The Catholic nuns who ran the Bessborough mother and baby home, in County Cork, claim they were instructed in 2013 to destroy “all documents” relating to vaccine trials carried out on children in their care.

The nuns claim this instruction was issued by the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (CICA), who deny the accusation. The CICA were, at the time, examining the vaccine trials until legal action halted the investigation.

The Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary made this claim, through their lawyers, in a letter to Tusla, Ireland’s the Child and Family Agency. The letter, dated January 2015, was released to the Cork-based newspaper, the Irish Examiner, under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Irish Examiner reports that in August 2014 a letter was sent by assistant principal social worker Pearl Doyle asking a series of questions in relation to material transferred by request to Tusla, in 2011. This letter was sent as the Irish Government was proposing setting up an investigation into mother and baby homes.

In the letter a total of 23 questions were posed concerning infant mortality, burials, financial records and, vaccine records. Among these questions Doyle asked where the “complete” list of vaccine records are and how children were chosen, whether the consent of the mother was obtained and, if so, where these consent forms are.

Five months later the order of nuns replied, through their lawyers, reported that they had been instructed to destroy “all documents on the advice of the CICA.

The letter stated:

“The congregation handed over all records held to the HSE [Health Service Executive]. The congregation were directed by the Commission of Inquiry into the Vaccine Trials in 2013 we believe to destroy all documents in their possession or under their control regarding the trials.”

CICA has said it issued “no such instruction.”

In 2014 a mass grave at a Catholic run home for unmarried mothers, in Tuam, County Galway, came was brought to light by local campaigners. 796 children who died between 1925 and 1961 had been buried in mass graves.

Following this horrific revelation the Mother and Baby inquiry was established. A team of three commissioners is being led by Judge Yvonne Murphy. They are investigating what happened to more than 35,000 women and children placed in these home from c. 1922 to 1998. The inquiry is examining the mothers and children’s causes of deaths at the homes, burials, vaccine trials carried out on children, how residents ended up there, how they were treated and where they went afterwards will all form part of the mammoth inquiry.

Former residents from some of the 14 homes around Ireland have begun giving evidence in private. The full report is expected in August 2016 along with a social history of the homes.

Here’s a 2014 report by RTE’s investigative current affairs show, Prime Time: