Tuam deaths need further investigation, says academic expert

Prof Liam Delaney says deaths cannot be explained by social conditions

Local historian Catherine Corless at the site of a mass grave for children who died in the Tuam mother-and-baby home, Galway: work was praised by Prof Liam Delaney. Photograph: PA

Local historian Catherine Corless at the site of a mass grave for children who died in the Tuam mother-and-baby home, Galway: work was praised by Prof Liam Delaney. Photograph: PA

Fri, Jun 6, 2014, 01:00

The high number of infant deaths in mother and baby homes cannot be explained by infant mortality rates in Ireland at the time, according to an expert.

Prof Liam Delaney, the lead author on a 2010 study entitled From Angela’s ashes to the Celtic tiger: Early life conditions and adult health in Ireland, said the rates of infant mortality in such homes deserve to be the subject of an investigation.

Infant mortality in Ireland in the 1930s and 1940s was in the region of 70 per 1,000 or 7 per cent, as high as countries in sub-Saharan Africa have now. It was higher in Dublin than in rural areas such as Tuam running at 10 per cent because of crowded conditions and poor sanitation.

Common illnesses

The figures tailed off after that because of treatments for common childhood illnesses, and rising living standards.

Prof Delaney, who is professor of economics at Stirling University in Scotland, praised the work of Tuam woman Catherine Corless who has studied the excessive number of deaths at the mother and baby home in Tuam, Co Galway.

Prof Delaney said the rate of death at the mother and baby home in Tuam cannot also be explained by the significantly higher rate of infant mortality among children born out of wedlock.

“This points to something serious within these institutions,” he said. “Catherine Corless’s work points to the need for further investigation of these homes.”

He cited a statement made in the Oireachtas by Dr Conn Ward in 1934 who was parliamentary secretary to the minister for local government and public health, equivalent of a minister of State today.

‘Illegitimate’

Dr Ward said that mortality among “illegitimate children” in 1924 was five times that of the rest of the population. He went on to explain: “The illegitimate child being proof of the mother’s shame is, in most cases, sought to be hidden at all costs. What frequently happens is that the mother, or the mother’s family, at the time the mother leaves the hospital or home, make arrangements with someone to take the child, either paying a lump sum down or undertaking to pay something from time to time.

“These arrangements are often made or connived at by those who carry on the poorer class of maternity homes, and the results to the child can be read in the mortality rates.

“If a lump sum is paid or if the periodical payment lapses, the child becomes an encumbrance on the foster mother, who has no interest in keeping it alive.”