The discovery of the remains of almost 800 children on the site of the former Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, over a five decade period must herald the beginning of an “honest appraisal” of what went on at all the other homes throughout the country, a local TD insisted this week.
Deputy Catherine Connolly said equally, the role that both the State and church played in the “incarceration of women and their babies” must also come under the spotlight.
“In this regard, the official reaction to Catherine Corless’ research almost two years ago does not give us much hope that we as a society and more particularly the Bon Secours Sisters have reached the point where we can both face the truth and learn from it,” stated the Galway West Independent TD.
She described the reaction of the Bon Secours Order as “simply appalling”. “Indeed, when Catherine Corless first spoke publicly of her research, the PR consultant for the Bon Secours Sisters went so far as to tell us ‘when you come here, you’ll find no mass grave, no evidence that children were ever so buried, and a local police force casting their eyes to heaven and saying ‘Yeah, a few bones were found – but this was an area where famine victims were buried. So?’
“Moreover it has taken a Commission of Inquiry, which at this point has sat for two years, and during that time has only published one interim report, to confirm what was already known: that the remains of at least 796 infants were there on the site of the former Mother and Baby home in Tuam.”
She claimed that a substantial amount of this information and of the treatment meted out to the mothers and babies, would have already been made known to the Commission of Inquiry into Child Abuse which published its report in 2009 and which became known as the Ryan Report.
“Yet, the official response continues to be one of shock or denial rather than addressing the lifelong consequences for the surviving women and children and their relatives and the State’s complicity and involvement in the Mother and Baby homes from the beginning. The Taoiseach’s response in the Dáil on Tuesday was both disingenuous and misleading in its failure to openly acknowledge what the Bon Secours sisters had done and equally the role of the State. He also said the physical excavation had been completed which has not been confirmed by the Commission. Moreover, he utterly failed to confirm that the long-overdue interim report would be published immediately.”
She outlined that in relation to the State’s role, regular payments were made to the Mother and Baby Home in Tuam and others throughout the country. She claimed the State was also complicit in the provision of passports and death certificates in circumstances which were shrouded in secrecy and deception. “In addition, there are serious questions in relation to clinical and vaccine trials which have never been addressed,” she alleged.
Deputy Connolly pointed out that representative organisations estimate that there are at least 6,000 babies buried at various unmarked sites around the country.
“Indeed in relation to Galway there is a suggestion that five women who were resident in the Tuam Mother and Baby Home are missing and that their remains may also be among those found at the site. That the figures remain an estimate is confirmation of the secrecy and deception that was involved and is utterly shocking.”
What is clearly needed now, said Deputy Connolly, is that the site in Tuam is “immediately and carefully sealed off” and protected forensically like any crime scene where human remains are found. “There must be an extension of time to allow other survivors and other affected people to come forward and make submissions to the current Commission of Inquiry.
“In addition, it is absolutely essential to immediately publish the second Interim Report from the Commission of Inquiry so as to ensure that the public and the survivors of the home and their relatives have confidence and trust in the process. In response to a Dáil question put by me Minister Zappone confirmed that she has this report since mid-September 2016 and has still not published it. Serious questions have to be asked therefore as to why it is has not been published. What is in the report? What else is being concealed? Who is being consulted?”
Moreover, said Deputy Connolly, while recognising that the Minister’s concern is to respect ‘the dignity and the memory of the children who died in the Tuam Mother and Baby Home’, this can only be achieved by identifying each of the children involved and indeed it must be ensured that all children who died in Tuam are identified and that their family members are notified of their whereabouts and the circumstances of their deaths.
Cllr Mary Hoade, a Fianna Fail councillor for the Tuam electoral area, said in the wake of the Tuam mother and baby revelations it was important that people engaged with the Mother and Baby Home Commission of Investigation.
The former county mayor and member of the HSE West’s regional health forum, attended the private meeting the county council held in Tuam on Friday last with elected representatives, local residents and a number of county council staff. She also visited the site of the former home in the town.
A very dark day
“It was a very dark day, a very, very difficult time for all involved and a very sensitive time for anybody with personal connections with the site,” she told this newspaper. “People were emotional, it is a particularly difficult time for those living adjacent to the site and for those with family remains discovered at the site.
