LONDON — Some 9,000 children died in Ireland’s church-run homes for unwed mothers, a government report published on Tuesday has found. This is equivalent to 15 percent of all children who were born or lived in the institutions over nearly 80 years.
The report also described the treatment of women who gave birth outside of marriage.
“Responsibility for that harsh treatment rests mainly with the fathers of their children and their own immediate families,” according to the report. It added: “It was supported by, contributed to, and condoned by, the institutions of the State and the churches.”
The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes also looked at allegations that some children in the homes were used in vaccine trials, with no parental consent for their participation.
The report identified seven such vaccine trials, which involved “a number of children,” that took place between 1934 and 1973 in the mother-and-baby homes.
A former resident of one of the homes spoke with NBC News and said she was used as a “guinea pig” for vaccines at a home in Cork, before being adopted by a family in Philadelphia in 1961.
The report added it was clear that there was no compliance with the relevant regulatory and ethical standards of the time as consent was not obtained from either the mothers of the children or their guardians and the necessary licenses were not in place.
All of the homes investigated have now closed.
The mother-and-baby homes, many run by nuns and members of the Catholic church, operated for most of the 20th century, the last home closed as recently as 1998. They received state funding and also acted as adoption agencies.
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The institutions took in women who had become pregnant outside marriage, taboo in the conservative country, and were viewed as an attempt to preserve the country’s devout Catholic image. Now, the homes are a byword for a dark chapter in the nation’s history, say Irish politicians and survivors.
An amateur local historian Catherine Corless first shed light on the issue of maltreatment at the homes.
She discovered an unmarked mass graveyard at Tuam, in the western county of Galway, which prompted an investigation that uncovered the remains of at least 700 children, buried between 1925 and 1961, a report found in 2017.
Ireland’s Department of Children told NBC News ahead of the release of the report that it would be “a landmark moment for the many thousands of former residents and their families.”
Ahead of publication, however, details of the report were leaked to the media, prompting outrage from the victims — including mother-and-baby home survivor Philomena Lee, whose story was portrayed in a 2013 movie, starring Dame Judi Dench.
Ireland has traditionally been a Catholic stronghold, but decades of abuse scandals have damaged the church’s reputation and weakened its influence.
Pope Francis begged forgiveness for the mother-and-baby homes scandal during his first papal visit to the country in almost four decades in 2018.
The Clann Project, an initiative of survivor groups working to establish the truth of what happened in the homes, said ahead of the report’s release, that the government must acknowledge “the shame and stigma imposed on unmarried mothers and their children through the state’s policies and practices.”
It also called on Ireland’s government to encourage the Catholic Church to acknowledge responsibility and participate in the process of making reparations to victims.
In recent years, Ireland has changed stance on a number of issues including voting overwhelmingly to approve abortion and gay marriage in referendums.
Reuters contributed to this report.
Helena Skinner contributed.