The excavation of hundreds of infant remains in Tuam will begin in late 2019, the Taoiseach has confirmed.
Leo Varadkar says nobody is “entirely sure what we’re getting into”, but the Government is adamant that it is “the right thing to do” and will press ahead with legislation to allow the work to begin.
The Government has agreed to measures contained in a report on Tuam published by Geoffrey Shannon, including the forensic excavation and recovery of bodies, after “significant quantities of human remains” were discovered at the site of the former mother and baby home in Co Galway in March 2017.
Speaking to reporters in Government Buildings, Mr Varadkar said a bill to allow for the phased excavation and forensic analysis of any recovered remains will be brought before the Dáil and Seanad soon.
Arrangements for respectful reburial, memorialisation, and the appropriate conservation of the site will then be made.
Mr Varadkar said: “We anticipate that there’ll be excavations in Tuam in the latter half of 2019, because we have to pass legislation in the Oireachtas giving us, the Government, the power to do the excavations. Because, for lots of reasons, we don’t have the power to do that. So, we’ll have to pass that legislation in the new year, and we’d envisage carrying out the first excavations in the second half of 2019.
“In the meantime, though, we can start appointing the experts and the ground team who’ll be doing the actual work.
“We’ve never really done this before in Ireland, on this scale, so we’ve a lot to set up, [and] a lot to learn before we do it.”
The Tuam mother and baby home operated from 1925 to 1961 and was run by the Bon Secours Sisters.
Official records show that 798 infants and children died at the home and it is believed many were buried there.
Mr Varadkar said: “We’re not entirely sure what we’re getting into, but, as a Government, we’re convinced this is the right thing to do, to remove the remains and to give those children a proper, decent burial they didn’t get.”
The Coalition of Mother and Baby Home Survivors estimates that 35,000 women and girls went through nine mother and baby homes between 1904 and 1996.