“It was very harrowing speaking to people and your heart goes out to them, especially when you are a mother yourself.
“It is important to facilitate and support the consultation process with the local community about the future of the site. The timeline for all of this will be influenced by the work of the commission, the coroner, the co council and possibly the gardai will have a role.”
“What is needed now is for the commission to be given space to do the work it has to do and it is particularly important for people to engage with them, some might be afraid and some are older people. The timeframe for the completion of the commission’s work is February 2018. You would hope that this would give some sense of closure to a lot of people.”
Mary Tierney, a local community activist and member of the patient rights group Patient Focus, said she was “shocked” and “horrified” by the Tuam revelations.
Ms Tierney, who lives in Castlegar and was speaking in a personal capacity, said she was particularly upset because she and her husband Sean and their family had acted as a host family for single pregnant women in the 1970s and 1980s when they lived in Shannon and Galway. This arrangement came into being after the mother and baby homes closed. The Tierneys were approached by a priest in the city who asked would they get involved with the Catholic Church initiative whereby families would accommodate young women who wanted to keep their pregnancies a secret. The women would stay with these families in different parts of the country, usually a long distance from their own homes, until their babies were born. Most of the women who stayed with the Tierneys gave their babies up for adoption.
“I was particularly upset by the recent revelations because we had been a host family for young unmarried pregnant women for 10 to 12 years and we knew, as a family, what they went through. I find the whole revelations and the denial, by a certain element in the church and society, heartbreaking.”
Failed by the Church and State
She outlined that the deceased mothers and babies of the Tuam home had been failed by the church and the State and both bodies now needed to be there for the people most affected by this situation. Everybody involved must also acknowledge that wrong was done for any healing to take place.
“Some families are looking for the reinterment of the remains in consecrated ground and the lead should be taken from those involved. It is imperative that the church and the State listen to all the people concerned.”
Lessons must be learned from the terrible events that came to light last week, according to Ms Tierney. “This happened in a time when we tried to hide our mistakes. We must help those living with this heartbreak now and we must respect their wishes and requests. It is time to give the living some closure. We must honour the memories of those who are gone and try to help those grieving and searching for answers.”
Meanwhile in a statement Galway County Council outlined that in the wake of the discovery of the human remains in Tuam it immediately sought to engage with and support local residents.
“Galway County Council commenced this process on Friday morning. All households living in the immediate vicinity were engaged with on a one-to-one basis, where possible, and a leaflet drop in the extended area, covered approximately 120 homes.
“The Council afforded the residents the opportunity to meet and to be briefed by the Council, on the announcement by the Commission, by means of a closed meeting held at 12.30pm at the Town Hall, Tuam. Following the conclusion of the meeting, a further leaflet drop was conducted during the afternoon/evening, providing each household, with a copy of the announcement by the Commission, the statement issued by the Council and the advisory note containing details of the information and support services available.”
Visits by social workers
The statement stated that a number of Council staff, including social workers, visited households in the vicinity of the site on Friday. Further follow-up home visits were undertaken on Monday. It added that the council was committed to continuing to support and engage with residents and the local community.
“The Council has reviewed all relevant files connected with the development of houses and a playground, in the vicinity of the site, and there is no record to indicate the discovery of human remains during the construction of the houses in the 1970s or the subsequent development of a playground. The relevant files and records have been made available to the Commission.
“The Council is conscious that time is required to allow families, the local community and all with a personal connection to the site, to deal with the understandable emotion associated with the confirmation of the discovery of human remains, by the Commission.
“The Council, recognising that there are varying views, is committed to facilitating an appropriate consultation process with the local community, about the future of the site. The timeline for the consultation process will, of necessity, be influenced by the continuing work of the Commission, the statutory role of the coroner and the potential for involvement by other authorities.”
The local authority said it recognises that the confirmation, provided by the Commission was, and will continue to be, the cause of upset, being particularly difficult for all with a personal connection to the site.
“The Council will continue to approach the issue with sensitivity and compassion while continuing to support the work of the Commission and all relevant parties.”