Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation
|Established||February 17, 2015|
|Legal status||Commission of investigation|
|Purpose||To investigate and report on practices in Irish Mother and Baby Homes|
|Judge Yvonne Murphy|
|Dr William Duncan, Professor Mary E. Daly|
|€7 million per annum, approximately|
The Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation (officially the "Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and certain related matters") is a judicial commission of investigation, established in 2015 by an order of the Irish government. It was set up in the wake of claims that the bodies of up to 800 babies and children may have been interred in an unmarked mass grave in the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home, located in Tuam, County Galway, but its remit also covers investigation into the records of and the practices at an additional thirteen Mother and Baby Homes. The members of the three-person Commission are Judge Yvonne Murphy (chairperson), Dr William Duncan and Professor Mary E. Daly.
Originally scheduled to issue its final report by February 2018, the Commission was granted a one-year extension to February 2019, and sought another extension of a further year in January 2019, due to the workload involved.
Following widespread news reports in 2014 that the bodies of 796 babies and children may have been interred in an unrecorded mass grave at the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, County Galway, there were calls both nationally and internationally for an investigation of the site, and for an inquiry into all such Mother and Baby Homes.
On 4 June 2014, the Irish government announced it was bringing together representatives from various government departments to investigate the deaths at the Bon Secours home and to propose how to address the issue. The then Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Charlie Flanagan, said any government inquiry would not be confined to the home in Tuam and that officials would advise the Government on the best form of inquiry before the end of June 2014. On 16 July 2014, the government announced that Judge Yvonne Murphy would chair a Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby homes, including Tuam. In October 2014, the then Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, James Reilly, announced that the draft terms of reference for the inquiry had been circulated to government departments for comment.
On 19 February 2015, Reilly announced that the terms of reference had been agreed at Cabinet for an "independent commission, which has a three-year deadline and which will cost approximately €21 million, following the signing by the Taoiseach of a Government Order at Tuesday's Cabinet meeting".
The three-person Commission comprises Judge Yvonne Murphy as Chairperson, with international legal expert on child protection and adoption, Doctor William Duncan, and historian Professor Mary E. Daly, appointed as Commissioners.
Terms of Reference
The Terms of Reference specified for the Commission are to investigate and report on:
- The circumstances for the entry of single women into Mother and Baby Homes and the exit pathways on leaving, including the extent of their participation in relevant decisions;
- The living conditions and care arrangements experienced by residents during their period of accommodation, including by reference to the literature on the living conditions and care experienced by mothers and children generally during the period;
- Mortality among mothers and children residing in the institutions (to determine the general causes, circumstances, and rates of mortality), compared to mortality among women and children generally;
- Post-mortem practices and procedures in respect of children or mothers who died while resident, including the reporting of deaths, burial arrangements and transfer of remains to educational institutions for the purpose of anatomical examination;
- The extent of compliance with relevant regulatory and ethical standards of the time of systemic vaccine trials found by the Commission to have been conducted on children resident in one or more of the institutions (including, inter alia, vaccine trials conducted using vaccines manufactured by Burroughs Welcome in 1960/61, 1970 or 1973);
- Arrangements for the entry of children into the institutions in circumstances when their mother was not also resident at the time of their entry;
- For children who did not remain in the care of their parents, to examine exit pathways on leaving the institutions so as to establish patterns of referral or relevant relationships with other entities, and in particular to identify:
- the extent to which the child's welfare and protection were considered in practices relating to their placement in Ireland or abroad;
- the extent of participation of mothers in relevant decisions, including
- the procedures that were in place to obtain consent from mothers in respect of adoption, and
- whether these procedures were adequate for the purpose of ensuring such consent was full, free and informed; and
- the practices and procedures for placement of children where there was cooperation with another person or persons in arranging this placement, including where an intermediary organisation arranged a subsequent placement;
- To identify the extent to which any group of residents may have systematically been treated differently on any grounds (religion, race, Traveller identity, or disability).
The investigation covers the period from 1922 (the foundation of the state) to 1998.
