Monthly Archives: July 2021
Anne Silke: Fostered to a Fianna Fáil TD, beaten and abused
AS A CHILD, Anne Silke ate moss off the walls of the Tuam mother and baby institution. It was delicious, she would laugh, because she was starving. Before she died earlier this year, she would say with a wry smile that she would never eat batch bread, because of how the nuns threw it at her and the other “home” children, as if they were animals. That ability to crack jokes at the cruelty she experienced when young and the life she carved out for herself as a mother of eight children drew people to her, finding hope in her resilience and warmth in her company. But there was a silence Silke never managed to break before she died, about the influential political family who fostered her. Teresa Lavina, a Galway-based documentary maker, first met Silke in 2019 through another Tuam survivor, PJ Haverty, who was close friends with Silke and had always voted for the family who fostered her. The feature-length documentary, Untold Secrets, that Lavina directed and produced was shown for the first time yesterday at the Galway Film Fleadh, shedding light on Silke’s unspoken experiences and the disturbing allegations that are part of her testimony. Silke gave testimony to the commission of investigation and saw it released just before she died last February, with a few lines referencing her own testimony about eating moss. But she was deeply hurt by the result and felt she still had not been heard. “I feel angry to a certain extent that we’re not getting justice or anything,” Silke said to camera, not long before she died. “Everything is left just hanging on until we pass away.”
In the documentary, Silke described deprivation and cruelty within the Tuam institution but also speaks of her experience of being fostered out to a man who she says was a TD in the Dáil and his wife, who had six of their own children who were already reared. She alleges she was treated like a “slave” in their home. Documentation provided by the state agency Tusla shows that Silke was fostered in 1958 by a “Mr and Mrs Killealea [sic]” and the documentary draws together testimony that the man who fostered Silke was Mark Killilea Sr, a founding member of Fianna Fáil who represented Galway constituencies within the Dáil for nearly three decades, from the 1930s to 1961. In 2014, after the story about the deaths of hundreds of children in Tuam broke around the world, Silke came to Catherine Corless hoping to find more answers and speak out. Corless remembers her as a woman who had “the heartiest laugh” and got on with everyone. “Anne was one of those people who wanted to tell her story because she was born in the Home in Tuam and she had a very tough childhood,” Corless said.
“She was fostered out to a woman in the early stages but that didn’t work out and Anne was sent back to the home again, so Anne is one of the few people that remembers life in the Tuam home.”
At the burial site on the former grounds of the Bon Secours institution, grass grown over the area above the sewage system where the remains of infants and children were found during a test excavation years before, Silke stood in a black and white check coat, a black scarf around her neck, speaking of how she remembered children being brought outside, kept in pens and bottles of milk made by Bina Rabitte, a woman working for the nuns at the institution whose name is a witness on many birth certs, being thrown into them.
Silke described a child being kicked by one of the nuns and never seeing that child again. “We all tried to survive, we used to be starving,” she said.
Her mother, who she was separated from in the institution but managed to make some contact with later in life, told her they were kept separate even while inside the walls. “She wasn’t allowed to hold me, cuddle me or feed me or do nothing for me, it was other mothers,” Silke said.
Catherine Corless saw the pile of records that Anne had been able to get from the State, detailing her time in the institution and her fostering. Since she died, family members have not been able to access the cache of documents she left behind and while Tusla recently released a document to Silke’s relatives detailing a timeline of her experiences within the institutions and confirming the time she spent fostered, Silke’s family could now wait months for copies of the documents to be provided. Before she died, Anne Silke stated to Lavina and others that she was abused and exploited as a child while fostered within the Belclare household of Mark Killilea Sr, a founding member of Fianna Fáil and an influential local politician in Tuam. Silke describes in the documentary how she was exploited for labour, made to milk cows morning and evening, brought home from school early to clean and polish the house, and never allowed to eat at the same table with the family. Silke said she was beaten if she did not complete her work or if she defended herself. Silke described being physically assaulted by one of the older adult sons in the house, who she said took over after the foster father died, and that she was sexually abused by another adult son. She was a child at the time of this sexual assault. According to statements made by family members and details from Silke’s testimony, as well as multiple sources who knew Silke and saw her file, the documentary points to Mark Killilea Jr as responsible for physically assaulting Silke. The ‘Golfgate’ event last year in Galway was a dinner in honour of the late TD and MEP. The documentary points to Jarlath Killilea as having sexually abused her. He was a former head of the Department of Tourism and Catering at Cork Institute of Technology. Both men are deceased. Silke describes how Killilea Jr “gave me awful beatings with the horses whip and that, the mother was hitting me and I was protecting myself so I went to hit her and he said you’ll never do that to my mother again, that’s what it was, and he stripped me from the waist down put me across the chair and belted me, and the blood pouring out of me, [I] couldn’t sit”.
