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The discovery of a significant quantity of human remains at a former mother and baby home in Tuam, County Galway has led to calls for the investigation to be extended to similar homes across the country.
No decision has yet been made to extend the investigation into other mother and baby homes after it was revealed that the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation had uncovered bodies ranging in age from premature babies to children three years of age in at least 17 of the 20 underground chambers, believed to be designed for sewage.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny described the discovery as “truly appalling” and stated that the mothers involved had been treated like “some kind of sub-species”.
Tuam, a home run by the Bon Secours order of nuns from 1925 to 1961 for unmarried mothers was the fifth biggest institution of its type in Ireland. An inquiry was launched in 2015 after a local historian Catherine Corless, researching the history of the home, discovered 796 infant death certificates but no burial records.
It has also been revealed that human remains were discovered by children playing on the site around the time of its demolition and building of a housing estate in the 1970s but that no investigation was launched at the time. Tests have concluded that the remains date back to the same period when the home was operational.
“Obviously the coroner and everybody involved has to see how best we can proceed with the next step in this case, and possibly others. This is not something that happened way back in the dawn of history. So we need to follow through here as quickly, as effectively and as sensibly as possible because it’s a horrendous situation for those whose siblings were treated in this fashion,” said Kenny.
“So this is another issue, one of many which we have come across in the last number of years which were left lying in the shadows of an Ireland that we hoped was gone.”
The Coalition of Mother and Baby Home Survivors have stated that they believe there are likely to be findings of similar scale across the nine former homes for unmarried mothers.
However, the Government has yet to state whether a full excavation will take place at the former grounds in Tuam. Understandably, survivors are split over whether the graves should be disturbed now that they have been identified. An Garda Síochána are liaising with the commission and are expected to launch an investigation.
The discovery has increased pressure on Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone to release the latest interim report from the commission compiled in September 2016. However, she has said that there are a number of issues in the report that extend beyond her remit and is working with Cabinet colleagues with the aim of publishing the report in conjunction with the Government’s response to its findings.
Following the discovery, the Catholic Archbishop of Tuam said he was “horrified and saddened”. He said that while not directly involved, the Archdiocese of Tuam had cooperated fully with the commission and handed over any records deemed relevant. He added that he would seek a proper burial for the remains that had been discovered.
As well as the discovery at Tuam, the commission is also investigating conditions at 17 other residential institutions across the State but is not expected to complete its work until late 2018.