The Terms of Reference specified that only 14 named mother and baby homes were to be included within the scope of the investigation. These were:
- Ard Mhuire, Dunboyne, Co. Meath;
- Belmont (Flatlets), Belmont Ave, Dublin 4;
- Bessboro House, Blackrock, Cork;
- Bethany Home, originally Blackhall Place, Dublin 7 and from 1934, Orwell Road, Rathgar, Dublin 6;
- Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home, Tuam, Co. Galway;
- Denny House, Eglinton Rd, Dublin 4, originally Magdalen Home, 8 Lower Leeson St, Dublin 2;
- Kilrush, Cooraclare Rd, Co. Clare;
- Manor House, Castlepollard, Co. Westmeath;
- Ms. Carr’s (Flatlets), 16 Northbrook Rd, Dublin 6;
- Regina Coeli Hostel, North Brunswick Street, Dublin 7;
- Sean Ross Abbey, Roscrea, Co. Tipperary;
- St. Gerard’s, originally 39, Mountjoy Square, Dublin 1;
- St. Patrick’s, Navan Road, Dublin 7, originally known as Pelletstown, and subsequent transfer to Eglinton House, Eglinton Rd, Dublin 4; and
- The Castle, Newtowncunningham, Co. Donegal.
In addition, a "representative sample" of state-operated County Homes, selected by the Commission as fulfilling a function similar to the Mother and Baby Homes, are included. These are:
- St Kevin's Institution (Dublin Union)
- Stranorlar County Home, Co Donegal (St Joseph's)
- Cork City County Home (St Finbarr's)
- Thomastown County Home, Co Kilkenny (St Columba's)
Several of the named homes - principally Bessboro House (Cork), Bon Secours (Galway), Manor House (Westmeath), Sean Ross Abbey (Tipperary) and St. Patrick's (Dublin) - had previously been highlighted as sources for illegal domestic and foreign adoptions, with many of the children being trafficked to the United States.
In tandem with carrying out the investigations outlined in the Terms of Reference, the Commission was also empowered to establish a "Confidential Committee", with the aim of providing a forum for former residents and staff of the named institutions to provide accounts of their experiences. Such accounts may be used to inform relevant investigations, and the Confidential Committee is to publish a report on the accounts received.
The Commission also includes a literature-based academic social history module, in order to establish an objective and comprehensive historical analysis of significant relevant matters. The Commission is to rely on this analysis as evidence to inform its investigations and to assist it in framing its findings and conclusions within the wider social and historical context of the relevant period under investigation.
Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home
The Commission was brought into being following extensive worldwide media coverage of claims that the remains of up to 800 children had been interred in an unmarked mass grave, believed to be a disused septic tank, on the grounds of the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, County Galway. In 2014, a local amateur historian, Catherine Corless, had published an article documenting the deaths of 796 babies and toddlers at the Home during its decades of operation. There were death certificates for 796 infants, but no burial records, which raised fears of a mass grave. The report noted that the most commonly recorded causes of death among the infants were congenital debilities, infectious diseases and malnutrition. The article claimed that the bodies were buried in a site at the Home and that there was a high death rate of its residents. Her research led her to conclude that almost all had been buried in an unmarked and unregistered site at the Home, with Corless believing that the site was also the location of a septic tank when overlaid with maps of the period of use as a workhouse.
As part of its investigations, the Commission ordered excavations of the suspected burial site in Tuam to be carried out. On 3 March 2017, the Commission announced that multiple human remains had been found during excavations carried out between November 2016 and February 2017 at the site. Tests conducted on some of the remains indicated they had been aged between 35 foetal weeks and 2–3 years. The announcement confirmed that the deceased died during the period of time that the property was used by the Mother and Baby Home, not from an earlier period, as most of the bodies dated from the 1920s to the 1950s. The remains were found in an "underground structure divided into 20 chambers." The Commission said "it had not yet determined what the purpose of this structure was but it appeared to be a sewage tank. The commission had also not yet determined if it was ever used for this purpose."
The Commission stated that it was continuing its investigation into who was responsible for the disposal of human remains in this way, and that it had notified the coroner.
Reactions to excavation find
In 2017 Minister for Children Katherine Zappone said that the coroner's results would determine the direction of the investigation and that the Commission would determine if other sites needed to be excavated, including another part of the Tuam site.
The Adoption Rights Alliance and Justice for Magdalenes Research campaign groups demanded that Zappone publish a five-month-old report from the Commission on the issue of broadening the probe's terms of reference beyond the original 18 institutions included, and said the state must ensure that all human remains buried in unmarked graves at institutions in Ireland are identified. (The report was published in April 2017; the delay, according to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, was due to the report being referred to the Attorney General for advice on the report's recommendations on the issue of redress.)
Taoiseach Enda Kenny described the find as "truly appalling", saying "the babies of single mothers involved had been treated like some kind of sub-species." He commended the work of Catherine Corless in bringing the issue to light. Speaking on the find in Dáil Éireann, in response to requests to widen the terms of reference of the Commission, he described the Mother and Baby Home as "a chamber of horrors."
