The sister of an infant who died at a mother and baby home has been told a renewed Garda investigation into the death will not result in any criminal charges, leaving her “disappointed but not surprised”.
Annette McKay’s late mother Maggie O’Connor gave birth to her sister Mary Margaret at Tuam in 1942. Mary Margaret died at Tuam within months of being separated from her mother. The baby was conceived as a consequence of rape at another industrial school when Maggie was aged 17.
Ms McKay was among 89 people who came forward to specialist officers attached to the Garda National Protective Services Bureau (GNPSB) last year who began to probe potential criminality at mother and baby homes.
The investigation followed a Garda appeal in April 2021 following an analysis of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes report. The report found numerous abuses, including the mistreatment of women, cruelty, and medical experiments conducted on infants without their parents’ consent.
Gardaí told the Sunday Independent three investigation files were sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), but the state prosecutor has ruled no criminal charges in each case.
Of the 89 criminal complaints, 67 “have been closed”, according to gardaí.
Twenty cases “remain open and are subject to further engagement or investigation, if warranted”.
Sources said that because of the passage of time in many of the cases, it was impossible to “criminally progress” them.
“The reality is, a lot of the people accusations were made against are long dead,” said one source.
Ms McKay spoke to gardaí via Zoom on two separate occasions last year, when she outlined her criminal complaint from her home in Manchester. In May last year, two officers from the Protective Services Bureau took a statement from Ms McKay while she was visiting family in Sligo.
“It was a Sunday and they travelled from Dublin to interview me for five hours,” she said.
"Gardaí said they were taking it very seriously and wanted to progress the case.
"I fully understand that trying to investigate my mother’s rape and my sister’s death so many years later was unlikely to result in criminal charges. But they treated it like a box-ticking exercise. They wasted my time and their own.”
The 68-year-old recently received a phone call from garda investigators informing her that her statement of complaint was not resulting in any criminal charges. While she understands why, Ms McKay said she would have “appreciated” a different response from An Garda Síochána.
“I think what would have been appropriate was an acknowledgement from An Garda Síochána that my mother had, in all probability, crimes committed against her, that she was illegally taken to and from Tuam, after her child was taken from her, against her will,” she said.
"That child later died and we still don’t know how or why. A little bit more compassion from gardaí was needed, given the circumstances of what happened to my mother and sister.”
In response, a security source said the GNPSB had an “extremely difficult task” in trying to progress the 89 witness statements from former residents at the homes or surviving family.
Ms McKay’s mother, Maggie O’Connor, was sent to Lenaboy Castle industrial school in Galway when she was just 12 years old in the 1930s. Maggie’s mother died during childbirth, leaving Maggie and her siblings to fend for themselves because their father was serving in the British army. The children were taken before a court in their native Galway city, charged with destitution, and sent to industrial schools.
“I wish I could say that was the worst tragedy to befall my mother," Ms McKay said, “but it was only the beginning.”
Maggie was sent to Lenaboy Castle along with her sisters, while her brothers were sent to a boys’ industrial school.
Maggie worked in the kitchen, meaning she could feed her two younger sisters scraps from the nuns’ leftovers. At night, the little girls would crawl into Maggie’s bed for comfort. Then, at age 17, Maggie was raped and became pregnant.
“Once they found out she was pregnant, she was sent to Tuam. She only spoke once about Tuam. She was scrubbing the hallway and a nun walked by and kicked her in the stomach. That one sentence encapsulated for me what she suffered there.”
Maggie gave birth to Mary Margaret at Tuam in December 1942, according to official records. Ms McKay doesn’t know how long her mother spent with the infant before she was abruptly sent to St Brigid’s Industrial School in Loughrea.
“My mother only once spoke about it. She said Mary Margaret was a bonny baby. A few months later when Mum was in the industrial school in Loughrea, someone came and told her, ‘Your baby is dead.’ As simple as that. As if it was nothing.”
Official records obtained by the family confirmed the death of Mary Margaret in June 1943 at Tuam, aged six months.
Soon afterwards, Maggie became an adult in the eyes of the law and left the industrial school. Maggie later married, had three more children and relocated to the UK.
When she was 70, Ms McKay took her mother to meet her great-grandchild, a baby boy, but noticed she wasn’t herself.
“She wouldn’t hold the baby. I could tell something was wrong. I dropped her home but then I went back to her house. I could hear her crying. I asked her what was wrong. She said, ‘It’s the baby.’ I told her there was nothing wrong with the baby, that he was perfect. She said, ‘Not that baby. My baby’.
“Then, for the first time, she told me all about being raped, having Mary Margaret in Tuam and that her baby died. Something about the birth of her great-grandchild stirred something in her. I’m convinced she would have taken it to her grave otherwise.”
Maggie died in 2016 at the age of 92. Ms McKay wants the exhumation of Tuam’s mass grave — a desire echoed by many other victims, and previously promised by Government.
“My mother’s name is still not on her gravestone and won’t be until my sister is exhumed. After everything that was done to my mother, does she not deserve Mary Margaret to be returned to her?”