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A member of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse has said that a significant amount of work had been done and documentation collated when its vaccine trials inquiry was suspended in 2003 due to legal action.
The inquiry, set up as a module of the commission by government order in June 2001, was to investigate the use of children from mother and baby homes, orphanages, reformatories and industrial schools in three such trials.
Dr Kevin McCoy had been chief inspector of the Inspectorate of Social Services inNorthern Ireland, before his appointment to the commission in 2000.
Last night, he told The Irish Times that before the vaccine trials inquiry “ran into the ground” due to legal action, “a lot of information had been collected and work done”.
He believed all such documentation remained among the commission’s records which, as reported here two weeks ago, are to be housed in the National Archives for 75 years before limited access to them is allowed.
The work of the vaccine trials inquiry was suspended when in July 2003, a unanimous judgment by the Supreme Court upheld an appeal by late UCD professor Patrick Meenan against a High Court decision which had directed him to give evidence before the vaccine trials division of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse.
The government order directing the vaccine trials inquiry was declared invalid in June 2004, following a challenge by retired UCD professor of microbiology Irene Hillary. She expressed concern that the establishment of an inquiry into the vaccination trials, under the aegis of a commission set up to inquire into child abuse, would have implications for her professional reputation.
The particular vaccine trial involving both academics took place between December 1960 and November 1961. Results were published in the British Medical Journal in 1962.
The 58 children on whom the vaccine was tested came from mother and baby homes at Bessborough, Cork, at Castlepollard, Co Westmeath, at Dunboyne and Stamullen, Co Meath, at St Patrick’s on Navan Road, Dublin, and at Mount Carmel Industrial School in Moate, Co Westmeath.
Upwards of 300 children were involved in the three trials it was intended to investigate. As well as the 58 above, 69 children from St Anne’s Industrial School in Booterstown, Co Dublin, were vaccinated in a second trial in 1970, as well as a further 23 from the Killucan area of Westmeath. Its results were published in the Cambridge Journal of Hygiene in 1971.
The third trial it was intended to investigate took place in 1973 and involved 53 children from Dublin mother and baby homes at St Patrick’s, Madonna House, Cottage Home, Bird’s Nest and Boheennaburna, as well as 65 children living at home in Dublin.
Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Independent councillor Victor Boyhan, who was raised in the Protestant-run Bird’s Nest Home, yesterday called on the Government to set up “a new and comprehensive investigation . . . into the alleged drug trials undertaken on children in care homes”.
The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse’s vaccine trials division was to investigate those three instances as well as “any other vaccine trial found by the commission to have taken place in an institution between 1940 and 1987 based on an allegation by a person who was a child in that institution that he or she was the subject of such a vaccine trial”.
In November 2006 then minister for health Mary Harney announced there would be no further examination of vaccine trials due to the successful court actions of 2003 and 2004.
The National Archives of Ireland contain just a few snippets, but they are enough to make clear that State officials in 1950s Ireland knew the country was a centre for illegal international baby trafficking. The number of children involved can’t even be guessed at, but we can be sure they were all “illegitimate”.
Ireland was regarded as a “hunting ground”, in the words of a senior civil servant, where foreigners in search of babies could easily obtain illegitimate children from mother-and-baby homes and private nursing homes, then remove them from the State without any formalities.
There were both legal and illegal adoptions. During the 1950s up to 15 per cent of all illegitimate Irish children born in mother-and-baby homes each year were taken to theUnited States with the full knowledge of the State. In total more than 2,000 illegitimate children were removed from the country in this way. Most were adopted by wealthy American Catholics.
But it seems that hundreds, if not thousands, more children were taken from the country without sanction or public record-keeping. Many were handed to foreigners. On October 8th, 1951, The Irish Times reported that in the previous year “almost 500 babies were flown from Shannon for adoption”, a number that the paper said “is believed to have been exceeded” during the first nine months of 1951. In the first week of October alone, it reported, 18 “parties” of children departed from the airport.
These figures far exceed the number of official “adoption passports” issued to let adoptive parents take children out of Ireland. In the whole of 1951 only 122 such passports were issued, a fraction of the number of children actually taken from the State.
Some children were handed over to men travelling alone, as when a US businessman left, after a brief visit to Ireland in 1949, with two toddlers from the Braemar home in Cork. The New York Times called it “a surprise for the wife”. The same year a US airman was given two children to take home by the Sacred Heart nuns at Manor House mother-and-baby home, in Castlepollard. This was reported in three US newspapers.
On February 2nd, 1955, one American newspaper, the New Haven Register, carried a startling story under the headline “50 American couples buy Irish babies through international adoption ring”. Claiming a senior garda as its source, the article said the Americans paid between $600 and $2,000 per child. The children had reportedly come from private nursing homes around Ireland, including five in Dublin.
“Could not truthfully be refuted”
When the Department of External Affairs asked the special detective unit to comment on the article, the only claim it disputed was that the paper’s source was a garda.
Higher up the legal pecking order, the secretary of the Department of Justice, Peter Berry, advised that the story “could not truthfully be refuted” because there was “some basis for the allegation in question”.