No nuns broke into our homes to kidnap our children. We gave them up to what we convinced ourselves was the nuns’ care. We gave them up maybe to spare them the savagery of gossip, the wink and the elbow language of delight in which the holier than thous were particularly fluent. We gave them up because of our perverse, in fact, morbid relationship with what is called respectability. Indeed, for a while it seemed as if in Ireland our women had the amazing capacity to self-impregnate. For their trouble, we took their babies and gifted them, sold them, trafficked them, starved them, neglected them or denied them to the point of their disappearance from our hearts, our sight, our country and, in the case of Tuam and possibly other places, from life itself.
In the same debate, AAA-PBP T.D. Bríd Smith called for the Bon Secours order of nuns to be disbanded. She said "its hospital empire, the biggest private hospital group in the State, was built on the bones of the dead Tuam babies." Smith said "everyone was not responsible for what happened in Tuam. It was paid for by the state, which knew exactly what was going on, and there were 'headage payments' of up to US$3,000 for each child sent to the United States."
The Taoiseach's speech was criticised by some. In the Dáil, Catherine Connolly directly addressed the speech, stating:
A shocking discovery, according to everyone, and particularly to yourself Taoiseach. But this is something that Galway has been aware of for a long time, highlighted by Catherine Corless back in 2014, in her painstaking and self-funded research. By the witnesses, the many, many women who went before the commission of inquiry into child abuse which culminated in the Ryan Report, as far back as 2009. They told their stories about their experience in Mother and Baby Homes. It was brought to the attention of Martin McAleese when he concluded his report on the Magdalene laundries. So none of this is shocking to the survivors. What is shocking to the survivors, and to me, is the carefully crafted words that you’ve come into the chamber with. And, in particular, that you say 'no nuns broke into our homes to kidnap our children', 'we gave them up to what we convinced ourselves was the nuns' care' and so on. I don’t doubt your bona fides, a thaoisigh, but I certainly doubt your judgement in reading that out, a carefully crafted speech with a sentence like that in these circumstances. My question: please answer. Where is the interim report that has sat with the minister since September last year? Please confirm that the site will be sealed off as any crime scene is sealed off.— Catherine Connolly
Leader of Fianna Fáil, Micheál Martin T.D., called for a state apology for the infants, a commemoration to be held for them, and for the expansion of the Commission of Inquiry to include other institutions and sites.
The Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald, stated that "the discovery is an infinitely sad reminder of an Ireland that was a very harsh, harsh place for women and their babies" and that "it shows the tortured relationship the State and church had with pregnant women—it is a tragedy that we are now facing in its entirety."
The Catholic Archbishop of Tuam, Michael Neary, said that he was horrified by the confirmation that significant quantities of human remains were buried on the site of a former mother and baby home in the town. Describing the news as "a body blow", he said he had been "greatly shocked to learn of the scale of the practice during the time in which the Bon Secours ran the mother and baby home in Tuam."
The Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference apologised for the hurt caused by its part in the system, which they said also involved adoptions. They also urged parishes to ensure that the burial sites of former residents were appropriately marked, and said that "the appalling story of life, death and adoptions related to the Mother and Baby Homes has shocked everyone in Ireland and beyond."
The President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, speaking about the find at an International Women's Day reception, said there "are dark shadows that hang over our meeting, shadows that require us all to summon up yet again a light that might dispel the darkness to which so many women and their children were condemned, and the questions left unanswered as we moved on." President Higgins described Catherine Corless' work as "another necessary step in blowing open the locked doors of a hidden Ireland."
Catherine Corless appeared on The Late Late Show on 10 March 2017, receiving a standing ovation at the end of the segment. Host Ryan Tubridy said "If that audience represents the people watching tonight, there is a hunger in this country for the truth."
In June 2017, Minister Zappone announced the appointment of a team of international experts, comprising an Irish-based forensic archaeologist, a US-based forensic anthropologist and a UK-based forensic scientist, to investigate the burial site. Zappone also said that she was considering broadening the terms of reference for the Commission, in order to "help to answer some of the questions which have been raised again in public debate." The team is led by Dr. Niamh McCullagh, who previously worked with the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains in Northern Ireland and the Joint Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Command that aimed to locate the bodies of war dead.
Zappone stated that McCullagh will identify options for government, looking at the possibility of exhuming the remains and identifying if there are any further remains on the site that have yet to be discovered. The team is due to complete its final report in September 2017.
