The HSE raised concerns in 2012 that up to 1,000 babies may have been illegally adopted to the United States, in “a scandal that dwarfs other, more recent issues with the church and state,” according to a report in the Irish Examiner.
The warning is contained in an internal note of a teleconference that took place in October 2012 with the then head of Medical Intelligence Unit, Davida De La Harpe, and then assistant director of Children and Family Service, Phil Garland.
This suggestion was made more than two years before the discovery of a mass grave at the home, containing the bodies of 796 children, which forced the Government to launch an enquiry into all mother and baby homes in the country.
The note echoed the concerns of the principal social worker for adoption in HSE West, who had discovered “a large archive of photographs, documentation, and correspondence related to children sent for adoption in the USA,” and “documentation in relation to discharges and admissions to psychiatric institutions in the Western area”.
Letters from the home to parents were also discovered, asking for money towards the upkeep of children that had been adopted or had died by that time. The social worker compiled a list of up to 1,000 names, but claimed it was unclear “whether all these relate to the ongoing examination of the Magdalene system, or whether they relate to the adoption of children by parents, possibly in the USA”. It did note the possibility that death certificates of children were falsified in order to facilitate illegal adoption.
The report acknowledges that if thousands of babies were illegally adopted without the willing consent of the birth mother, then this illegal practice was facilitated by doctors, social workers, religious orders, and many more people in positions of authority, trust, and responsibility. The report states that there is a real danger that some of these people may still work within the system.
The report strongly recommended that the details contained in it be immediately passed up the ladder and directly to the Minister for Health: “It is more important to send this up to the minister as soon as possible, with a view to an internal-departmental committee and fully fledged, fully resourced forensic investigation and state enquiry.”
The Department of Children and Youth Affairs have stated that none of the information was passed on to the minister at the time, but was discussed in the context of the McAleese enquiry under the auspices of the Department of Justice. The minister only became embroiled in the Tuam controversy once material concerning infant deaths became public knowledge, mid-way through 2014. It was then that the minister was instructed by the Government to lead its response on the matter, and the Inter Departmental Review Group to assist deliberations.
When revelations regarding a mass grave at Tuam were revealed in 2014, then Children’s Minister Charlie Flanagan said: “The revelations in Tuam, County Galway, have brought to the fore the situation in other mother and baby homes throughout the country. The practices in mother and baby homes to date have not featured prominently in the various reviews and investigations, which have dealt with many of the past abuses which were inflicted on the vulnerable citizens, many of them women and children.” At the time of this statement, the State had been aware of abuses at Tuam for almost two years.
These latest revelations raise further questions as to why the Government did not launch an in-depth investigation into the Tuam Mother and Baby Home almost three years ago. The decision not to do so marks another low in the manner in which the Irish State has treated issues relating to unmarried mothers and their children, and the abuses of religious orders. Many people would have been of the opinion that days like these were a thing of the past. The fact that the state’s response and concern for these issues once again arose from an international media storm is likely to leave a bad taste in the mouths of many an Irish man and woman, and further afield.