Silke says she was told to tell anyone who asked that she fell.
A mother of eight, in a family photo Silke stands with all of her adult children, four daughters and four sons, all of them head and shoulders above her. Silke told her own children about her experiences and they speak out in the documentary, confirming that their mother had told them of these accounts of abuse and exploitation within the foster household. One of her daughters, Alice Kelly, speaks about how many families like her own are still affected by the ongoing legacy of the mother and baby home institutions, making it an intergenerational trauma. The children, like Silke, were robbed of any real affection or love within the Tuam institution and Kelly speaks about how her mother’s way of showing love was making sure they were sent to school, fed, and had clothes on their back. “I heard the stories growing up and it just became normal, it’s just something I accepted that these things happened to mum,” Kelly says, remembering how she asked her mother when she was a teenager about her experience and whether she had been sexually abused. I was,” her mother had told her. It was something Kelly then almost normalised, warning “that’s the generational impact it is having on this country”.
Another of Silke’s children, her son Seán Kelly, spoke over Zoom from New York to the director, Teresa Lavina, and named Jarlath Killilea as the man who sexually abused his mother and Mark Killilea Jr as the man who had beaten her. “[Jarlath] would have assaulted her sexually, physically, he was the one mum was very angry at too, obviously because she was young and didn’t know, she wasn’t even in her teens like.”
There were other witnesses to her exploitation at the hands of the foster family, according to Silke. “This neighbour, my friend will tell you, she used to collect me after the roll was being called and I’d have to polish the house, they had seven bedrooms,” said Silke.
“I hadn’t the work done and the son came along and he battered my face against the wall and pulled my head and battered me against the wall, and all my teeth destroyed. So [as a] 12-year-old I had four dentures, 12 years old.”
A source familiar with Silke’s file says there are hospital records included. “I’d say he denied it to the guards too,” she said.
“He battered me against the wall cause I didn’t have the work done.”
As well as domestic work, she was made to milk the cows morning and evening, spending her nights sleeping on a bed that she said was rotten through with urine. “Their bedroom wasn’t the same as mine,” she said.
“I’m sorry to say I used to wet the bed and I used to sleep in that bed every night.”
Silke remembered a social worker would come every month but she was told not to tell her that was the bedroom she slept in. Many survivors who were boarded out from Tuam and other institutions as children have spoken about being used for free labour by foster families. “They were making money on us, they made money on us,” said Silke.
“Even though we were not in the home they still got money for feeding us.”
There were many attempts at escape. Silke said she ran away a lot but guards brought her back, telling her to be good. “You were put into that situation that you couldn’t get out of,” she said.
“No matter where you went and told your story, you didn’t know who you were talking to then, it was all going back to them.”
Eventually, she told one of the “sisters”, one of the women in charge at her school, that she’d harm herself before going back. The timeline of Silke’s institutionalisation and fostering provided by Tusla shows that after being “discharged” from the foster family in 1967 Silke was sent to St Teresa’s on Temple Hill, a residential institution run by the Daughters of Charity in Dublin, and a place where there are accounts of another child sent from Tuam who was made to work unpaid in a local shop. The document from Tusla states that after being fostered, Silke also worked for a time in 1968 for another member of the Killilea family.4 states in Untold Secrets that she was “put working down in Kilkenny” before being put into a Magdalene Laundry and running away after six months there.” After that, she started working in a hospital. Donagh Killilea, son of the late Mark Killilea Jr, does speak within the documentary about the exploitation of children from the institutions: “We also have to keep in mind the awful conditions in which some survivors worked, they were forced labour on farms a lot of the time, they were forced labour in industry which was big at the time there was a lot of bad but I think there was even more good but it’s just not being looked at.”
Mr Killilea was shown testimony of Anne Silke by Lavina while the documentary was still in production. In response to questions from the Irish Examiner ahead of the broadcast, he described the allegations made by Anne Silke as both “unverified” and “inaccurate” but said “we have nothing to hide”, adding that “everyone involved in this has passed away and I’m very sorry for Anne’s family”.
According to records held by Galway County Council, the minutes of a council meeting show that Mark Killilea Sr opposed the closure of the Tuam institution on the basis that as long as the institution remained in Tuam “the county has the benefit of the money spent there”.
When she was in her mid-20s, Silke says, she went to a social worker in Galway to report “the abuse I got when I was a child with them people” but she was told she was no longer in the social worker’s jurisdiction.
In recent years, people close to Silke say that gardaí from Tuam visited her at her home in Leitrim to take her statement before she passed away. Close family members of Silke say she had been preparing to take Mark Killilea Jr, the alleged perpetrator of her physical assault, to the High Court, but he died before it was possible and she was also dissuaded by fear of losing her house due to legal costs. “Mum always wanted her story out,” her son Seán said.
