Katherine Zappone.

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Katherine Zappone: I sometimes wonder what will they say on Reeling in the Years about 2017

I am determined that any action must respect the memory and dignity of the deceased children who lived their short lives in this home, writes Katherine Zappone.

Katherine Zappone: I sometimes wonder what will they say on Reeling in the Years about 2017

JUST three years ago, a brave local historian called Catherine Corless shared her research about the Mother and Baby Home with an astonished and horrified public.

A brave survivor was also willing to tell her story. We all read, watched and listened as the shocking details unfolded of a mass grave in the grounds of the former Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, Co Galway.

Former residents and their loved ones, supporters and campaigners have voiced a collective determination to dispel the secrecy and the shame so unjustly experienced by vulnerable mothers and their children.

I sometimes wonder what will they say on Reeling in the Years about 2017 years from now?

Will it be the year 2017 that the international media descended on Tuam as we once again declared our moral indignation at past deeds? Or will it be the year when we faced up and accept that the State should make amends for the past.

As a member of Government and the only independent woman in Government, I feel a huge sense of responsibility to begin to heal the fractured trust between our citizens and our state. It is time that someone shouted “stop”. It is time that we all shouted “stop”.

I have visited the Tuam site on numerous occasions. I am acutely aware many people are experiencing a great deal of anxiety and anticipation about what might happen next at the site.

Most importantly, I am determined that any action must respect the memory and dignity of the deceased children who lived their short lives in this home.

To inform our decisions, we need expert technical guidance on international best practice in this highly specialised area. If there is consensus to return the site to how it was before the commission did its test excavation, and to erect an appropriate memorial, we do not require technical advice.

However, if we decide to go for a full excavation we certainly need advice about how to do this, what are the challenges and how long it would take. If there is consensus that we should recover the infant remains and try to identify them, we need to know if this is possible.

I am very pleased to say that I have appointed a forensic archaeologist to lead out on this work. This person will bring together a team of international experts in juvenile osteoarchaeology, forensic anthropology and DNA analysis and archaeology to provide us with the necessary advices.

We will be mapping out a possible model of transitional justice with proposals for an interim strategy which would seek recognition for the experiences of former residents, promote civic trust and serve to re-assert the fundamental value of the rule of law in our democracy.

I also plan to hold detailed consultations, focusing on those who were resident as children without their mothers in Mother and Baby Homes and County Homes.

I have appointed an experienced qualified facilitator with an international reputation to assist in these consultations.

He will help us explore the nature of services and supports in the area of health and well-being that former unaccompanied residents feel may be of genuine and practical value to them now.

Dr Katherine Zappone is Minister for Children and Youth Affairs

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