The exhumation of the remains of babies buried at the former Tuam Mother and Baby home will not commence until next winter at the earliest, it was confirmed this week by Minister for Children Katherine Zappone.
On Tuesday, Minister Zappone confirmed that the Cabinet has approved the publication of the general scheme of a Bill that will provide the legal basis for a phased forensic excavation, exhumation and re-interment of remains at the site.
The process will cost between €6 and €13 million, towards which the Bon Secours order has pledged €2.5 million. But yesterday (Wednesday ), Minister Zappone said that she hoped that this contribution would be increased because of the order’s “ethical responsibility” to do so.
The Certain Institutional Burials Bill will allow for forensic analysis of any recovered remains and provides for samples to be taken from the remains as well as from relatives of the deceased for the purpose of identification. An agency will be established to manage interventions at the site. Under the Bill, the Government could also authorise similar interventions at other sites.
Following on from the sterling work of Tuam historian Catherine Corless, who gathered death certificates for 796 infants linked to the home, a Commission of Investigation into mother-and-baby homes found “significant quantities” of human remains on the site.
On Tuesday, Ms Corless welcomed the announcement of the Bill, but said that the delay of one year was disappointing, given the advanced age of many of the survivors and relatives of those who are believed to have died in the home.
Minister Zappone said it was difficult to say exactly when the excavation works would begin but signalled it could be towards the end of next year.
“It is very hard to estimate how long that is, but I established a separate unit within my department with a couple of people dedicated solely to this work a number of months ago and I hope that that demonstrates our sense of urgency,” she said.
“I very much accept the fact that there is a sense of urgency from the families. The general scheme is highly technical because of the issues involved, particularly in relation to the identification of the children, and it does take time to work through the privacy and data protection implications too, and I’m very grateful for the forbearance again of the family members who have waited so long.”
Ms Zappone said she believed it was vital that the State “takes responsibility for past failings” and the legislation would offer a means to do this.
“It will allow us to afford those children the dignity and respect in death that they are owed, and I hope that it will give some peace to their families,” she added.
Minister for the Diaspora and International Development Ciaran Cannon has said that while the drafting of the laws has been a complex process, the Bill marks an important stage in the work to give those buried at the site the dignity they deserve.
“This has been a long and difficult journey for the survivors of the Tuam Mother and Baby home and I therefore welcome the news that Minister Zappone has published the General Scheme of the Certain Institutional Burials (Authorised Interventions ) Bill 2019”.
“I understand that the drafting of the laws has been a complex process, but the publication of this Bill marks an important stage in the work to give those who are buried at the site the dignity they deserve”.
“This will create the legal basis for the course of action that the Government decided should take place at the site of the former Mother and Baby Home and I am also pleased to note that the Government has approved the arrangements necessary to facilitate the transfer of the €2.5m offered by the Sisters of Bon Secours Ireland towards the cost of implementing this course of action”.
“There are a number of noteworthy provisions in the Bill and among those is the fact that the legislation could be used for other sites if the Government deemed it necessary in specific circumstances.
“Our thoughts should be at all times for the families of those children who are interred at Tuam and I hope that the publication of this Bill will bring them some comfort and further reassurance,” he added.