SUBMISSION: Commission of Investigation to Inquire into Mother and Baby Homes
with particular reference to Irish Participation in the British Child Migration Scheme
Terms of Reference
1. The terms of reference for the Commission of Investigation may focus on allegations of forced or illegal adoptions to the United Kingdom and United States and the role or involvement by Irish institutions and organisations therein.
2. It is proposed to extend this scope of inquiry to include: (1) The incidence, if any, of forced or illegal adoptions to Australia and (2) the role or involvement by Irish institutions and organisations with regard to any formal or informal child migration scheme which involved the transport of children to Australia. This role or involvement by Irish institutions and organisations may encompass a direct or indirect role or involvement insofar as instances where the transport of Irish children to Australia was conducted by such institutions and organisations via institutions and organisations based in the UK.
3. It is acknowledged that even with regard to precise terms of reference, the work of the Commission of Investigation will be substantial in its scope. It is also acknowledged that a significant period of time has passed since the events at issue. However, the work of the Commission of Investigation on these proposed terms of reference is mitigated by having regard to one completed inquiry and two on-going inquiries into child migration.
a. The Northern Ireland Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry focuses on a migration scheme which involved the transport of children to Australia. It’s public hearings for the second module of evidence will recommence at the beginning of September.
b. The Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is currently investigating how institutions like schools, churches, sports clubs and government organisations have responded to allegations and instances of child sexual abuse. This includes four institutions operated by the Irish Christian Brothers in Western Australia at Castledare, Bindoon, Clontarf and Tardun which were the recipient of child migrants from the UK. Some 3,200 orphans were sent to 30 institutions scattered across Australia in the post WW2 period between 1947 and 1953. In all, it is estimated that 100,000 children from the UK were sent to Australia between the 1860s and 1960s.
It appears that a proportion of these child migrants were of Irish descent. The testimony of former Bindoon resident, John Michael Patrick Hennessey, is instructive. His 24-year-old unmarried Irish mother was sent to England to give birth in 1936 in Nazareth House in Bristol. Nazareth House is a French order with convents throughout the UK, including two in Derry and one in Belfast. Two Nazareth mother and baby homes operated in the Republic of Ireland – Babies Home at Fahan in Donegal and Nazareth House in Sligo. His mother, May Mary Hennessey, was told that her son had died at birth. Subsequent to a visit by two Irish Christian Brothers to Nazareth House, he was sent to Bindoon. John Hennessey was eleven years of age. Despite the refusal of the Catholic institutions to provide him access to his records, an NGO helped him to find his mother. He was 57 when they met for the first time.
c. The 1997 Select Committee on Health at the House of Commons established an inquiry into the instance of British child migration. The chair of that inquiry, David Hinchliffe, made a statement this year calling for a full judicial inquiry following evidence revealed in the media that some of the 6,000 to 7,000 children sent to Australia were sexually and physically abused in British institutions before facing further abuse in Australia. Margaret Humphreys CBE, OAM founder of the NGO, Child Migrants Trust, has described the child migration scheme as “the work of an international paedophile ring.”
4. It is noted that Taoiseach Éamon de Valera refused to allow Irish mother and homes institutions to participate in the child migrant scheme because he did not wish to encourage or promote a policy of emigration within any section of the Irish population. A cursory research of the Australian archives reveals that a Christian Brother from Bindoon approached the Taoiseach with such a request in 1947. Notwithstanding the Taoiseach’s decision, the approach by an Irish Christian Brother from an Australia institution, which is the subject of three separate inquiries, demonstrates intent by the religious order to include Ireland in the child migration scheme.
This raises a number of potential avenues of inquiry:
• How many Irish children participated in the British Child Migration Scheme?
• Did a network of institutions and organisations operate between Ireland and the UK for the purpose of cooperating or facilitating the (a) transfer of Irish mothers to the UK to have their children in UK institutions and organisations and (b) the transport of Irish children to Australia?
• To what extent, if any, did the Irish state facilitate in the transfer of Irish mothers to the UK to have their children in UK institutions and organisations and (b) the transport of Irish children to Australia?
• Is there scope for cooperation between the Commission of Investigation, the Northern Ireland Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry, the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and the UK Select Committee on Health at the House of Commons, particularly with regard to the sharing of information regarding the nationality of the child and the institutions and organisations involved? This is with particular regard to former child migrants who may have difficulty in obtaining information from institutions and organisations. These individuals may not be aware that their search for information could possibly extend to Ireland.
5. The obvious public concern expressed subsequent to revelations at the Tuam Mother and Baby home demands that the parameters of the Commission of Investigation are comprehensive and widened to include not only allegations of forced adoption and controversial vaccine trials carried out on children without their mother’s permission, but any Irish participation in the British child migration scheme.