In July 2017, the team conducted an extensive geophysical survey on the site. This consisted of data collection through a variety of non-invasive techniques, over the course of 5 days. The team liaised with the Coroner for North Galway, An Garda Síochána, the National Monuments Services and Forensic Science Ireland, and advice was received from the International Committee for the Red Cross.
When Pope Francis visited Ireland in August 2018, Zappone raised the issue of the Tuam home in a meeting with him, and told him "I hope the Church will make reparation for its part in this shameful chapter,"
In October 2018 Zappone announced that the remains of children buried in unmarked graves were to be exhumed, identified forensically, and reburied respectfully. The operation would not be straightforward, and presented "unprecedented technical and legal issues".
On 3 June 2015, the Irish Examiner published a special report which claimed that the Irish Health Services Executive had voiced concerns in 2012 that up to 1,000 children may have been trafficked from the Home, and recommending that the then health minister be informed so that "a fully fledged, fully resourced forensic investigation and State inquiry" could be launched. The issue had arisen within the HSE when a principal social worker responsible for adoption discovered "a large archive of photographs, documentation and correspondence relating to children sent for adoption to the USA" and "documentation in relation to discharges and admissions to psychiatric institutions in the Western area." The HSE noted that there were letters from the Home to parents asking for money for the upkeep of their children and notes that the duration of stay for children may have been prolonged by the order for financial reasons. It also uncovered letters to parents asking for money for the upkeep of some children who had already been discharged or had died. The social worker had compiled a list of "up to 1,000 names." HSE reports mentioned the possibility that children had been trafficked for adoption with one speculating that it was possible that death certificates were falsified so children could be "brokered" for adoption.
In May 2018, Tusla (the Child and Family Agency) referred 126 files to the Commission regarding births that had been falsely registered by the Saint Patrick's Guild adoption agency. In a press release, Minister Zappone said: "We have known about the practice of incorrect registrations for many years, but it has been extremely difficult to identify and prove in individual cases because of the deliberate failure of those involved to keep records. However, Tusla has found clear evidence in the case of some records previously held by St Patrick’s Guild."
The Commission was originally due to issue a final report by February 2018, but was given a one-year extension in December 2017. The report may include recommendations, including recommendations relating to "relevant matters that it considers may warrant further investigation in the public interest." It had been due to issue an interim report in 2016, but when published, this report consisted solely of a request for a time extension to 2018 due to the large number of people wanting to make submissions to the Confidential Committee.
A second interim report was issued to the Minister in September 2016 and was published in April 2017. The delay, according to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, was due to the report being referred to the Attorney General for advice on the report's recommendations on the issue of redress.
A third interim report was published in December 2017. Commenting on the report and announcing the time extension for its final report, Minister Zappone said:
When I recently met with the Commission I was again reassured by their absolute commitment to establish the full facts of what happened to women and children in these institutions. It is important that we do not underestimate the complexity of this task and we must not compromise the process of establishing the truth by leaving any stone uncovered or taking any shortcuts.— Katherine Zappone
The third interim report reveals that legally enforceable discovery orders relating to the records of Catholic religious congregations that ran most of the homes have been issued but the Commission states that "some have very little material available while others have provided extensive material." Government Departments, local authorities and the HSE have also been issued with discovery orders.
The issues raised in the Commission's third report include:
- the time-consuming nature of investigations: "in particular, the Commission has spent considerable time trying to establish the burial practices in the mother and baby home in Tuam (Co Galway)"; and the electronic scanning of records held by the Child and Family Agency [Tusla].
- "There are significant gaps" in the material available on institutions "and further searches have to be made to try to fill these gaps. For example, the records of some of the various health authorities are proving difficult to find. It is not clear if they have been lost or destroyed or simply that no one knows where they are. This may be due to the changes in structures over the years - from local authorities/Board of Guardians/Boards of Public Assistance to Health Boards and then to the HSE and, in some cases, to the Child and Family Agency. The Commission is continuing its efforts to find this material."
- "While there are detailed death records available, there are significant gaps in the information available about the burials of babies who died in a number of the institutions under investigation. The Commission is continuing to make inquiries about burials and burial records but it appears that this is an area in which it will be difficult to establish the facts.
- "The Commission has heard evidence from 140 individuals about conditions in the institutions. These include former residents, workers and representatives of the authorities who ran the institutions. This process is not yet complete and, particularly in respect of the authorities who ran the institutions, cannot be completed until all the documentary evidence has been analysed."
In July 2017, Minister Zappone announced that in addition to the Commission progressing its independent investigations, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs would separately report each month on the measures being progressed across Government to respond to the issues which have emerged so far from the work of the Commission.
The first such monthly report was published on 7 July 2017.
