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Joanne Hayes wants to ‘live in peace’ after apology and settlement brings end to 35-year Kerry Babies ‘travesty’



Joanne Hayes, who was wrongfully accused of murdering her own baby, expressed relief that the "suffering and stress" of the ordeal was finally over

Joanne Hayes, who was wrongfully accused of murdering her own baby, expressed relief that the "suffering and stress" of the ordeal was finally over

Joanne Hayes, who was wrongfully accused of murdering her own baby, expressed relief that the "suffering and stress" of the ordeal was finally over

After 35 years of hurt and trauma, the travesty inflicted on Joanne Hayes and her family was finally brought to an end.

The apology over the Kerry Babies affair took less than a minute to read – and Ms Hayes was not present in the High Court to hear it, wishing to preserve her privacy.

But in a statement issued afterwards, the woman who was wrongfully accused of murdering her own baby expressed relief that the “suffering and stress of this ordeal” was finally behind her and her family.

She also asked that their privacy be respected so they could “return to our lives within our local community in peace”.

The State apology, reiterating ones made by then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and then acting Garda Commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin in 2018, formed part of a €2.5m settlement with Ms Hayes and members of her family.

Conleth Bradley SC, for the State, said it wished to express its “deep and sincere regret” over “the hurt and stress” caused to the entire Hayes family.

Actions by Ms Hayes and members of her family against the Garda Commissioner, the Minister for Justice, Ireland and the Attorney General have been struck out following the settlement.

The ordeal endured by Ms Hayes, her sister Kathleen and brothers Michael and Edmund began following their arrest in May 1984 after the discovery of a newborn baby on a beach in Cahersiveen, some 80km from Ms Hayes’ home in Abbeydorney, Co Kerry.

The infant had died from severe skull and spinal injuries. He had also been stabbed multiple times.

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The parents of that child, called baby John, have never been identified, nor has his killer.

Ms Hayes, who was known to have been pregnant, was arrested and accused by gardaí of being the mother of baby John and murdering him, while her family were accused of concealing the birth of a child.

Following their arrest they claimed they were forced into making false confessions admitting the killing of baby John, which they later withdrew.

The charges, which they were all innocent of, were dropped in October 1984.

Ms Hayes had given birth to a baby boy, named Shane, on April 13, 1984 on the family farm, but that child died of natural causes and was buried on the property, the court heard.

The Hayes family claimed that had a proper investigation taken place they would have been eliminated as persons of interest.

The court made a declaration that their questioning, arrest, charge and prosecution on dates between April and October 1984 were unfounded and in breach of their constitutional rights.

Their ordeal was exacerbated by a subsequent tribunal of inquiry the following year.

As part of the settlement the family also secured declarations that all findings of wrongdoing made against them by the tribunal were unfounded and incorrect.

The State consented to the declarations, which are to be attached to the tribunal report in the Oireachtas Library.

The findings were widely seen as a whitewash, which compounded the injustice felt by the Hayes family.

Although the Garda investigation was found to have been “slipshod” and searches of the Hayes family farm were described as “deplorably inadequate”, gardaí were exonerated of allegations of assaulting and coercing members of the Hayes family.

The tribunal chairman, Mr Justice Kevin Lynch, found Ms Hayes killed her child by choking it to stop it crying, despite the fact State Pathologist Dr John Harbison was unable to determine the cause of the baby’s death.

Yesterday Liam Reidy SC, for the family, told Ms Justice Leonie Reynolds the making of declarations would vindicate their good names after three decades in which they have had to live with the aftermath of an unfounded investigation and prosecution and many unfounded findings made by the tribunal.

A separate damages claim by Ms Hayes’s daughter Yvonne McGuckin was also settled, and struck out. No details of any of the settlements were revealed in open court.

A clearly moved Ms Justice Reynolds welcomed the resolution of the actions, describing what happened to the family as “a travesty”.

She said the settlement has brought a close to a dark chapter in Irish history, and expressed her hope that the end of the proceedings will bring some closure for the family.

In her statement, Ms Hayes thanked all those who had supported the family over the last 35 years, and her legal team.

Mr Reidy said the arrest, interrogation, detention and charging of Ms Hayes and members of her family was improper.

A blood test in May 1984 made it clear that she was not the mother of baby John.

During the investigation she said she was accused by the gardaí of having given birth to twins.

Ms Hayes believed that claim was used for malicious purposes and as part of their continued prosecution before the State established the Kerry Babies Tribunal.

Mr Reidy, appearing with Padraig McCartan SC and instructed by solicitor Pat Mann, said the tribunal had gone off course from what it was set up to do.

He said it was established to find out why Ms Hayes and other members of her family had given statements to the gardaí at Tralee Garda Station, in separate rooms, admitting to a murder which was not scientifically possible.

Mr Reidy said that the manner in which the “organs of the State” had treated the then 24-year-old Ms Hayes amounted to “torture” as well as an intrusion into her privacy.

The tribunal had made many incorrect findings, including that Ms Hayes had assaulted her newborn son with a bath brush and had choked him to death.

That particular finding was completely unsubstantiated – and was made despite the fact that the former State Pathologist Dr John Harbison, who performed an autopsy, was unable to determine the cause of baby Shane’s death, Mr Reidy said.

The tribunal also wrongly found that the Hayes family lied to the tribunal, that they were involved in an attempted cover-up regarding Shane’s death and had lied to and made false allegations against the gardaí.

During the tribunal the family said gardaí took false and unjustifiable positions by stating that none of the Hayes family was stressed or upset during their interrogations, and that the questioning was unrelated to baby John but rather Ms Hayes’ own pregnancy.

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