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Peter Mulryan Oireachtas.ie
THE MORNING LEAD

'Two babies from one family, gone': Tusla unable to locate records despite 'extensive' search

Tuam survivor Peter Mulryan says it’s “awful” that records for his older sister, Bridget, cannot be found.

TUSLA HAS BEEN unable to locate records about a baby girl who spent time in St Gerard’s institution in Dublin in 1936, despite an “extensive” search.

St Gerard’s housed unmarried mothers and their children in the 1920s and 1930s. Records related to the institution were given to Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, in 2017.

Last week The Journal reported that Peter Mulryan, a survivor of the Tuam mother and baby institution, was seeking records related to his older sister.

Bridget Mulryan was born in Holles Street Hospital on 29 October 1936 before being transferred to St Gerard’s. Bridget was born healthy but – according to her death certificate – died less than a month later, on 20 November 1936.

In recent days Tusla informed Peter that the agency has been unable to locate relevant records related to his sister or St Gerard’s.

Peter and his wife Kathleen said the fact that Tusla cannot locate these records is “very disappointing” and “suspicious”.

After finding out about Bridget somewhat by chance three years ago, Peter received her birth certificate and death certificate from the General Register Office. However, he has been unable to locate a burial record for Bridget and wants to now what happened to her.

bm bc Bridget's birth cert Peter and Kathleen Mulryan Peter and Kathleen Mulryan

bm dc Bridget's death cert Peter and Kathleen Mulryan Peter and Kathleen Mulryan

Peter and his wife Kathleen wrote to Tusla on 24 April 2022 seeking more information about Bridget via a Freedom of Information (FOI) request. They said they did not receive a reply at the time – even to acknowledge receipt of their letter.

Tusla contacted the Mulryans via email last Thursday – three days after The Journal contacted the agency about the issue – to say that they would be in touch via post shortly.

In a letter received by the couple on Friday, the FOI decision maker said she was refusing their request under Section 15(1)a of the FOI Act which refers to a situation where “the record concerned does not exist or cannot be found after all reasonable steps to ascertain its whereabouts have been taken”.

The Tusla employee said: “An extensive search was completed of electronic databases and document management systems held by Tusla to include the Mother & Baby Home Commission Database and St Patricks Guild records.

“I wish to advise that Tusla has not located any specific records in respect of St Gerards Home within the overall St Patricks Guild records which transferred to Tusla. [sic]”

Commission of Investigation

Peter had hoped that the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes would shed light on practices in St Gerard’s.

However, in its final report in January 2021, the Commission said it was unable to access files related to St Gerard’s as they were part of a wider body of records related to St Patrick’s Guild – an organisation that oversaw both legal and illegal adoptions.

The report stated that these records “were handed over to the Child and Family Agency (Tusla) in 2017 but are not yet fully processed”.

“To date it has not been possible to extract the St Gerard’s files from the overall SPG files. As a result, the Commission has not had access to the St Gerard’s files,” the document added.

In 2018, Tusla confirmed to the Department of Children that at least 126 children adopted through St Patrick’s Guild Adoption Society had been the subject of an illegal birth registration. The number of confirmed cases has since risen to at least 151.

Speaking to The Journal yesterday, Kathleen said: “I can’t understand that there is nothing there [about Bridget] – or that they couldn’t send us in the right direction to get information.  

If the Commission couldn’t get [the records], what hope do we have? God knows what they would tell us.

Kathleen and Peter believe there is a chance that Bridget may have been incorrectly listed as dead, before being adopted.

“There were well over 100 falsified adoption records, that we know of to date, at St Patrick’s Guild,” Kathleen said.

We are suspicious. Are they telling us the truth? We have been fobbed off by officials so many times, how can we not be sceptical?

“At the end of the day, they can decide whether they want to release the records or not. So many scenarios have gone through our heads.”

Kathleen said other families are likely in a similar situation to the Mulryans – unable to find out if a loved one did indeed die as a baby, or if they were illegally adopted.

