Dáil discussed treatment of 'illegitimate' children in 1920s

Friday 06 June 2014 16.33
Leinster House in 1933
Leinster House in 1933

The treatment and death of children born to unmarried mothers across Ireland was being debated in the Dáil as far back as the 1920s and 1930s.

There were calls for investigations into the treatment of these children.

A General Register's report for 1924 contained the information that "one in every three illegitimate children born alive in 1924 died within one year of its birth, and that the mortality amongst these children was about five times as great as in other cases".

Ten years later, a bill was debated in the Dáil to register all maternity homes.

Referring to "illegitimate" children, the bill stated: "From the abnormally high death rate amongst this class of children one must come to the conclusion that they are not looked after with the same care and attention as that given to ordinary children."

Three years later in 1927 the issue was raised again by a senator, Dr Robert Rowlette.

"In the year 1934-5 ... the mortality rate among illegitimate children was something like 26% ... while the general mortality all over the country was 7% per cent. That is a shocking position in a Christian country."

The debates do not mention any particular maternity or baby homes, but indicate that many of them were in Dublin.

One contributor to a Dáil debate claims that mothers of children born outside marriage trying to hide their shame came from the country to Dublin and either left the babies in maternity homes or handed them over to paid foster mothers.

It was stated that: "If a lump sum is paid or if the periodical payments lapse, the child becomes an encumbrance on the foster mother, who has no interest in keeping it alive."