Wednesday 18 September 2019

Cormac McQuinn: 'Time running out for people to speak up on horror in homes'

  

(Stock photo)
(Stock photo)
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

One member of the religious order which ran Bessborough Mother and Baby Home was there for most of a 50-year period from 1948.

She told the Commission of Investigation probing such institutions around the country she "did not remember any child deaths during her time there".

The commission's latest report said 31 children died in Bessborough between 1950 and 1960 "so it is rather surprising that she does not remember any deaths".

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Members of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary who provided affidavits or oral evidence to the commission were able to provide "remarkably little evidence about burial arrangements".

We are now at the extraordinary point that, four years into the investigation, it is still not known where the majority of the more than 900 children who died while at the home are buried. Given many of the deaths occurred in the 1940s, and people who may have information on what happened at Bessborough are getting increasingly elderly, time is getting short for them to divulge what they know.

The situation is slightly different in relation to the Tuam Mother and Baby Home, where it is known where many of the more than 800 children who died there are buried.

The commission is seeking more information on the circumstances of the burials, which did not amount to a dignified interment of human remains to say the least.

It expresses "surprise" at the lack of knowledge about the burials on the part of the Sisters of Bon Secours, which ran the home, and Galway County Council, which owned it. The report also says there must be people in Tuam who have information and have not yet come forward. The deaths in Tuam happened between 1925 and 1961 so time is not on the side of investigators trying to find out what happened there either.

The religious congregations which ran Bessborough and Tuam both insist they have co-operated fully with the commission and will continue to do so.

The issue was also raised during one exchange in the Dáil yesterday.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the commission's latest report provides insight into "a very dark part of our history".

Independent TD Catherine Connolly took issue with his remarks, asking him to stop talking about the issue "as if it's in the past".

She pointed to criticisms of the religious congregations and Galway County Council in the commission's report and said: "This is not in the past. This is the present."

Mr Varadkar acknowledged what happened at mother and baby institutions is a live issue for survivors who experienced them and appealed for anyone who has information that would help the commission to come forward. There is no doubt there are people who are still alive today who have information on the horrors that occurred at mother and baby homes around the country. Time is running out for them to speak up.

Irish Independent

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