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Friday 28 April 2017

Tuam Mother and Baby Home: Everything you need to know about the discovery of human remains

The site of a mass grave for children who died in the Tuam mother and baby home
The site of a mass grave for children who died in the Tuam mother and baby home
Catherine Devine

Catherine Devine

Significant quantities of human remains have been discovered at a Galway site excavated by the Mother and Baby Homes Commission. This follows work by the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation which carried out planned excavations there.

What is the Commission?

The Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation is currently probing how unmarried mothers and their babies were treated between 1922 and 1998 at 18 State-linked religious institutions.

It was established by the last government on February 17, 2015 and is chaired by Judge Yvonne Murphy.

The Commission was set up to establish the circumstances and arrangements for the entry of single women into mother and baby homes and to establish the living conditions they experienced there.

It has also been asked to examine mortality amongst mothers and children residing in these institutions and to compare it to the records on mortality amongst other relevant groups of women and children.

Memorial: site of the mass grave in Tuam – there are many other burial grounds in Ireland. Photo: Niall Carson.
Memorial: site of the mass grave in Tuam – there are many other burial grounds in Ireland. Photo: Niall Carson.

Deaths

A small number of the remains discovered in Tuam were recovered for the purpose of analysis.

“These remains involved a number of individuals with age-at-death ranges from approximately 35 foetal weeks to 2-3 years,” said the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation.

“Radiocarbon dating of the samples recovered suggest that the remains date from the time-frame relevant to the operation of the Mother and Baby Home. The homes ran from 1925 to 1961."

Burial of remains

A stratigraphic survey of the site which was conducted in October 2015 identified a particular area of interest and identified a number of sub surface anomalies that were considered worthy of further investigation.

These were further investigated by a test excavation in November/December 2016 and in January/February 2017.

Test trenches were dug revealing two large structures. One structure appears to be a large sewage containment system or septic tank that had been decommissioned and filled with rubble and debris and then covered with top soil.

The second structure is a long structure which is divided into 20 chambers.

The Commission has not yet determined what the purpose of this structure was but it appears to be related to the treatment/containment of sewage and/or waste water. The Commission has also not yet determined if it was ever used for this purpose.

Survivors

A confidential committee, which meets survivor groups and those who worked in the homes, was set up to shape the Commission’s work.

Over 6,000 adoptions were recorded as having taken place in six mother and baby homes between 1950 and 1973.

The children went to a range of destinations including the US, Britain and Germany, as well as to homes across Ireland.

A caller named Thomas told RTÉ's Liveline that he was in the Tuam Mother and Baby Home.

"I was in The Mother and Baby Home June 3 1942. I was there until I was 5-years-old and I was fostered. I met my mother some years later after a long search. She kept her life in the home hidden from me. My understanding is that they had to work there until the baby was adopted or fostered. When you become six or seven you were sent elsewhere.

"Babies might be buried there that never came on the record."

Relatives

It has emerged that the relatives of children who died at the home were not informed that remains had been recovered.

A woman whose brother died in the home says the only official confirmation that remains were found came through the media today.

Anna Corrigan told The Irish Examiner she lost one brother in Tuam, and believes another was given for adoption in America.

Ms Corrigan said: "There was tweets up on social media that human remains had been found, the digger is in, photographs of the digger.

"I had to send these to judge Murphy and say 'is this the correct way to actually inform family members of what's happened with their family?'"

Government reaction

Responding to the development, Children's Minister Katherine Zappone said it was "very sad and disturbing news".

"It was not unexpected as there were claims about human remains on the site over the last number of years.

"Up to now we had rumours. Now we have confirmation that the remains are there, and that they date back to the time of the Mother and Baby Home, which operated in Tuam from 1925 to 1961," she said.

The Minister said that everybody involved must respond sensitively and respectfully to the situation.

What's next?

Minister Zappone's Department have brought together all of the key Departments and agencies to set out a way forward.

This will include the following:

 -    The Commission will continue its work under its terms of reference, including such matters as post mortem practices and procedures, reporting and burial arrangements for residents of Mother and Baby Homes.

 -    The Coroner for North Galway will take the steps he deems necessary under his independent statutory functions

 -    Galway County Council will engage with the Commission in relation to the immediate next steps on the site.

 -    Galway County Council will engage with local residents and other interested parties on what should happen next in relation to the remains.

 -    There will be an information line for factual information, and a service for those who feel personally affected by the news.

 Ms Zappone said:“Today is about remembering and respecting the dignity of the children who lived their short lives in this Home.

 "We will honour their memory and make sure that we take the right actions now to treat their remains appropriately.”

*Information and Counselling Services

There is dedicated telephone Information line being made available for people seeking further information over the coming days.  Those seeking factual information may contact the Information Line @ Telephone 01-6473118 / 01-6473232 during Monday to Friday 9.30am to 5pm and Saturday and Sunday from 12pm to 5pm.

Anyone affected can also directly contact the HSE information line on 1850-241-850.

Those seeking adoption information and tracing information may wish to visit the following sites:

Tusla (the Child and Family Agency) - www.tusla.ie or

The Adoption Authority of Ireland - www.aai.gov.ie.

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