Tuam: Every infant will be exhumed

The remains of hundreds of infants buried in a mass grave in Tuam will be exhumed as part of a “full forensic examination” of the site of the former mother and baby home.

Tuam: Every infant will be exhumed

By Conall Ó Fátharta and Elaine Loughlin

The remains of hundreds of infants buried in a mass grave in Tuam will be exhumed as part of a “full forensic examination” of the site of the former mother and baby home.

Campaigners had been waiting almost 20 months for a decision after “significant quantities of human remains” were discovered at the site in March 2017 and were becoming increasingly angry at the delay.

Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone said the Government has agreed to implement the multi-disciplinary framework, known as “humanitarian forensic action” as the appropriate response to the discovery of children’s remains found at the site.

The actions to be taken include:

  • A phased approach to the forensic excavation and recovery of the juvenile human remains in so far as this is possible
  • The use of systematic on-site ground-truthing and test excavations to effectively locate potential burials
  • The forensic analysis of any recovered remains and, where possible, individualisation and identification
  • Arrangements for respectful reburial and memorialisation and the appropriate conservation of the site

Ms Zappone said implementing the decision would not be straightforward and that new legislation will be needed to provide specific lawful authority for the plan.

She declined to give a timeline for the legislation but acknowledged that, if it needed to be more generally applied to take into account remains found at other sites, that that would be done.

She said it was important to note “there is a possibility” of investigations like those at Tuam taking place at other sites.

Death registers for the Bessborough and Sean Ross Abbey mother and baby homes contain the full details of some 800 infants who died at these homes. The registers were handed over the HSE in 2011 but are now with Tusla. The actual number of children who died at these homes has been estimated to be higher than what is recorded in the registers.

Pressure had been mounting on the Government in recent months to commit to the fullest possible exhumation and examination.

A report by Geoffrey Shannon also published by Ms Zappone yesterday on the human rights issues implications of the discovery of remains at the site also indicated that the Government had little option but to go with the fullest examination of the site.

Dr Shannon found that the State may be party to the “continuing offence” of preventing a lawful and decent burial unless it fully exhumes, sorts and buries all of the infant remains found in Tuam.

Outlining a number of precedents, Dr Shannon said the operators of the Tuam mother and baby home, the Bons Secours Sisters, may have been under a common law duty to bury those who died under their roof and that this incorporates a duty to bury decently, and with dignity, in a Christian burial.

Catherine Corless welcomed the decision as “wonderful” news and said she was “relieved” the Government had taken the decision to carry out a full forensic examination of the site.

Catherine Corless
Catherine Corless

Paul Redmond of the Coalition of Mother and Baby home Survivors said the group was are “delighted” for the families of babies and children buried in Tuam but said the Government needed to address the issue of other sites in other institutions.

Tuam is the tip of the iceberg of horrors from the mother and baby homes in Ireland,” said Mr Redmond.

Adoption Rights Alliance welcomed the decision by the Government and said it “will put family members desperate to find their loved ones and survivors of the former home at the centre of the process”.

The group also praised Dr Shannon’s report which it said reaffirmed “the rights of family members, survivors, victims of forced and illegal adoptions, victims of trafficking and illegal vaccine trials not just in Tuam but across the entire spectrum of government financed institutions that proliferated the vile treatment of unmarried mothers and their children”.

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