The second report was published on 4 August 2017.
The third report was published on 1 September 2017, and announced that the Expert Technical Group was working with, among others, the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team, who are world leaders in humanitarian forensic action and best practices in relation to community engagement.
Expert Technical Group report
- Memorialisation: No further investigative work; Return the site to being managed as a memorial; Make site safe for public access.
- Exhume known human remains: Recover human remains interred in the chambered structure identified to date and reinter elsewhere; No further forensic analysis of remains.
- Forensic excavation and recovery of known human remains: Complete forensic archaeological excavation, recovery and analysis of human remains from the chambers identified to date.
- Forensic excavation and recovery, and further evaluation/ excavation of other areas of potential burial/ interest: Complete forensic excavation and recovery of all human remains in memorial garden and any other targeted area, following geophysical survey, assessment of witness statements, historical records, etc.
- Forensic excavation of total available area: Full forensic and archaeological excavation of all available ground formerly occupied by the M&B Home. A total of 0.4 hectares, comprising memorial garden, playground, car park etc. Excludes private built areas (houses and gardens etc. subsequently built on the former site).
Zappone said that before any decision was taken on the option to be used, she first wanted to consult with the local community in Tuam and other affected parties, such as relatives of those who were resident in the home. She said the consultation process, which would be undertaken by Galway County Council, would take three months.
The Tuam Home Survivors Network said its members had given careful consideration to the Expert Technical Group's report and that the only appropriate action was "a complete excavation of the Tuam site to ensure the recovery of all human remains contained there." The Network are also seeking postmortems in respect of each set of human remains and cataloguing of DNA from all remains in order to create the most complete database possible.
The Technical Group also identified a number of human rights issues which were outside its terms of reference. Zappone has appointed human rights expert and Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Professor Geoffrey Shannon, to examine these issues and to report to her on his findings.
The scope of the Investigation and in particular its restriction to just a limited number of named homes has been criticised by, among others, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). In a 2017 report, it stated that the Commission of Investigation "is narrow such that it does not cover all homes and analogous institutions [and] therefore may not address the whole spectrum of abuses perpetrated against women and girls."
The committee therefore urges the State party to conduct prompt, independent and thorough investigations, in line with international human rights standards, into all allegations of abuse in Magdalene laundries, children's institutions, Mother and Baby homes, and symphysiotomy in order to prosecute and punish the perpetrators of those involved in violations of women's rights. All victims/survivors of such abuse obtain an effective remedy including appropriate compensation, official apologies, restitution, satisfaction and rehabilitative services.— UN CEDAW
The delay in publishing a final report and the fact that redress for victims of the homes will not be considered until the final report has been published has been criticised by survivors, including the Coalition of Mother and Baby Home Survivors (CMABS). Paul Redmond, chairperson of CMABS, said that many survivors are now elderly and have already died since the revelations about Tuam first emerged, and that "This is yet another delaying tactic by the Government to deny survivors truth and justice. The current inquiry is already too limited and excludes many survivors and this delay will now ensure that thousands more survivors are denied justice by death." Survivor Mary Teresa Collins and her daughter Laura Angela Collins chairwoman of Justice 4 All Women & Children said “ the government is stalling.” 
- Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home
- Ferns Report
- Industrial school
- Magdalene Asylum
- Murphy Report
- St Joseph's Industrial School, Letterfrack
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- Arnold, Bruce (2009). The Irish Gulag. Dublin: Gill & Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-7171-4614-7.
- Millotte, Mike (2012). Banished Babies. Dublin: New Island Books. ISBN 978-1-8484-0133-4.
- Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse: Interim Reports and Final Report (2009)
- Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen Laundries (2013)
- Report on three clinical trials involving children and babies in institutional settings 1960/61, 1970 and 1973: Chief Medical Officer (1997)
- Report of Dr Deirdre Madden on Post Mortem Practice and Procedures: (2005)
- Second Interim Report of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission (September 2016)
- Barry, Dan (28 October 2017). "The Lost Children of Tuam: Ireland Wanted to Forget. But the Dead Don't Always Stay Buried". Produced by Craig Allen, Kassie Bracken, and Umi Syam. Additional reporting Kassie Bracken and Megan Specia. The New York Times. Retrieved 28 October 2017.
- Mother and baby Homes Commission of Investigation
- Department of Children and Youth Affairs home page on issues relating to Mother and Baby Homes
- Technical Report on the Tuam Site Stage 2: Options and Appropriate Courses of Action available to Government at the site of the former Mother and Baby Home, Tuam, Co. Galway