By Connie Duffy
It is still unclear whether St Joseph’s Community Hospital in Stranorlar will be part of the Government’s new Commission of Investigation or ‘Mother and Baby Inquiry’ as it’s better known.
The inquiry was ordered after a scandal surrounding a home in Tuam, County Galway, run by the Sisters of the Bon Secours, where the remains of 796 infants are thought to be buried. Some of their remains were found in what was once a concrete septic tank on the grounds of the home.
It is widely known that St Joseph’s or the County Home as it was called back then was the main centre in Donegal accommodating unmarried mothers and their children. There is a walled plot of land to the rear of the building where the remains of those who died in the building are interred.
Mother and baby homes catered for women who fell pregnant outside of marriage and who were ostracized by Catholic society. The homes were often cruel environments, where mothers were only allowed to see their children for a few hours each week.
One survivor now living in the area who wished to remain anonymous said the County Home was a tough place in her day.
“We were cut off from everything, made to work hard all the time and were virtual prisoners. I lost my baby there and I don’t know where it’s buried – if it is even buried. I had a social workers from the HSE investigate and he couldn’t come up with a Death Cert or a grave,” she said.
A decision was taken at the Cabinet meeting last Tuesday morning to set up a statutory commission into the way mother and baby homes were run between the 1920s and 1960s, including allegations of illegal vaccine trials and forced adoptions.
The special government commission will look at the high mortality rates in mother and baby homes across Ireland during the period, along with burial practices at the sites, secret and illegal adoptions, and vaccine trials on children.
Back in the early 2000s the HSE attempted to gather information to write up the history of St Joseph’s but it is believed they abandoned the project such was the negative and harsh nature of some of the material gathered.
When put to the HSE it said all material collected would be made available to any statutory inquiry.
“A number of people connected to St Joseph’s were interviewed as part of this process and provided the information willingly,” said a spokesperson.
However it appears that neither the HSE nor TULSA, the Children and Family Agency, know if there are any records available for scrutiny.
The HSE took over St Joseph’s in the early 1970s from Donegal County Council. There is a graveyard adjacent to the hospital and it is understood the HSE have a register of people interred there.
But enquires made by a Donegal Now reporter suggest the Stranorlar facility’s position is in limbo.
When contacted the HSE said it was awaiting formal notification from the Government as to whether the hospital will come under the remit of the proposed statutory inquiry and suggested any further questions about what role the hospital played needed to be directed to TULSA.
“The HSE is not the agency leading out on the government’s inquiry nor do we have any knowledge of which areas are covered. The Health Boards were not established until April 1971, following the Health Act 1970 coming into law; many homes closed in the 1960s,” a spokesperson said.
A spokesperson for TULSA confirmed to Donegal Now that all records relating to Mother and Baby Homes came to them in January of this year when they were established and directed us to their website which they said contained the names of the facilities under their remit – St Joseph’s Hospital is not there.
They stated they could not help us with the enquiry and listed the places where they held records for but it has nothing for Donegal. The only reference to this county was the fact their site stated that the Child and Family Agency Regional Adoption Services office at the County Clinic on the St Conal’s Campus in Letterkenny only held records for the Castlepollard Mother and Baby Home in County Westmeath!
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