DEATH rates at a Dublin mother-and-baby home were almost as high as mortality rates at the Bon Secours home in Tuam, recently released records held by church authorities have revealed.
The Dublin death rates are coming to light as official inquiries by gardai and a number of Government departments get underway into the deaths of almost 800 children at the Tuam home in a 36-year period ending in 1961.
Documents that belonged to former Dublin Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, who died in 1973, show that St Patrick’s mother and baby home at Pelletstown in Cabra also had high death rates in at least one year. The records show that one in every three babies died in the home on the Navan road in 1933.
The Pelletstown death rate was 34pc in that year while, at the same time, the annual death rate in the County Galway convent-run home in Tuam was 35pc. The Dublin deaths may also come under official scrutiny now.
Even higher death rates were recorded that year at the Bessborough mother and baby home in Cork (39pc), and at the Sean Ross Abbey mother and baby home in Roscrea, Co Tipperary (37.5pc).
An inter-departmental group has already met to discuss how a wide-ranging inquiry should proceed into infant deaths at all mother and baby homes which operated in Ireland for several decades.
The group consisted of representatives from five Government departments - Health, Children, Justice, Social Protection and Environment. The examination will be spearheaded by the Department of Health and the group is expected to report back to the Cabinet in a fortnight with recommendations on the formation of a high-powered inquiry.
The Cabinet will then decide if a full Commission of Investigation should be set up and what remit and powers it should be given.
Two senior gardai have also been tasked to carry out a fact-finding mission into the 796 deaths at the Tuam home between 1925 and 1961. They will seek to examine the facts behind reports that hundreds of babies and children were buried near a disused septic tank at the home, which has been closed for more than a half century.
The gardai will be expected to gather all surviving records, including the home’s admissions ledgers and all death certificates relating to residents.
There have been no records come to light, as yet, of burials in local cemeteries. Children’s death certificates cited many causes of death, including malnutrition, measles and tuberculosis.
Any testing of the burial site on the lands of the former home will involve forensic investigation of any skeletons as the site is very close to a mass grave of famine victims who died in the mid-19th century.
There were emotional scenes last night as locals gathered outside the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home for a memorial service in Cork.
However, a Government source warned that any wide-ranging commission of inquiry cannot interfere with garda investigations.
“But it is not a question of if’ there will be an inquiry but rather when’ and how far will its remit will go,” the senior source said.
The operation of mother and baby homes from the 1920s to 1960s is regarded as the last of Ireland’s Church-linked scandals. The planned Government probe will be complicated by the fact the mother and baby homes issue involves secret vaccine trials in the 1930s-50s, clandestine adoptions to wealthy Catholic families in the US and infant mortality rates of 55pc, six times that for Irish maternity facilities.