McDowell stands over refusal to exhume baby

JUSTICE Minister Michael McDowell insisted yesterday that exhuming the body of a baby girl from a communal grave in Dublin 33 years after her death would have had huge implications for other parents.

The unidentified infant, known only as Noleen, was laid to rest in the Little Angels plot in Glasnevin Cemetery along with hundreds of other babies.

She had been found stabbed to death in a laneway in Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin, in 1973.

It had been hoped advances in DNA and forensic science could have been used to discover the baby’s true identity and how she met her death.

But Mr McDowell refused the exhumation request from Dublin County Coroner Dr Kieran Geraghty, insisting it would involve asking a huge number of people if the grave could be opened. The minister revealed that the bodies of anywhere between 30 and 700 babies would have to have been dug up.

“Obviously, in those circumstances, especially as I’d have to seek permission from the parents in question, and because I would have been asked by the coroner to do DNA testing on all the remains that were exhumed, it would have been an enormous task,” he said.

“And secondly, it would have been one which carried with it enormous implications for a lot of people who are strangers to all of this.”

Dr Geraghty wrote to the minister last Friday seeking the exhumation in an attempt to identify the baby through DNA. He had re-opened the inquest 33 years after the baby’s death following representations from solicitors acting for Cynthia Owen who claims to be the child’s mother.

The baby was discovered on April 4, 1973, in Lee’s Lane in Dún Laoghaire and was buried unidentified.

Ms Owen came forward claiming to be her mother just over a decade ago. The woman, who is now in her 40s, has claimed the baby was one of two she gave birth to as a young teenager as a result of sexual abuse in the 1970s. She claimed she witnessed Noleen being stabbed to death.

Several months ago, gardaí dug up the back garden of a home in Dalkey after Ms Owen claimed the body of the other baby was buried there but nothing was found.

Mr McDowell said having weighed up all the relevant circumstances and technical information available, he did not believe making the order under the Coroners Act of 1962 was warranted, proportionate or justifiable.

About 50,000 infants were buried in the Little Angels plot from the 1960s on, with about 25 bodies in each grave. Most babies laid to rest there were premature, stillborn or new-borns who died hours or days after birth.

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