Sunday 20 October 2019

Government sought more funds from Bon Secours for Tuam excavation

The site of the mass grave at the Tuam mother and baby home. Picture: PA
The site of the mass grave at the Tuam mother and baby home. Picture: PA

Cormac McQuinn Political Correspondent

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the government has sought a higher contribution to the costs of excavating the remains of children buried at Tuam but €2.5m was what was forthcoming from the Bons Secours religious order.

Minister Katherine Zappone's Department of Children has estimated that the cost of exhuming the hundreds of remains from the sewage system near the former Bon Secours mother and baby home is between €6m and €13m.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald claimed in the Dáil that the sum offered by the Bon Secours sisters is "entirely inadequate".

Ms McDonald raised the issue at Leaders' Questions where she said what happened at Tuam is a "cause of national shame".

She commended the government for taking the decision to exhume the remains for possible identification and respectful burial.

She asked about the time-frame for legislation needed to proceed with the plan and suggested the Bon Secours order of nuns should pay "significantly more" arguing that it "bears at least an equal responsibility with the State in this scandal".

She called on the government to seek a greater contribution adding: " It strikes me that 50pc at least of the costs incurred would rightly fall to them."

Ms McDonald also said she hopes other former mother and baby homes will be investigated in a similar manner.

Mr Varadkar said a Commission of Investigation is currently investigating mother and baby homes elsewhere.

He said the excavation of a mass grave has never been done in Ireland and that legislation- expected in the first quarter of next year -  is needed as a result.

Mr Varadkar said the government had sought a higher contribution from the Bon Secours but added "this is what is forthcoming".

He said the religious order "are not under any obligation to make a contribution" but have offered €2.5m.

He added: "I want to make it very clear to everyone in the house that this is not a settlement. This is not an indemnity – it’s an initial contribution to the cost of carrying out these works."

Mr Varadkar said the rest will come from the taxpayer.

He said the excavation at Tuam will be "a very difficult operation" and "slow and painstaking".

He said there's likely to be remains of children and adults there dating back as far as the Famine.

"Unfortunately it will not be possible to identify all of the remains. It will not be possible to individualise them all but we’re going to do our best and what can be learned along the way will inform us as to what we do with regards to other sites."

"I think we’re doing the right thing but I do also want to contain expectations. This is going to take time. We haven’t done this before in Ireland...

"We’ll do our utmost to carry out a forensic examination... identification in many and perhaps even most cases won't yield a result or answers". 

Earlier Mr Varadkar said that at one point 10pc of Ireland's population lived in institutions whether it was mother and baby homes, psychiatric homes, or laundries and this was quite common in Northern Europe at the time.

He said: "many terrible things may have happened there and I know for some people they may take the view that we should just treat that as something in the past and not dredge up old issues.

"We have decided that’s not the right approach. We need to understand our past, know what happened, come to terms with it and try to put things right. This is a step in that direction."

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