Katherine Zappone favours exhumation at all baby homes

Catherine Corless and Katherine Zappone
Catherine Corless and Katherine Zappone

Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone has said she is in favour of all mother and baby home sites being exhumed after giving the green light for the Tuam facility to be excavated.

As well as historic plans to exhume the site, the minister extended the existing Mother and Baby Home Commission’s scope, and for a UN international expert to oversee a potential South African-style truth and reconciliation review of the scandal.

Ms Zappone said that she has appointed an expert forensic archaeology team to examine whether the Tuam mother and baby site can be excavated.

She said the team — which will be led by Niamh McCullough (who has worked on the search for The Disappeared, victims of republican paramilitaries in the North) and includes “world- renowned” DNA testing experts, specialists in juvenile osteo-archeology and remote sensing — will be tasked with deciding whether a full excavation and potential identification of more than 800 remains is possible.

Ms Zappone said the team will make a decision by September, adding she will also consider extending the terms of reference for the Mother and Baby Home Commission over the summer.

And in a further move, she confirmed she has requested UN special rappoteur for the promotion of truth and justice Pablo de Greiff to examine whether a South African-style truth and reconciliation review of what happened should be set up.

“It is about our humanity, our empathy,” she said. “I sometimes wonder what they will say about 2017 in 2027 on Reeling in the Years. Will they say it was when the international media descended on Tuam or will it be the year we manned up, woman-ed up, and faced up to our responsibility.

“It is time we all shouted ‘stop’.”

Speaking to reporters, she said any decision to extend exhumations to dozens of other mother and baby home sites across Ireland is a matter for the commission.

However, when asked for her “personal” opinion. she added: “If there is the possibility for remains of children that are unidentified in other homes, in terms of what I’ve heard and what I feel, yes, I would like to see the possibility of work done in that regard.”

While broadly welcomed by Fianna Fáil, Labour, and a number of survivor groups, Sinn Féin and Solidarity-People Before Profit said scandals at other homes are still being ignored and that the Tuam site should be treated as a “crime” not a “history lesson”.

Campaigner Catherine Corless said the Government move is “a step forward” and said she has always been “adamant there are more remains in the playground areas [located next to the Tuam site]”.

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