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Thursday 28 September 2023 Dublin: 15°C
Shutterstock/aslysun File photo.
Mother and baby homes: Cases of underage pregnant girls were not referred to Gardaí
The Regina Coeli hostel noted in 1933 in relation to one woman who fell pregnant: “A TD is responsible for her trouble”.

MANY CASES OF underage girls who became pregnant and were sent to mother and baby homes were not referred to Gardaí to investigate as statutory rape. 

The long-awaited final report from the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation was published today. It called for survivors of the institutions to be given a State apology, redress and access to their birth information.

Although there are some cases of women reporting allegations of their rape to Gardaí cited in the Mother and Baby Home Commission report, it notes that “most of the mother and baby homes and county homes under investigation did not have a policy of reporting underage pregnancies to the Gardaí”.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that it was “striking” that in many cases where underage girls became pregnant, it was not referred to authorities at the time.

“Clearly statutory rape was involved,” he said at a press briefing this afternoon. “It’s just extraordinary that no one even thought for a second, it seems from personal testimonies, that these issues should be pursued.” 

The Taoiseach said that the report has now been sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), and the Attorney General has “examined” the report.

He said the Gardaí and the DPP can “pursue” some of the issues raised in the report. An Garda Síochána said in a statement that it will examine “the detailed and extensive final report, and consider if there are grounds for criminal investigation”. 

The Mother and Baby Home Commission report said that “a small number of cases concerned statutory rape – where the woman was under the age of 17″.

For most of the period covered by the Mother and Baby Home investigation, it was an offence to have sexual intercourse with a girl under the age of 17.

The report said: “Sexual intercourse with a girl under the age of 15 was a particularly serious offence which carried a potential penalty of life imprisonment.”

In the case of the Dunboyne mother and baby home in Co Meath, which was open from 1955-1991, roughly half of its residents were aged from 14 to 18 by 1989.

The report said that “even though a significant number of their residents were underage, the  Sisters did not make any reports to the Gardaí”.

The Good Shepherd Sisters have pointed out that they regarded their role as providing care and support and that any criminal justice issues would have been a matter for the social workers dealing with the mothers. Mandatory reporting was not required at the time.

The report notes that in June 1935, the matron of Bessborough wrote to the South Cork board about a 15-year-old resident suggesting that “the child’s seducer should be punished”.

It appears that the board had never previously considered such an action. Its solicitors advised that a criminal charge could be brought against the putative father. The matter was reported to the Gardaí with a view to instituting criminal proceedings.
A similar situation arose in October 1935 and, again, the matter was reported to the Gardaí. The Commission has not found any evidence that prosecutions ensued.

In Ireland in 1970, a total of 1,709 ‘illegitimate’ births were registered; 30% were born to mothers under the age of 20. By 1980, when the number of births had more than doubled to 3,723 the proportion of teenage mothers had risen to 38%.

The fathers

There are a number of testimonies from institutions, and sometimes the women themselves, about how they became pregnant; some became pregnant by their boyfriend, some in cases of incest, and some because of rape.

In one case of a woman at the Regina Coeli, “an entry from 1931 makes it clear that the woman in question was totally ignorant about sexual reproduction”:

“…the father of the child is a man called […], whom she knew for four months, frequent intercourse, never knew that it was that way children were brought into the world.”

In 1941 records state that a woman “came to hostel pregnant”. It notes that the father of her child “respected her all along ‘til one night they both took cocktails to which they were not accustomed with result - she does not remember the occurrence”.

The report says in a separate part: “The cards often record cases where a pregnancy resulted from rape or incest, though these words are generally not used; rather reference is made to the putative father being a family member or the woman having been ‘assaulted’.”

The Commission report says that the Regina Coeli kept information on the ‘putative father’. It sometimes recorded whether he was willing to marry her, or whether he was a blood relative; in the case of one woman admitted in 1951, it said “her uncle is responsible”.

It notes that in one entry from 1933, a woman who was sent to the Regina Coeli hostel  fell pregnant by a TD:

“…A TD is responsible for her trouble. She had been going to Leinster House and creating scenes there, trying to see him”. She had been sent to Regina Coeli “by the porter from Leinster House”.

The Regina Coeli was a hostel for homeless and unmarried mothers located in Dublin.

The stories of underage girls

One witness, who became pregnant at the age of 15 and was sent to Sean Ross in the 1950s, gave her account when her family found out she was pregnant:

“It was like, who did it? Who didn’t do it? How did it happen? You know, and my father and my mother. Anyhow, I couldn’t tell because I didn’t actually know any facts of life to be fair, but I knew somebody messed about, you know.

When I was out with my sister, he sort of pulled – well, there was two lads and they pulled me into the bushes and whatever happened, it happened, and I didn’t even know that that is where babies come from or anything. So, I didn’t know. It was like rape I suppose you would call it, you know, they just attacked me… I said two names I thought might be it, and they must have known… it was the day my sister got married this happened.

In another account, an 18-year-old girl, who had been in a foster home but was working as a domestic servant, became pregnant by a 30-year-old neighbour of her foster home.

The file recorded that she had sexual relations with him “before she was 16 and even before puberty. She says she never told her foster-mother thinking it was no harm”.

This man had recently married another woman who was also pregnant. The young woman refused to go to Sean Ross, because there were ‘local girls’ in that home; she was admitted to Castlepollard.

The report states that rape “only began to feature in public discourse in the 1980s”.

In 1985, the Sunday Press told the story of the mother of a five-month old baby, who became pregnant as a result of rape. When she tried to tell her mother about the rape and pregnancy she received “no sympathy, no understanding”. Her mother’s attitude was “she asked for it”.

A social worker who was stationed in Bessborough for three months in the run up to Christmas in 1984 remembers one underage girl in particular:

“She was a teenager. She was definitely under 16. I was told initially by Sister Sarto I think it was, or one of the other staff members, that her family had dumped her at the door with her suitcase because she was pregnant as a result of incest and she had an intellectual disability, and I just remember her.”

In an analysis of the choices young girls faced at the time, the report said that some pregnant women came under pressure to marry the father of their child, even though both were teenagers.

A social worker with Ally commented that “The immediate thing resorted to is the decency of marriage. This can be totally traumatic.”

“Furthermore, in an Ireland of the 1980s it is horrendous to think of the terrible silence and suffering the girl is being put through because of the social pressures. It is hardly surprising that many girls resort to the abortion trail.”

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