Sunday 18 November 2018

Taoiseach opens door to compensation payment for Joanne Hayes over 'Kerry Babies' treatment

‘Baby John’ was just five days old when his body was found with multiple stab wounds on White Strand in Caherciveen on April 14, 1984. Gardaí have apologised to Joanne Hayes (inset) for the stress the investigation caused
‘Baby John’ was just five days old when his body was found with multiple stab wounds on White Strand in Caherciveen on April 14, 1984. Gardaí have apologised to Joanne Hayes (inset) for the stress the investigation caused
Stock photo

Kevin Doyle and John Mulligan

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has opened the door to a compensation pay out for the woman at the centre of the Kerry Babies controversy.

Speaking in Strasbourg, Mr Varadkar said Joanne Hayes “evidently is a woman who was very badly treated by our State and our society in a way that so many other women have in the past”.

The Taoiseach said that while he was aware of the case, he wasn’t fully conscious of the details until recent developments.

“It’s been eye opening for me to learn about that in the last couple of days. It reflects the extent to which Ireland was such a different place in the 1980s to what it is now,” he said.

“I absolutely want to reiterated the apology that Gardaí have made to Joanne Hayes. And also to make that apology on behalf of the State.”

Asked whether Ms Hayes should be compensation for her ordeal, he replied: “I can’t offer compensation here and now but I think it’s something we can discuss with her representatives in the period ahead.“

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has urged the Government to quickly pay compensation.

Mr Martin told the Dáil this should happen without any further legal or other process. He warned against the State taking “a defensive attitude” when its agencies had clearly wronged Ms Hayes and her family.

 “The State should take the lead and do the right thing and the fair thing,” Mr Martin said.

The Fianna Fáil leader cited the Kerry poet, Brendan Kennelly, who had said the case in 1984/1985, and the subsequent tribunal, could be compared to a “medieval witch hunt with a victim burning at the stake and a crowd dancing around the fire.” 

He said the state papers had later shown that the Garda Commissioner of the time, Lawrence Wren, had felt the police had been “grossly negligent.”

“Notwithstanding the culture, the era, and the mores of the time, there are still great lessons to be learnt,” Mr Martin added.

Replying for the Government, Tánaiste Simon Coveney, pointed to the garda apology, and the apology issued by the Taoiseach.  He added his own apologies and those of the Dáil to Ms Hayes and her family.

Mr Coveney said he was starting secondary school when the events occurred and many people hoped they were part of a very different Ireland. He noted the policing errors and the errors in the tribunal handling of the subsequent investigation.

Addressing the question of potential compensation Mr Coveney said: “We will certainly try to deal with these issues in a sensitive a way as possible.”

The Tánaiste said he was not empowered to comment on potential payments to Ms Hayes or her family. But he did not believe there was a danger of creating a precedent for other cases by such payments.

“I don’t think that trying to deal with this case in a fair way sets a precedent,” Mr Coveney remarked.

Meanwhile, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said that Ms Hayes “was subject to a prolonged ordeal that was simply wrong on every level”.

He welcomed the announcement by Gardaí of a new investigation into the murder of Baby John in 1984.

The baby was found on a Kerry beach with 28 stab wounds. Ms Hayes was initially charged in connection with the find but DNA tests have conclusively ruled out the possibility that she is the mother.

“I want to particularly welcome the apology made personally to Ms. Joanne Hayes by Commissioner Donall Ó Cualáin on behalf of An Garda Síochána which was put on the public record by Gardaí yesterday,” Mr Flanagan said.

He said the treatment of the Hayes family was “unacceptable” , adding “on behalf of the State, I am deeply sorry that this happened. I note that Ms. Hayes’s solicitor has indicated her wish for privacy and I hope this will be respected by all.”

The Minister concluded: “An Garda Síochána is conducting a fresh investigation and I am hopeful they will succeed in establishing the facts of this tragic case.  This review team has had some success investigating historic cases and I note the sensitivity with which they have approached the appeal for new information. I note also that this development has been made possible following painstaking expert work by Forensic Science Ireland.”  

Online Editors

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