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Tusla cannot confirm how many records it has about St Gerard's mother and baby home

The Child and Family Agency refused an FOI request from Tuam survivor Peter Mulryan, saying it could not locate records about his sister.

Peter Mulryan
Peter Mulryan
Image: Oireachtas.ie

TUSLA CANNOT CONFIRM how many records it holds about St Gerard’s, an institution that housed unmarried mothers and their children in Dublin in the 1920s and 1930s.

The Child and Family Agency said it has records related to the institution but cannot say how many as it “does not have statutory reasoning to process or read documents” unless a person requests one of the records via a Freedom of Information (FOI) request or Subject Access Request (SAR) under GDPR, or for tracing purposes.

As reported by The Journal last week, Tusla refused an FOI request from Peter Mulryan, a survivor of Tuam mother and baby home, saying it cannot locate records about his older sister.

Bridget Mulryan was born in Holles Street Hospital in Dublin on 29 October 1936 before being transferred to St Gerard’s. According to her records, she was born healthy but died less than a month later.

Peter has been unable to locate a burial record for Bridget and wants to know what happened to her. He believes there is a chance she may have been incorrectly listed as dead, before being adopted.

In a letter received by Peter on 29 July, the Tusla FOI decision maker 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 Gerard’s Home within the overall St Patricks Guild records which transferred to Tusla.”

The wording of this FOI refusal raised questions about what, if any, records Tusla had about St Gerard’s.

After initially declining to say whether or not the agency had records specifically related to St Gerard’s, a spokesperson for Tusla has now confirmed that they do indeed have such records.

In a statement to The Journal, a spokesperson said: “All records from St. Patricks Guild [sic] were transferred to Tusla in 2016 and have been indexed, catalogued, and digitised.

“Such records were accumulated across all three establishments under the Guild: 39 Mountjoy Square, St. Gerard’s and Temple Hill.

“Tusla does not have statutory reasoning to process/read documents unless it is following an application for a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, SDAR or Tracing. As such, we have not counted the number of records accrued in St. Gerard’s during the time period of 1936-1939.”

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.

A spokesperson from Tusla this week said that the records were transferred to the agency in May 2016, not in 2017 as stated in the Commission’s final report.

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.

When asked for more information on the records Tusla has about St Gerard’s, a spokesperson said: “All records transferred to Tusla from St Patrick’s Guild have been scanned, indexed and are searchable through an electronic document management system.

“The template documents used by St. Patrick’s Guild record key biographical detail relating to a specific individual, ordinarily the child, his or her parents and adoptive/foster parents.

“Reference to 39 Mountjoy Square, St. Gerard’s, or indeed Temple Hill amongst the records of St. Patrick’s Guild is derived from the address at which St. Patrick’s Guild operated at a given point in time.”

‘The information is not there’ – Minister

Speaking to The Journal last week, Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman said he would follow up with Tusla about the issue.

He said that records will be made available to people where possible, but that some documents may no longer exist.

“There are going to be individuals for whom there is no information because the records are gone.

Every record that is there will be made available to people but we have to be very upfront with survivors, there will be people who, having waited so long, won’t get information – not because they’ve been denied it, because the information is not there.

“And I know that’s going to be a source of real difficulty for people. And I think particularly where institutions like St Gerard’s are very old, probably the likelihood is that some or indeed all files are not with an agency now.”

Peter and his wife Kathleen said the fact that Tusla cannot locate records about his sister 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 her burial record.

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

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

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

Tusla contacted the Mulryans in late July – days after The Journal contacted the agency about the issue.

Speaking to The Journal last week, 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 Bridget may have been incorrectly listed as dead, before actually 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, a member of the Tuam Home Survivors Network, 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.

He 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 month.

‘Distress and upset’

When asked about the delay in replying to the Mulryans, a spokesperson for Tusla 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 said that “where there is a delay in processing, the request applicants are advised of this”.

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

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 CPT was established in March 2021 to address a backlog in the management of FOI requests and Subject Access Requests “which had fallen outside of the legislative timeframes for processing such requests”.

“Following an intensive training programme the CPT commenced processing requests in March/April 2022 at which time there were 615 requests in the backlog. By 24 July 2022 an additional 177 requests had been transferred to the CPT for processing. To date 355 requests have been processed and released by the CPT or closed,” a statement noted.

Tusla hired 15 additional staff members for the duration of the CPT project, which is expected to conclude its work in May 2023 or sooner.

The spokesperson said Tusla “endeavours” to deal with FOI requests and SARs within the 20-day deadline set out under legislation, but this timeline is often not met.

They noted that, as of 21 July, non-CPT requests were, on average, handled in 67 days.

“The relevant timeframes for access requests are one month or three months, taking into account requests’ complexity and number.

“However, there are instances whereby an influx or a surge of requests can impact on the timeframes of the processing of requests and this may not always be possible to adhere to,” a statement noted.

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About the author:

Órla Ryan

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