Inspector who highlighted mother and baby homes to be remembered through scholarship

Alice Litster wrote that babies in Bessborough were ‘emaciated’ and had ‘sores all over’

The Government is to establish a scholarship in memory of a Department of Local Government inspector who repeatedly raised concerns about mother and baby homes over three decades.

Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris confirmed he would "consider it very fitting to honour Alice Litster who worked so valiantly to highlight the conditions in the homes".

His comments follow a letter Minister Roderic O’Gorman told the Dáil he had written to Mr Harris asking him to consider establishing a scholarship in honour of Ms Litster who had made huge efforts “to shine a light on what was happening in these institutions” during her 30 years as an inspector from 1927 to 1957.

Mr O’Gorman was speaking during a debate on the report of the Commission of Investigation into the homes, in which there are 447 references to Ms Litster.


The Minister said “it is from her reports that we have undeniable evidence of the failure of the State to intervene, even after the horrors of these institutions were made known.

“Her efforts on behalf of the vulnerable mothers and children in these institutions should be remembered,” he said.

The Minister quoted from a 1943 report, also cited by Labour TD Sean Sherlock, in which Ms Litster wrote about the Bessborough home in Co Cork that the children in the nursery were “miserable scraps of humanity, wizened, some emaciated and almost all had rash and sores all over their bodies, faces, hands and heads”.

Death rate

A report she wrote from 1939 is also widely referenced in which she said “the chance of survival of an illegitimate infant born in the slums and placed with a foster-mother in the slums a few days after birth is greater than that of an infant born in one of our special homes for unmarried mothers”.

She added that “I have grave doubts of the wisdom of continuing to urge Boards of Health and Public Assistance to send patients to the special homes so long as no attempt is made to explore the causes of this abnormally high death rate”.

One bishop described the inspector as “a troublesome spinster who thought she knew everything about what was best for babies”.

In a statement Mr Harris said he looked forward to working with Mr O’Gorman to implement a recommendation of the Commission of Investigation report “to create a number of scholarships for further research in memory of all the children who died in Mother and Baby Homes, and I consider it very fitting to honour Alice Litster who worked so valiantly to highlight the conditions in the homes”.

Mr Harris added: "I have no doubt that an appropriately-structured scheme can deliver high quality research that adds to our knowledge, not just of the children who are central to this period of our history, but of the lives and conditions of children in Ireland more broadly, particularly disadvantaged or vulnerable children."

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times