Three years earlier a German newspaper, 8 Uhr Blatt, had carried a somewhat similar exposé headlined “1,000 children disappear from Ireland”. Many of the children, it was suspected, were destined to be sold on the United States’ thriving baby “black market”, where the going price was $3,000 a child, according to the newspaper. On this occasion the Irish chargé d’affaires in Bonn, Aedan O’Beirne, wanted to insist that the paper “publish a rebuttal of the story”, but his superiors in Dublin noted that “no action is required, especially as the article is largely correct”.
With the authorities determined to keep the scandal under wraps, the traffickers were pursued without vigour, and the children, whose welfare seemed of little concern to the State, were abandoned to their fate.
The scandal continued into the 1960s when a Garda investigation into another illegal adoption racket – one police believed was run by a prominent Irishman – led to the prosecution of a Dublin midwife, Mary Keating, who had also been involved in the 1950s venture. Keating was interviewed as part of a special-branch operation in the 1950s, along with birth mothers. At that time, special branch also communicated with adoptive parents in the US.
Keating owned St Rita’s nursing home in Ranelagh, and in 1965 she was put on probation for falsifying a birth record. But behind this seemingly technical charge lay an enterprise involving private nursing homes that ran a sideline business providing “illegitimate” babies, born in their homes, to people who, for whatever reason, couldn’t or didn’t want to adopt legally. Their modus operandi was simple. Instead of registering the baby in the name of its unmarried mother, as the law required, they registered it in the name of the couple to whom the baby was given, a serious criminal offence.
The falsification process is outlined in a letter from St Rita’s to a prospective adoptive parent in the US. It is also logged in detail in the Irish special-branch report. The New Haven Register article from 1955 describes the situation for US military personnel, who accounted for many of the adoptions. “To adopt a baby the American soldier and his wife would travel to Dublin, where the wife checked in to the nursing home as an expectant mother. An Irish woman would actually bear the child, but the birth would be registered in the name of the American.”
“The impact of this practice has been devastating for many people,” says Christine Hennessey of Barnardos, the children’s charity, because “it is almost impossible for them to find out anything about their background” – something many adopted people yearn for and the rest of us take for granted.
OUTRAGED crowds are due to gather outside London’s Irish Embassy next week at a vigil for hundreds of babies who died in Ireland’s homes for unmarried mothers.
Organisers said they are expecting a large turnout as the city’s 180,000-strong Irish population gets its first chance to react to the discovery of 800 dead babies at a home in Tuam, Co. Galway.
“Our sense is that people here are very upset about the allegations that have emerged surrounding infant mortality rates in different homes,” said London-based Avril Egan, whose mother was in one of the institutions.
She added that people were particularly “disturbed” by allegations from former residents that nuns refused to give women painkillers during childbirth because they were “sinners”.
News of the planned London vigil comes as revelations about Ireland’s mother and baby homes continue to emerge.
The Irish Independent revealed this morning that the remains of 474 infants who died in the homes and in hospitals were used for research and doctors’ training in Irish universities.
Meanwhile, a little-known Catholic charity defended its role in sending 2,700 women to mother and baby homes after they fled to Britain.
Cúnamh, formerly known as the Catholic Protection and Rescue, worked with British organisations to target thousands of unmarried women who left Ireland after discovering they were pregnant.
But the charity’s current secretary, Julie Kerins, told The Irish Post she did not regret Cúnamh’s role in repatriation, claiming women were well-treated in the homes.
Drawing on interviews with “hundreds” of former residents, she said: “They say it was no different from society in general. They didn’t feel like they were abused or mistreated in any way.”
The London vigil is being organised by the Justice for 800 Tuam Babies group for the evening of next Thursday, July 3. It is due to be held outside the Irish Embassy, in Grosvenor Square, near Buckingham Palace.
Ms Egan, who works in the fashion industry and has no history of activism, said she got involved in the group because of her concerns that Irish ministers would not investigate the scandal fully.
Despite the “welcome” announcement of an investigation into homes across Ireland, the 40-year-old said she feared a repeat of the failings in its inquiry into the Magdalene Laundries.
A UN committee branded the Irish Government’s report on the institutions as “incomplete”, criticising its lack of “many elements of a prompt, independent, and thorough investigation”.
The international body’s committee against torture claimed the report, by former senator Martin McAleese, failed to examine fully allegations of physical abuse, forced labour and arbitrary detention.
Justice for 800 Tuam Babies said it hoped its planned vigil would build support for a “comprehensive” investigation of every mother and baby home in Ireland.
Such an inquiry would and address allegations that children were subjected to drug-testing during their time in the homes and that nuns forced mums to give up their children for adoption, it explained.
For more information on the London vigil, visithttps://www.facebook.com/events/602801149838527/
“Reflect here upon their lives”
Meadbh Gallagher examines the controversy behind the Goldenbridge orphanage, the Magdalene laundries and other church institutions for women and children.
Today, if you walk into the centre of Stephen’s Green, just to the right of where a magnolia is stretching in full blossom sits a new wooden bench. On it is a metal plaque inscribed with small faceless heads and the words: “To the women who worked in the Magdalene laundry institutions and to the children born to some members of those communities – reflect here upon their lives.”
In his autobiography, Pat Tierney explains that for the greater part of this century, the state paid the churches to keep people in institutions, “usually situated behind high stone walls”. The Magdalene laundries were just part of the structure of orphanages, industrial schools and asylums catering for the needs of this mass internment policy. Thousands…
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