who worked in any of the Mother and Baby Homes or County Homes which are the subject of the investigation should contact the commission with any relevant information.”

The Department of Health

“The  HSE provided a draft report which included the material in regard to Bessborough Mother and Baby Home and which indicated that conclusions must remain conjecture until a more forensic examination could be undertaken.     This  draft was provided to the Committee Secretariat and to the two Departmental  representatives on the Committee.  As these matters were outside the remit of the McAleese Committee,  the HSE subsequently advised that these wider issues would be examined separately  by the HSE.   There is no record of the draft report being received by the Ministers.

“In 2014, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs established an Inter Departmental Group  in response to revelations and public controversy regarding conditions in Mother and Baby Homes. This controversy originally centred on the high rate of deaths at the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, Co. Galway.   The Group was to map the important dimensions of the issue, and to assist in developing appropriate terms of reference for a Commission of Investigation.   The Commission of Investigation into  Mother and Baby Homes and certain related matters was then established in February 2015 to provide a full account of the experiences of women and children who lived in mother and baby homes over the period 1922 -1998.”

Department of Children and Youth Affairs

“The information at issue was examined by the Health Service Executive (HSE)
as part of its response to the Committee to establish the facts of State
involvement with the Magdalen Laundries. In the course of this work the HSE
provided a draft report to the Committee secretariat and to the Department
of Health and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.  This draft
report included a separate appendix based on records from the former
Bessborough mother and baby home. The author of this draft report
acknowledged that its conclusions remained a matter of conjecture until
such time as a more forensic examination of the home’s records could be
undertaken by the HSE.

“The draft HSE report was not brought to Minister’s attention at that time.

“As these matters were outside the direct remit of the McAleese Committee,
the HSE subsequently advised that these wider concerns would be examined
separately by the HSE. The Department advised the HSE that any findings of
concern from this separate process should be appropriately communicated by
the HSE.  This Department is not aware of any subsequent reports supplied
by the HSE in this regard.

“The Department of Children and Youth Affairs became actively involved in
responding to the concerns relating to Mother and Baby Homes following the
publication of information on the former Bon Secours Home in Tuam around
mid-2014. The Inter Departmental Group Report on Mother and Baby Homes,
published in July 2014, cites a number of reports from relevant authorities
which expressed concerns with undesirably high death rates during and
following the times these institutions were in operation. It also
references academic literature which clearly indicates that conditions in
these institutions were the subject of attention, report and debate since
the early years of the State. Therefore, it would not be accurate to
suggest that concerns in relation to conditions in mother and baby homes
were unknown or ignored prior to 2012.

 

‘You are holding your baby and you are being told you are a filthy, selfish whore’

terri-h

T

By Patricia Devlin

WHEN Terri Harrison discovered her period was late in February 1973, she knew she had to leave Catholic Ireland.

The plan was if I discovered I wasn’t pregnant I’d have a ball for about a month and then come home,” said Terri. “If I was then to hell with everyone else, I wasn’t coming back.”

Within weeks the 18 year-old from Drimnagh had arrived in London, landed herself a job on Oxford Street and discovered, officially, she was about to become a mum.

I had it all figured out,” the 62 year-old told The Star. “I had a friend who was gay, we were going to move in together, tell people he was the dad and his family would be delighted. We’d bring up the baby together and I was never, ever coming back to Ireland.”

terri-harrison

A young Terri.

Terri didn’t come back to Ireland – willingly.

After a minor accident at a relative’s home which left her in hospital, her news didn’t stay secret for very long. Within days a priest and two nuns called to the London house where she was staying, bundled her into a car and put her on a plane to Cork.

On landing she was driven to the notorious Bessborough House mother and baby facility where she was told she would live for the foreseeable future.

She would have to work, would not be allowed to leave the premises and most importantly respect and obey the nuns who knew what was best for her and her baby. Unknown to Terri her unborn baby had already been accounted for before she’d walked through the doors.

The first test they gave you in that institution was not to check the health of the baby, it was to see if you had gonorrhoea. That was their priority, that you were clean and that they’d get megabucks for this baby.

I was carrying a very expensive commodity. I was even assigned a name – Tracey. My own wasn’t good enough.”

A few weeks in, strong-willed Terri had had enough of the oppression, humiliation and control.

bessboroughmotherandbabyhomeexam020615_large

Bessborough mother and baby institution, Cork.

I was about four or five months pregnant and the baby’s dad Liam came up to visit. Somehow we were allowed into the grounds and we made a run for it. We eventually got to the train station and travelled to Dublin. I visited my eldest sister and her husband sold me out and the nuns were called.”

A decision was taken to keep Terri in Dublin and she was taken to St Patrick’s facility on the Navan Road. A few months later she gave birth to a son, who she called Niall.

I was in labour for three days. They shut me in a room with no doctors, no nurses, and no pain relief. I was shaking that much in pain they had to tie my hands to the bed.

I had a condition called placenta praevia, which meant the after birth came out before the baby. I lost that much blood they had to wrap both me and him in tinfoil. 

“I remember holding Niall, or ‘cuddles’ as I called him, and after that I can’t remember much. I was in shock.”

Sadly the horrific birth was just the beginning of Terri’s nightmare.

“You are holding your baby, your brand new bundle of joy, and you are being told you are a filthy, selfish whore. How selfish of a bitch are you? To deprive this child of a mammy and daddy with a lovely home.

“When you were feeding your baby, you were only allowed to feed him laid out on your lap, you weren’t allowed to bond because their mammy and daddy wouldn’t be happy. And you know how they vetted the people who bought your baby? How often they went to mass and how much money they put on the plate.”

Despite watching other ‘inmates’ lose their children, Terri was convinced that somehow she would be able to take her son home. But when Niall was five weeks and four days old he disappeared.

I fed him at 6am that morning and went back up at around 11am. As I was going up the stairs another girl shouted up to me, ‘his cot is empty’. I went ballistic.”

Terri was sedated and taken to a room inside the institution. The next day she was handed a ticket to England. She left the institution shortly after, and returned to Ireland just a few months later.

She went on to rebuild her life and have three more children, but Niall was never stayed far from her mind.

When her son turned 18 she tried to make contact with him.

Sadly he has no interest in meeting Terri, knowing anything about her, their relationship, what happened when he was a baby, or what has happened since. However she hopes someday he will change his mind.

It gets worse as you get older because you know it is getting closer to the day you will leave this planet,” she said.

Today Terri continues to help survivors like herself who are still struggling from the horror of Ireland’s mother and baby hell. Next month she will help launch the newly formed United Survivors group of which she is a founding member. 

The campaign group aims to not only achieve truth and justice for victims, but also put an end to the offensive labelling some survivors still endure today.

“Labelling me in 2016 does nothing to help educate people or change attitudes.” she says.

“I cringe, and I mean seriously cringe, when someone labels me a birth mother because I never was one. I don’t even know what that means.

“Another one is to call them a mother and baby ‘home’. They didn’t exist. They were slave camps, prison camps. I’ve researched ex-prisoner of war camps, and they were the exact same as us. No rights whatsoever.
“I’ll give you an example; down the road in 1973 there was Mountjoy Prison.

“Me in Mountjoy; one bang on the cell door and you get painkillers, health care, legal help.

“Me in the institution; none of it existed. The gates closed, the doors closed.

“But one thing I have always said is I was never anyone’s victim. I was a target carrying a very expensive commodity.”

terri star.jpg

Terri’s interview in the Irish Daily Star published on 19/10/16