By Noel Baker, Social Affairs Correspondent
Update 10.40am: The Tuam Home Survivors Network has savaged the appeal to the Pope by Children's Minister Katherine Zappone for funds for the Mother and Baby Home site, calling it "nothing more than a publicity stunt".
The Minister's direct intervention with Pope Francis during his historic visit has been praised by Tuam historian Catherine Corless and was backed in principle by abuse campaigner Colm O'Gorman, but the Tuam Home Survivors Network said the letter she sent to the Pope "smacks of a stunt".
In a statement the Network, which has 60 members, including people overseas and siblings and cousins of the disappeared, referred to the Minister's reference in the letter issued to Pope Francis in which she said "I am the Minister responsible for the Tuam Mother and Baby Home."
According to the Network: "This is of course an absurd statement. Ms Zappone is merely the Minister to which the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes is to report. In a different country, such a Commission would be reporting to a Justice Minister."
The statement went on: "In the course of her letter to the Pope, she attempts to maintain ... that she with her Cabinet colleagues can decide the future of the mass grave at Tuam. To be clear once more, the only office-holder with jurisdiction over the mass grave at Tuam is the local Coroner."
By Noel Baker and Juno McEnroe
Update 6.30am: The Vatican is likely to come under increasing pressure to respond to Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone’s direct demand to the Pope that the Church help foot the bill for work on the site of the mother and baby home in Tuam.
Ms Zappone’s extraordinary intervention — first made in Italian when she spoke with the pontiff over the weekend and later in the content of a comprehensive message sent to the Vatican — has been welcomed by campaigners.
It is unclear if the minister’s position is backed by the Government.
A spokesman refused to clarify if Taoiseach Leo Varadkar knew in advance of Ms Zappone’s intentions to ask the Church to pay. He also refused to say whether the Government supported Ms Zappone’s request.
The spokesman refused to say whether this included the request for the Church to pay for Tuam.
In the letter to the Pope, Ms Zappone said: “It is my strong conviction that given the role of the Church in this shameful chapter of recent Irish history it must play a practical role in addressing the hurt and damage.
“I believe that the church should contribute substantially to the cost of whatever option is decided by the government. This should be done willingly, unconditionally and quickly. Nothing less will demonstrate remorse.”
At the meeting at Áras an Uachtaráin, Ms Zappone told Pope Francis, in Italian: “I am responsible for the Tuam mother and baby home. Children’s remains were found in a sewage system there. I hope the Church will make reparation for its part in this shameful chapter. It is important.”
On the flight back to Rome, the Pope told reporters Ms Zappone had been “very balanced”, adding: “She made me understand that the Church has something to do with this. That lady had a dignity that touched my heart, and now I have the memo there that I will study when I get home.”
Tuam-based historian Catherine Corless, whose work was central to exposing what went on at the mother and baby home and the discovery of human remains, said she saw no reason for the Vatican to delay its response.
Ms Corless described Ms Zappone’s intervention as “unbelievable” and “courageous”, adding: “As soon as she stepped into the room she took the opportunity, instead of just saying hello, she had a good few words with him.”
As for the subsequent memo to the Vatican, Ms Corless said: “It doesn’t mince any words. It more or less said they have a duty to share the cost.
“It’s not that the State shouldn’t cover it as well, she did not ask for them to cover it in full, but for their share.”
Tuam Survivors Network said it acknowledged Ms Zappone’s intervention but said it was not commenting further at this time.
The site in Tuam is owned by Galway County Council, but the home was run by the Sisters of the Bon Secours. A number of options have been put forward for the site, but that preferred by many locals, and Ms Corless, is for full excavation and exhumation.
A response to the request from the Vatican Press Office was not forthcoming yesterday. The papal nuncio here said it was a matter for the media centre in the Vatican.
As the Government awaits a response from the Vatican, discussion continued following the visit of Pope Francis into how the Church can take practical steps to further bolster the safeguarding of children and to deal with past crimes.
Maeve Lewis, executive director of the group One In Four, said an option was for the Vatican to release records relating to allegations made to authorities seeking them.