What did you give us? Fears over drug given to young Scots mothers forced into adoption
By Marion Scott
July 25, 2021, 2:05 pm
Unmarried mothers who were forced to give up their babies were given a controversial drug now linked to cancers and life-changing conditions passed on to future generations. A synthetic hormone, developed to mimic oestrogen, was given to young mothers to dry up their breast milk after their babies were taken for adoption, leaving them at increased risk of developing rare cancers of the reproductive system. Even now, few know the powerful drug Diethylstilbestrol (DES) has been linked to a number of breast and vaginal cancers. And it has been shown to cause gynaecological abnormalities and infertility in the children and grandchildren of women given the pills. A major US study found that the daughters of women who took the drug were 40 times more at risk of the rare vaginal cancer adenocarcinoma, eight times more likely to suffer neonatal death, and almost five times more likely to have a premature baby. The study also highlighted increased risks with early menopause, infertility and ectopic pregnancies. The sons of mothers who had taken the drug, which was marketed under the names Stilbestrol, Stilboestrol and Desplex, were also at increased risk of infertility and testicular cancer. The drug, often referred to as just DES, was widely used and marketed throughout the world for a variety of uses, including preventing miscarriage, until 1971 when a Boston scientist first confirmed the deadly links after finding a cluster of young women developing rare vaginal cancers. The drug was sold by a number of manufacturers who have since settled US litigation cases for billions of dollars but little or nothing has been done to highlight concerns across the UK.
Calls for inquiry
Forced adoption campaigners are now demanding a public inquiry and investigation into the health of women given the drug as well as their children exposed to its wide-ranging effects while still in the womb. Marion McMillan, 73, from Paisley, who was forced to give up her baby boy in 1966 simply because she was unmarried, said she was ordered to take 16 tablets a day for almost a week after she gave birth in a mother and baby home. Now dying with cancer, she said: “I’ve met many forced adoption victims over the years who were all given the same drug to dry up their breast milk as quickly as possible after they’d given birth. It was seen as an inconvenience once we’d given birth so we were told to take the tablets, which were handed out like sweets. I was given four, four times a day until my breast milk dried up and I was sent home. Looking back, I fear I was given an overdose of very powerful hormones. Nobody ever explained what they were or whether there were any side effects. I was just ordered to take them, and as a very vulnerable, frightened teenager on my own and disowned by my horrified parents, I had nobody to ask and nobody to protect my best interests. Like the thousands of other forced adoption victims, I simply did what I was told.”
McMillan claims like many other victims she was denied painkillers, there was no stitching after the traumatic birth of her son, and she says she has been plagued by gynaecological problems ever since. More than two years ago she was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma, which has spread from her lungs to her liver. She has so far defied the terminal diagnosis she was given following aggressive chemotherapy. It took 40 years before she was eventually reunited with the son taken from her, unaware that as she searched for him, he was looking for her. She met husband George after returning from the mother and baby home, and the couple went on to have a family together. The campaigner, whose heartbreaking story brought tears to politicians in the Scottish Parliament last month, has spent decades terrified that the drugs given to her had affected any of her three children. She said: “I was horrified to learn those drugs can cause increased risks of cancer and a number of other serious health issues in the children I had after my firstborn, and I’ve agonised over that and warned them to be vigilant. But it terrifies me that so little has been made public about this medical scandal, and I fear most of the women given this drug will have no inkling of the consequences. I was diagnosed with terminal cancer just over two years ago and I’d like to know whether the drugs I was given played any part in what’s happened to me, and the very least all those other mums and their children deserve is to know the truth about the risks they were exposed to and a check done to see how their health is.”
McMillan, who is due to meet Children’s Minister Clare Haughey along with other campaigners, is calling for a public inquiry so all the health risks and human rights abuses they suffered can no longer be “swept under the carpet”. She said: “For almost 60 years the 60,000 women who were forced adoption victims have been treated as if we are Scotland’s dirty little secret when our only ‘crime’ was that we were not married when we became pregnant. But this is no longer just about challenging the morality of society at that time. There are extremely serious health implications that must be addressed for the women who were given this drug and the generations of their children who may be suffering the lasting effects. The health time bomb is ticking and the government cannot continue ignoring what was a truly dreadful part of Scotland’s history. Very few women given those drugs will even know the danger we were exposed to, or the effect on our children and grandchildren.”
Civil law expert George Clark of Quantum Claims said the government had a duty to investigate: “The government must find a way to fully assess just how widely these drugs were administered, and health authorities must be able to follow-up with health checks. Everyone affected must be given the full information available on all the known side effects so they can be vigilant and seek treatment if necessary.”
MSP Monica Lennon, who has led Holyrood’s Cross Party Committee on Women’s Health said: “It’s bad enough that SNP ministers have tried to sweep the mental health impact of forced adoption under the carpet. The physical impacts must be brought into the light too, including the potential link between cancer and drugs women were made to take to stop their breast milk. A formal apology from the Scottish Government would finally acknowledge all of the damage inflicted on the mothers and their babies, and unlock a full investigation into these cruel and sinister practices.”
