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Order of Business, Seanad Éireann Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Senator Susan O’Keeffe: 
Further to Senator Jillian van Turnhout’s comments on the Referendum Commission and the lateness of the campaign on the forthcoming referendums, I express my concern about the advertisement which sets out a long explanation for the referendums followed by something about two ice creams with syrup on one and sprinkles on the other. While I have a sense of humour, this is not in order in respect of the referendums. Unfortunately, I do not know to whom my questions should be put.

At the risk of moving back to television, I refer to the “Prime Time” programme broadcast last week on vaccines given to children in mother and baby homes.

I specifically ask that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, and the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, ensure the files currently held at the former mother and baby home in Bessborough, County Cork, and at any other mother and baby homes in the country are taken into the possession of the Health Service Executive at the earliest possible opportunity and that a commitment be made to open those files to the mothers and their children.

I am aware the Freedom of Information Act does not apply to cases of adoptions, another issue that ought to be examined, but these files do not relate to adoption. They relate to mother and baby homes. While they do not fall under the Freedom of Information Act, they should not be exempt.

I ask also that the Ministers investigate the illegal vaccines trials held in these homes specifically relating to a drug called Trivax which was designed to protect against diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus, and any other drugs trialled at that time. How much were the homes paid, either directly or in kind, to allow these tests to occur? What records were kept and what evidence exists that mothers were asked to give their consent? Was the Department of Health notified that these trials were happening? Did the Department or its agents receive financial or in kind benefit from any pharmaceutical company involved in these trials?

I also ask that the Ministers investigate illegal adoptions involving children adopted after the 1952 Adoption Act where no adoption order was made, where the births of children were falsely registered under the names of their adoptive parents, where consent of mothers was not freely given or where signatures on consent forms were forged.

An Cathaoirleach: Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Senator Susan O’Keeffe: 
I have asked the question. I ask that these questions be put to the Ministers. I also ask that the Ministers co-operate with the Minister for Foreign Affairs to release any details his Department has which relate to the requests for passports made by nuns in mother and baby homes for the sale of babies and children to the United States between the 1940s and the 1970s. I also ask the Ministers if child benefit was paid in regard to those babies and children in mother and babies homes and, if so, the way that money was spent.

This is a huge area which I accept these Ministers were not involved in at the time, but there is an onus on us to pursue these questions. I ask that the Ministers give their response to these questions at some point. We will have to have some kind of investigation to get to the bottom of some of these cases. Women have been asking questions for many years and there has been no resolution.

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“In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage, to know who we are and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning . . . and the most disquieting loneliness." 

Alex Haley, Author of Roots 





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