Tribunal was like a medieval witch hunt, Martin tells Dáil

The tribunal into the Kerry babies was like a “medieval witch hunt” with the victims burning at the stake and the crowd dancing around the fire, the Dáil heard.

The tribunal into the Kerry babies was like a “medieval witch hunt” with the victims burning at the stake and the crowd dancing around the fire, the Dáil heard.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, quoting poet Brendan Kenneally, said Joanne Hayes was the victim of a shameful persecution by state agencies.

“The complete lack of empathy shown at that time by agencies of this State was shameful and is a damning indictment of the institutions of the State and of society at that time.

“She was wrongly accused of murdering a baby and was put through an horrendous tribunal, which was meant to inquire into the failures of An Garda Síochána in its conduct of the investigation but which essentially turned into a cross-examination of Joanne Hayes herself,” Mr Martin added.

He said that people will often say that it was a different era and that everything is attributable to the era.

“Sometimes that is true and in this case, it partially explains some of what went on and the context.

“However, even at the time the then Garda commissioner, Larry Wren, described the performance of gardaí as revealed in the State papers as “grossly negligent”. There are also lessons for us today,” he said.

Mr Martin called on Tánaiste Simon Coveney to clarify whether the Government will pay compensation to the Hayes family for the trauma they have suffered at the hands of the State.

Mr Coveney then echoed the full State apology offered by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Strasbourg.

He said: “I want to personally welcome the apology that was made yesterday by the acting Garda commissioner to Joanne Hayes and her family. As Tánaiste, I also want to join the minister for justice and equality and the Taoiseach in apologising on behalf of the State.”

He added: “In terms of the final question that Deputy Martin asked about compensation, we will certainly try to deal with this issue in as sensitive a manner as possible but I am not empowered or at liberty to say right now how that should take place. However, I am sure that it is something on which the Government will try to make a quick decision.”

Mr Coveney said he took the point that when questions of redress or compensation are being discussed in tragic circumstances in which the State is responsible for wrong-doing, there is often a concern about the setting of a precedent.

“Given the extraordinary circumstances of this case, I do not think it sets a precedent to try to deal with it in a sensitive way. Along with the minister, Deputy Flanagan, and the Taoiseach, I will ensure this aspect of the issue is raised,” he said.

Mr Coveney said there are lessons here for the State. “There is also a need to respond to the family’s wish for privacy so that a woman who had to go through an extraordinary ordeal of accusation and blame does not have to relive that awful period in her life. Her extended family should not have to go through that either,” Mr Coveney said.

The Dáil heard that Fianna Fáil TD John Brassil has spoken to the Hayes family, who are very anxious that this does not become a political football.

“They are also anxious that their privacy would be respected. Given the trauma that has already been caused, they certainly do not want to go through all of that again and that has been very clearly articulated to us,” Mr Martin said.

“The lessons are there to be learned in terms of how we approach issues like this, even in today’s world. We have had a number of cases relating to children and only recently, a number of worrying reports from Tusla,” he added.


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