Peter yesterday told us it’s “shocking” that his two sisters were listed as healthy when they were born but died soon afterwards.

“Two babies from the one family were born healthy but apparently died, and we don’t know where they are. It’s very suspicious. Two babies in our family, gone. It’s awful,” he said.

Second sister

Peter, a member of the Tuam Home Survivors Network, has previously shared his search for information about his younger sister Marian, who was also born in Tuam.

Peter found out about Marian’s existence in 2014 – she was listed as one of the 796 children who died in the Tuam institution, the deaths of whom were uncovered by Catherine Corless.

Five years later, somewhat by chance, he learned he also had an older sister. He had not shared this information publicly, until last week.

Peter said he needed time to process this information and also feared that the public may judge his mother for having three children outside marriage. The 78-year-old believes he and his siblings may all have the same father but has been unable to confirm this to date.

Peter said he was initially “absolutely shocked” to discover he had a second sister, but needs to find out what happened to her: “I want to know where she is.”

Peter was boarded out as a child, a precursor to fostering, and was physically and emotionally abused. As an adult he found his mother, Delia, who spent over 40 years in a Magdalene laundry. She never told him that he had two sisters.

In recent years he received some documents from Tusla about Delia and Marian.

In one batch of documents he received three years ago, there was a reference to Delia spending time in St Gerard’s. This was the first time Peter had heard any mention of his mother passing through this particular institution.

Peter’s wife Kathleen last week explained: “A friend of ours, a retired solicitor, was helping us look for information from Tusla. We got some files and there was a document about his mother spending time in a mother and baby home in Dublin. Peter had never heard about this before.”

In the batch of records there was also a document referring to a Bridget Mulryan. Initially, Peter and Kathleen thought this file was also about his mother – she went by the name Delia but her official name was Bridget.

However, her address on this particular document was incorrect. After making some inquiries, they discovered that Delia had given birth to a baby girl, Bridget, in Dublin in 1936.

“The file had an incorrect address for his mother – she came from Corrandulla in Galway, but she was down as being from Gort. Then they figured out it was his sister, not his mother,” Kathleen told us, adding: “it was a pure accident we found out about her”.

With the help of an employee from the Civil Register Office in Galway (where births, deaths and marriages are registered), the Mulryans received a copy of Bridget’s birth and death certificates from the General Register Office.

The reason for her death is listed as ‘debility’. This term, meaning physical weakness, was commonly used as the cause of death for children at the time.

‘Distress and upset’

When asked about the delay in replying to the Mulryans, a spokesperson for Tusla last week told The Journal that the agency will “generally” acknowledge all requests for information under Freedom of Information (FOI) and subject access requests (SARs) “within 72 hours”.

The spokesperson added that “where there is a delay in processing, the request applicants are advised of this”.

In all our work, we set a high professional standard that we strive to achieve. We know that our staff are committed to this work, and they are particularly focused on, and committed to upholding our core values and behaviours of trust, respect, kindness, and empowerment in our dealings with everyone.

“Equally, we understand and deeply regret the distress and upset that any delay in the release of information to them may cause.”

The spokesperson said that Tusla has received “an unprecedented volume of applications” of SAR and FOI requests, following the introduction of data protection legislation in 2018 and the commencement of GDPR rules, and since the publication of the Commission’s final report in 2021.

“To deal with this backlog, we have put significant additional resources in place, including the implementation of a Central Processing Team to speed up the processing of FOI and SARs in the Agency.”

The spokesperson did not clarify if Tusla has since processed all the records it received related to St Gerard’s in 2017, but said that all records it has about that institution and St Patrick’s Guild “are available and can currently be accessed by eligible persons” who submit FOI or SAR requests.

Prior to accepting requests under the Birth Information and Tracing Act 2022 from October onwards, the spokesperson said that Tusla is aiming to “have new and easier processes for people to obtain information, particularly their identity”.

“We have been working at pace to prepare for implementation of the second phase of the Act in early October, relating to information and tracing,” they added.