Nun lying ‘through her teeth’ about Tuam home, court hears

Solicitor urges court to help elderly man with cancer find out what happened to baby sister

A number of people share their personal stories at ‘The ‘Flowers for Magdalenes’ memorial event in memory of the women who once lived and worked in the Magdalene laundry in Galway. Video: Joe O'Shaughnessy

 

A solicitor for an elderly man described as “extremely ill” with cancer has urged the High Court to help him find out what happened to his infant sister after she was born at St Mary’s mother-and-baby home in Tuam.

Solicitor Kevin Higgins said Peter Mulryan, whose infant sister Marian Bridget Mulryan is believed to be among 796 children recorded as having died there between 1925-1961, was too unwell on Monday to be in court and is extremely anxious to get whatever records exist concerning her.

He wants Tusla to look at the material it has “and see what happened to that little girl, did she die, was she trafficked or is she buried in the pit”, Mr Higgins said.

Mr Mulryan (73), Derrymullen, Ballinasloe, Co Galway, wants leave to bring judicial review proceedings against Tusla aimed at getting any material that exists concerning his infant sister, recorded as having died in February 1955 nine months after her birth at the home. Mr Mulryan went with his mother to the Tuam home in July 1944, his mother later appeared to have gone to a Magdalene institution and he was “boarded out” at age four.

Tusla has said it has given Mr Mulryan any material it is aware of and has also made the records held by it available to the commission investigating the Tuam home, which last week confirmed “significant” amounts of human remains were found there.

On Monday, Tusla reiterated it would facilitate inspection by Mr Mulryan of the material in its possession.

Mr Higgins said Mr Mulryan was too unwell to inspect the material on the date offered, inspection offers were inadequate and extensive material held by Tusla should be forensically examined and catalogued with any relevant information given to his client.

Mr Justice Richard Humphreys had adjourned the leave application several times to clarify exactly what orders were being sought. He also directed Tusla to write to the Bon Secours order, which operated the Tuam home, asking if it holds any burial records and, if any records existed at some stage, were they destroyed.

Knew more

On Monday, Mr Higgins said he considered an April 9th, 2013, letter from Sr Marie Ryan, leader of the Bon Secours in the State, demonstrated the congregation knew more about what had happened to children who died there than was indicated in a letter from Sr Marie of February 15th, 2017.

He read both letters to the court. In the 2013 letter, a reply to a woman seeking records concerning her mother and two children, Sr Marie wrote all records were handed over when the home closed in 1961 to the Co Galway Board of Health, owner of the home, and the Bon Secours had no records.

Due to passage of time and deaths of members of the congregation who had knowledge of the home, its efforts to help people making inquiries were becoming “even more difficult”, Sr Marie said.

As the 1947 death certificate for one of the children being inquired about seemed to indicate he died at the home, she understood there would be “a very good possibility” his remains were buried at the small cemetery located at the back of the home that was “operated as a general grave”. Because the order has no access to records, she could not state what medical condition the child had and had no information about the woman’s mother or the second child being inquired about, she wrote.

The 2017 letter was from Sr Marie to Tusla after the High Court directed Tusla to write to the Bon Secours seeking any burial records. Sr Marie, on behalf of the congregation, confirmed it was unaware of any burial records maintained by the congregation in respect of children who died at the home, all records were handed over to the board in 1961, no records were withheld and the congregation understood all records were held by Tusla.

The congregation, as part of its involvement with the commission, has asked to be allowed access the records held by Tusla but has been refused, she added.

Mr Higgins said he considered the letters showed Sr Marie, “as is the norm for the Bon Secours sisters”, “is lying through her teeth” and indicated the order knew “a lot more” in 2013 and knew “where the babies are buried”. The general grave referred to was “the overflow cesspit” of the home wherein lies about 796 young children, he said.

An affidavit from Tusla said it holds records for mother-and-baby homes in the west since 2011, not 1961, he said. Following long investigations concerning indemnities to be given, those records were handed over and Tusla “has sat on them”, he said.

During exchanges with Mr Higgins, the judge said the grounds for judicial review were “a bit thin”. Mr Higgins said it was “most unfair” to tell him that now, the sixth time the matter was before the court.

The judge said he did not accept that and it was for the solicitor to get his papers in order. He adjourned the matter for a week to allow Mr Higgins prepare an amended statement of grounds.