Dublin County Coroner Dr Kieran Geraghty yesterday informed an inquest into the death of the unidentified baby girl that he had written to the minister last Friday to seek the exhumation of her body from the Little Angels Plot in Glasnevin Cemetery.
Although the baby was never formally identified, a 44-year-old woman, Cynthia Owen, who comes originally from Dalkey, claims she was the baby’s mother.
Ms Owen came forward in recent years to claim the baby. The child, whose name was Noleen, was reportedly one of two children she gave birth to as a result of being sexually abused as a child in the 1970s.
Noleen’s body was found at Lee’s Lane in Dun Laoghaire on April 4, 1973. Ms Owen claims she witnessed her baby’s murder immediately after her birth.
The original inquest into the baby’s death determined she had died from a loss of blood, due to stab wounds in her neck.
Last summer, a property in Dalkey, where Ms Owen had lived as a child, was excavated by gardaí after she claimed her son — a boy called John — was buried in the back garden. However, a two-week search failed to uncover any evidence to support the allegations.
Dr Geraghty, who reopened the inquest into the baby’s death last September, conceded there would be a number of logistical difficulties associated with any exhumation.
The coroner, sitting at the Dublin County Coroner’s Court held in Tallaght, said it would probably require an archaeological-type dig that could take weeks, even months, as it was likely that a number of other graves would have to be disturbed.
He also warned that the outcome of the exercise was uncertain. However, Dr Geraghty said he had decided to seek an exhumation based on the serious allegations made by Ms Owen.
After consulting with a number of experts, he said it was possible that the baby might be identified through the use of DNA profiling.
“The purpose is to identify the deceased. Cynthia Owen claims to be the mother of the baby, while other people would say otherwise,” the coroner said.
“The advice I have is the court could say the baby was the child of Cynthia Owen or Cynthia Owen’s mother.”
The coroner also acceded to a request by Inspector Pat Ward of Dun Laoghaire Garda Station for an adjournment of the case as a criminal prosecution over the baby’s death remained possible.
He adjourned the case until November 7.
Speaking outside the court, Ms Owen welcomed the coroner’s decision to seek an exhumation of Noleen’s body.
“It is about time the truth of this case came out. It is a very emotional time for me at the moment but hopefully the truth will come out in the end,” she said.
Last week, another inquest heard how the body of Ms Owen’s brother, Michael Murphy, 31, had lain undiscovered near a busy DART line for over two years.
A jury returned an open verdict in the case after the court heard there was insufficient evidence to determine the cause of Mr Murphy’s death.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Mr McDowell said a decision on the request for an exhumation order was likely to be made within a few days.
In a separate development, Glasnevin Cemetery chief executive George McCullough has expressed reservations about any attempt to exhume a body from the Little Angels plot.
Speaking on RTÉ Radio, Mr McCullough said the baby was buried with 20 other stillborn and premature babies on top of each other. He believes the baby in question was one of the earlier bodies to be placed in the grave.