DES was developed by British biochemist Edward Charles Dodds in 1938. Dodds never intended it to be used as a drug and didn’t patent it, allowing more than 200 drug companies around the world to manufacture DES. Increasingly concerned over the many uses DES was being prescribed for, Dodds spoke out fiercely about the use of synthetic hormones due to the unknown effect they can have on the body and future generations. Diethylstilbestrol, known as Stilbestrol in the UK, was initially thought to prevent miscarriage and help with period pain. It was also used for a number of other issues, including preventing women growing too tall. It was even used as chemical castration, administered to Enigma hero Alan Turing to “treat” his homosexuality as an alternative to prison. The side effects were awful and Turing would later take his own life. In 1970, a Boston doctor identified links between the drug and rare vaginal cancers in young women and after a Food & Drug Administration alert, it was gradually withdrawn except for small doses used to treat prostate cancer in men. Despite huge settlements in the US to victims, very little is publicly available in the UK. Australia’s forced adoption victims asked their government to act during the country’s official apology in 2013, but are still waiting.
Hollywood writer Caitlin McCarthy is about to cast her film Wonder Drug which will tell the story of how DES was given to millions of unsuspecting women with devastating consequences for generations of children.
McCarthy, 50, said: “I only discovered when I was 35 that I was a victim of this drug. It was given to my mother before I was born and of course she, like so many other women around the world, had no idea she’d been given it or what the consequences would be. I’m what is known as a DES Daughter, although the effect of the drug continues down through generations, too. I have structural differences in my cervix, and need regular check-ups as I’m at increased risk of breast and vaginal cancers. I was extremely lucky to be diagnosed when I was, during a routine operation, simply because the doctor I had was experienced in recognising the effects of the drug. It was devastating, not just for me but also for my poor mother Ann who immediately felt terribly guilty even though she had no idea she had even been given DES in a prenatal vitamin treatment. After the shock of what I’d been exposed to subsided, I began researching how this happened and discovered DES was given to millions around the world. My film exposes the fortunes made by the drug companies, and those who turned a blind eye and did little to warn victims even when the cancer links became clear in 1971. For over 40 years this scandal has been shrouded in silence even though so many people and at least three generations are affected. Everybody has heard about Thalidomide. But hardly anyone has heard about DES. I aim to change that.”
McCarthy is calling on governments around the world to alert women who were given the drug and for health checks for them and any children they have since had.
She said: “It’s desperately sad DES was given to victims of forced adoption who not only suffered by losing their babies, but their health and the health of their other children has been put at dreadful risk because of this drug. It’s a tragedy that this happened at all. But the resounding silence that surrounds it is one of the biggest medical scandals of all time. The silence cannot be allowed to continue. People deserve the truth. They need help and support. Governments cannot continue ignoring this issue. It saddens me and angers me that in all these years there has been no proper apology from either the drug companies or the watchdogs who were supposed to prevent any of this happening. When the first links with cancer were first identified in 1971, the Food & Drug Administration could have issued a ban and taken action so the rest of the world would sit up and react. Instead all it did was issue an alert and little notice was taken. That was shameful. In 2011, the FDA finally admitted DES was a ‘tragedy’. But they still did not apologise.”
Oscar-nominated director Matia Karrell aims to premiere Wonder Drug next year. McCarthy said: “I hope the film will get people talking. The silence has already damaged millions of lives. It has to end.”
Ministers urged to apologise to victims
Marion McMillan will urge the Scottish Government to give a formal apology to the victims of Scotland’s forced adoption scandal when she meets a minister this week. She will see Clare Haughey on Thursday when she will ask the minister for children and young people to encourage the Scottish Government to apologise. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she felt “deep sadness” over the issue and would consider an apology after Labour MSP Neil Bibby raised the cases of Marion and 60,000 other Scottish mothers. Meanwhile, MP Lisa Cameron, who sits on Westminster’s all-party Health Committee, said the revelations about the drugs given to victims were deeply concerning: “This is yet another disturbing, hidden aspect to the forced adoption scandal. I’m raising questions in the House of Commons and have written to the Scottish health secretary.”
The Scottish Government said: “We have enormous sympathy for the women and families who have been harmed by Stilbestrol.”
It will “highlight this issue” with UK drug watchdog the Medicines Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, which said in 1973 the Committee on Safety of Medicines wrote to doctors to advise against using the drug to treat pregnant women. In 2002, the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology reported 14 cases of cancer linked to the drug. It said: “Women who believe they may have been exposed to DES in utero and are concerned about the risks of vaginal and cervical cancer should be offered careful monitoring by annual colposcopic examinations.”