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Vaccine Trials

Mother told daughter would 'get a needle in her arm every day' until she signed adoption papers

Sally McAndrew says nuns threatened to put her in a vaccine trial when her mother put off signing her adoption papers.

A WOMAN WHO was adopted via St Patrick’s Guild, a former Catholic adoption society, has claimed that nuns threatened to subject her to a vaccine trial as a baby if her mother didn’t sign the adoption papers.

Sally McAndrew was born in the Coombe Hospital in Dublin in 1969 and spent her early days in Temple Hill, a mother and baby home run by the Irish Sisters of Charity in Blackrock in Dublin.

Sally (52) was adopted and considers herself “one of the lucky ones” who grew up in a loving household and had a happy childhood.

She met her biological mother for the first time when she was about 15 years old.

Speaking to The Journal, Sally recalled how her mother was just 19 years old when she became pregnant. In one of their conversations, her mother told her about a threat allegedly made by nuns.

“When I met my biological mother she told me that when she dragged her heels signing the [adoption] forms, the nuns used to say to her ‘Every day you don’t sign, your daughter is getting a needle in her arm and will be screaming in pain’.

“I never paid any heed to that, I just thought it was a strategy to terrify a 19-year-old girl, but now that statement takes on a new meaning.

“I’m guessing it wasn’t an empty threat from the point of view that [the nuns] must have seen some needles going into children’s arms – if not in the home that I was in, in another home.”

Sally is unsure of whether or not this was an empty threat but, as more information about vaccine trials in the institutions becomes public, she is seeking access to her medical records.

No vaccine trials are reported as being carried out in Temple Hill but they did happen in a number of other institutions.

Sally knows a number of other people who were also adopted from Temple Hill and they have all experienced stomach issues since they were children. She said this could well be a “coincidence” but, as she doesn’t have access to health records, she can’t be certain.

Sally has received some records from Tusla related to her early life. These documents include references to her biological mother paying £3 a week to the nuns prior to her adoption, as well as reference to her adoptive parents giving a donation.

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One handwritten document notes that the nuns wrote to Sally’s mother ["wrote again to girl"] on a number of occasions in 1969 and 1970.

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Sally said her mother did not have a lot of money and may have struggled to pay the weekly fee.

Father ‘paid for address’

Sally felt compelled to share another aspect of her story after repeatedly hearing a narrative that the religious orders who ran the institutions weren’t interested in making money.

When she was 10 years old, her biological father showed up at her adopted mother’s house. He knocked on the door and explained who he was, much to the shock of Sally’s mother.

Her biological father, who was a successful businessman, said he was given her address after paying £5,000 to St Patrick’s Guild.

“The general theme that there is no evidence the nuns looked to profiteer from adoptions is really frustrating. In my case, my biological father turned up on my doorstep when I was 10.

“To make a very long story short, he said he’d always had my address as he paid a nun for my details.

“It annoys me when I see the reports describing the situation in a certain light and the nuns in a certain light. I know that they were quite happy to pass over my details when my biological father paid them.”

In a somewhat unusual situation, the man’s other children had also been adopted. Sally said her biological father was also given the address of one other child.

He continued to pay St Patrick’s Guild £5,000 per year for a few years in the hopes he would be given more information, Sally said.

Her adoptive mother went to Temple Hill after the incident to lodge a complaint that their details had been shared without their consent.

Sally recalled: “My adoptive mom went to a meeting in Temple Hill to complain about my details being given to him and she said to me she was shooed out of the place.

“It was clear to her that this was not a surprise to the nuns and there was no shock or ‘we’ll have to investigate this’. So in my mind it’s clear this was not a one-off event that caused alarm to the nuns, this may have been a common occurrence.”

Sally did not meet her biological father when he showed up unannounced at their home, but did about two years later.

She said it is deeply unfair that he was given information simply because he had the means to pay for it, while so many other people were kept in the dark.

“What makes me sad is when I think of all those women who talk about the years of begging and begging for their children’s details. The nuns were just dangling it over their heads. In my father’s case, he just had to hand them a bit of money and he got the piece of paper.”

The Journal contacted the Sisters of Charity about Sally’s claims but had not receive a reply at the time of publication.

Sally said that part of the reason her biological father went to her home is because he heard that her adoptive father had died. She met her biological father when she was 12 and went on to develop a relationship with him. He has since passed away.

She said she would have shared her story with the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes but at the time didn’t think she fit the criteria.

Sally thought the Commission was only looking to speak to people who had been abused.

“I didn’t consider myself abused as I was so lucky with my adoptive parents – but as people have begun talking more openly about their own stories, a pattern emerges.

“So when you put all the little stories like mine together with others, you see a bigger picture of profiteering and manipulation, particularly of the young girls involved. I see it now for what it was more clearly.”

Sally said she is going public with her story in the hopes it will show other people in a similar position they are not alone.

Legislation that aims to enshrine in law a right for adopted people to access their birth certificates and early life information is set to be published on Wednesday.

The Birth Information and Tracing Bill will be launched by Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman later today, the first anniversary of the publication of the final report by the Commission of Investigation.

Illegal adoptions

A review into illegal adoptions and birth registrations last year found a significant number of files with “suspicious” markers within the sample examined, estimating that between 5,500 and 20,000 files may have similar issues within the wider archives.

Social workers have confirmed at least 151 cases of illegal birth registrations in the files of St Patrick’s Guild adoption society.

The report, which was published in March 2021, was commissioned by the then-Minister for Children, Katherine Zappone, following Tusla’s confirmation in early 2018 that it had found evidence of illegal birth registrations in the files of the St Patrick’s Guild, years after the issue was initially flagged.

As part of this review, Tusla and the Adoption Authority of Ireland (AAI) separately examined records from more than 30 agencies, under the oversight of an independent reviewer. These agencies included adoption societies, nursing homes and boarded-out records. Between them, both agencies examined a total of 1,496 records.

In a statement released last March, Minister O’Gorman said: “Neither AAI nor Tusla was able to identify a unique marker which was suggestive of incorrect birth registration, similar to that found in the St Patrick Guild’s cases.

“While the sampling review of the files did identify some potential markers or wording suggestive of markers, both agencies reported that they were unable to establish clear evidence of incorrect birth registrations.”

However, he added that “significant concerns remain about the practice of illegal birth registrations”.

O’Gorman also noted that, in the opinion of the independent reviewer, “it is unlikely that a more comprehensive review of records would provide clear information relating to the existence of markers or wording suggestive of markers and the degree to which they may potentially be linked to incorrect birth registrations”.

Vaccine trials

GSK (formerly known as Glaxo Laboratories) in September published information about nine trials it carried out in mother and baby homes and similar institutions between 1934 and 1973.

Vomiting and fever were among the side effects experienced by children who took part in the trials.

The documents released last September relate to vaccine trials A to G, as they are referred to in the final report of the Commission of Investigation, as well as two infant milk formula trials.

Over 1,000 children in various institutions were selected to take part in pharmaceutical trials carried out by GSK and others.

Earlier in 2021, O’Gorman reiterated his view that GSK has a “moral obligation” in relation to the vaccine trials.

Despite a “constructive” conversation in April, GSK said its position remained unchanged and it will not pay compensation to people who took part in the trials.