Call for more excavations as Tuam 'is just tip of iceberg'

The site of the Tuam Mothers and Babies Home

Eilish O'Regan and Kevin Doyle

No decision has been made yet to carry out test excavations at other 'Mother and Baby Homes' despite calls for the investigation to be extended.

Barrister Ita Mangan, director of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission, told the Irish Independent yesterday that it has yet to decide if it will order another test excavation.

It followed the archaeological probe that led to the discovery of children's remains near one of the former homes in Tuam, Co Galway.

However, Paul Redmond of the Coalition of Mother and Baby Home Survivors said he believed the Tuam discovery amounted to the "tip of the iceberg". He believes that testimony has been given to the commission that should prompt a dignified test excavation at sites around other former homes. The proposed locations include Bessboro House, Blackrock, Cork; Sean Ross Abbey, Roscrea, Co Tipperary; and Manor House, Castlepollard, Co Westmeath.

"Tuam must not be seen in isolation. It was the fifth biggest of the nine so-called Mother and Baby Homes. There are over 227 confirmed deaths in the notorious Bethany Home in Dublin. "And recent research has revealed the names of over 200 babies and children buried in the angels' plot at Castlepollard home ranging from a few hours old to over two years."

He acknowledged survivors are divided on exhumations and some believe all babies must be exhumed, identified and given proper burials.

The Bessboro home in Co Cork

"Others feel strongly that our former crib mates should be allowed to rest in peace."

Mr Redmond was born in Castlepollard home and adopted at the age of 17 months in the early 1960s.

Read more: Criminal investigation into mother and baby home 'graves' is likely

Survivors also stepped up pressure on Children's Minister Katherine Zappone to publish the long-awaited interim report of the commission, which has been on her desk since last September. A spokeswoman for the department said yesterday: "The commission submitted its second interim report in September 2016.

Report: Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

"Given the commission's wide terms of reference, a number of issues in the report extend beyond the remit of the minister. For this reason, the minister has been consulting with Cabinet colleagues with a view to publishing the report in conjunction with Government's response to its findings.

"The Government is sensitive to the expectations of former residents wanting to see the report and hopes to conclude this process as quickly as possible."

The United Nations yesterday said that the terms of reference of the investigation into Mother and Baby Homes is "too narrow". It warned that the Commission of Investigation as established may not uncover all abuses carried out in these homes, the perpetrators of which should be "prosecuted and punished".

Speaking in Castlebar, Co Mayo, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the discovery in Tuam was "truly appalling". Babies of single mothers involved had been treated like "some kind of sub-species", he said.

The practice was not a legacy of centuries ago, but one that happened in our "own time", he pointed out.

Read more: Tuam babies scandal is 'fake news', claims the Catholic League

Asked about the extension of test excavations to other homes, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said she heard differing views on the matter.

"Some people think that there should be more, others have come to terms with what has happened. There may be a variety of different options in terms of best dealing with this.

"We have to face it as a society. We have to face the pain that's involved in looking at that history," she said.

"I think there's probably a lot of questions about the lands that were used and the types of burials that took place or didn't take place, whether it was consecrated land or it wasn't."

Meanwhile, the battle for inclusion in the commission continues among the many adults who were born in nursing homes and hospitals but were illegally adopted.

They have so far been denied access to the commission despite on-going lobbying and representations.