Site at former Tuam mother and baby home to be forensically excavated

People gathered to protest at the site of the former Tuam home for unmarried mothers in County Galway, where a mass grave of around 800 babies has recently been uncovered, at the same time as Pope Francis held a mass in Dublin.
People gathered to protest at the site of the former Tuam home for unmarried mothers in County Galway, where a mass grave of around 800 babies has recently been uncovered, at the same time as Pope Francis held a mass in Dublin.

The site of the former mother at baby home in Tuam, Co Galway is to be forensically investigated to recover the remains of children buried at the site.

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr Katherine Zappone, has confirmed the Government’s approval of her recommendation for the forensic excavation of the available site.

Where possible, the remains of the children will be identified and reburied, with plans for memorialisation and the appropriate conservation of the site.

The Irish 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 interred at this 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, and

arrangements for respectful reburial and memorialisation and the appropriate conservation of the site.

The Government’s decision was informed by the detailed technical advices on international best practice, and most importantly, out of compassion and respect for the rights and dignity for the children believed to be interred on this site.

Announcing the decision the Minister said, “I understand that this is a hugely important decision for all connected to the site in Tuam, most especially those who believe they may have a loved one buried there and those now living close to the site.

“I am committed to ensuring that all the children interred at this site can have a dignified and respectful burial. While we must not underestimate the legal and technical challenges ahead, this comprehensive and scientific approach provides us with the best opportunity to address the many deeply personal questions to which former residents and their families need answers. I am also mindful of minimising the level of disruption for those who live in the vicinity of the site.

“Such a task has never been undertaken or contemplated previously. It has taken us more time than first anticipated to examine the unprecedented technical and legal issues which arise in seeking to appropriately respond to the tragic discovery of comingled juvenile remains at this site.

“It is only by taking the right actions now can we truly demonstrate our compassion and commitment to work towards justice, truth and healing for what happened in our past and, most especially, for those who were previously abandoned.”

Minister Zappone acknowledged that implementing this decision will not be straightforward. She confirmed that new legislation will be needed to provide specific lawful authority for the proposed course of action and announced the establishment of a small cross-departmental team to advance this priority task. The wider Inter-Departmental Group on Tuam, led by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, will continue to provide an oversight role for the whole of Government in terms of strategy and overall approach for the project.

The Minister also published a report by Dr Geoffrey Shannon entitled Human Rights issues at the former site of the Mother and Baby Home, Tuam, Co. Galway, which examines the extent to which there may be a positive duty to take reasonable and proportionate actions to assist relatives and former residents.

The Minister wants the excavation and recovery works to initially focus on the remains known to be within the series of chambers identified by the Commission of Investigation. Further testing can then allow for the informed and phased extension of the investigation across the available site as necessary. This does not include the areas where houses and gardens have been built and developed on this site.

The Expert Technical Group has already identified eight separate areas warranting further examination. This work will be supplemented by further investigations to determine the extent of potential human remains across the site. Every reasonable effort will be made to locate and recover all juvenile remains from the site.

The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes is continuing its work. The facts which it establishes will further assist the work on the site in Tuam.