Expert: 'Unprecedented' cost of uncovering truth about Mother and Baby Homes must be paid

Catherine Corless told TDs and senators that DNA testing of remains at the country's Mother and Baby Homes is 'crucial, and quite possible'
Expert: 'Unprecedented' cost of uncovering truth about Mother and Baby Homes must be paid

Children's toys and flowers sit at the 'Little Angels' memorial plot on the grounds of Bessborough Mother and Baby Home in House in Cork. Picture: Laura Hutton/RollingNews.ie

The costs in uncovering the truth about the Mother and Baby Home scandal will be “unprecedented” but must be paid, the expert behind the Hillsborough disaster campaign has said.

Prof Phil Scraton told a session of the Oireachtas Committee on Equality and Disability that: “You cannot put a price on justice.” 

During marathon sessions examining the pending bill about into what to do with the burial of up to 9,000 babies, Prof Scraton said: “The important issue for me here is that it will cost what it takes. 

"This was made very clear by the families. I do not think we can put a price on truth or put a price on accountability.” 

“While I acknowledge absolutely that this will be unprecedented in its cost, in its organisation and in its structure, I think it is a price that will have to be paid. There is no question in my mind about that,” he said.

Screengrab from Oireachtas TV of legal expert Phil Scraton giving evidence to the Oireachtas Children's Committee in Dublin. Picture: Oireachtas TV/PA Wire
Screengrab from Oireachtas TV of legal expert Phil Scraton giving evidence to the Oireachtas Children's Committee in Dublin. Picture: Oireachtas TV/PA Wire

The expert witnesses, as well as survivor campaigners, have expressed concern with the Industrial Burials Bill, which will allow for excavations and reinterment of remains at former mother-and-baby home institutions, particularly about a proposal to exclude coroners from the process.

Prof Scraton said that while the coronial process in Ireland currently is not fit for purpose, even in its ordinary everyday workings, the coronial investigation is crucial and central to each and every one of these identifiable deaths.

“Therefore, the process has to connect the families who are suffering this appalling loss over time and has to accommodate that in the context of a full and thorough investigation which takes me right back to the point that we started on, which is how they died,” he said.

Susan Lohan, a member of the Mother and Baby Home Collaborative Forum said the bill allows for the powers of the Coroners Act to be disapplied during the existence of an agency to oversee the excavations, exhumations, and reinterments.

“It is not clear whether the agency would be compelled to do that because coronial powers would be suspended while the agency is in existence. 

"I am afraid that the proposed Bill raises more questions than it actually answers. We are certainly not satisfied that the identification of the cause of death and who was responsible will be answered by this Bill and that is deeply worrying,” she said.

Historian and campaigner Catherine Corless at the site of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home. Picture: Ray Ryan
Historian and campaigner Catherine Corless at the site of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home. Picture: Ray Ryan

Doireann Ansbro of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties said the Government needs to “start from scratch” in terms of drafting the bill to ensure victims’ families and survivors are placed at the centre of its focus.

The Attorney General should instruct coroners to investigate the deaths at Tuam and Bessborough Mother and Baby Homes, campaigners demanded.

There has been an absolute lack of will from the Government to act on this. These were individual babies, Irish citizens, god knows what could have become of them. 

But there has been a sense that they were illegitimate so let them rest. We must do right by them,” Catherine Corless told the Committee.

Ms Corless’s research revealed that 796 babies and young children had died and been “indecently buried in a defunct sewage system” at the Tuam home between 1925 and 1961.

Ms Corless told TDs and senators that DNA testing of remains at the country's Mother and Baby Homes is “crucial, and quite possible” and called for a DNA database to be set up.

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