Tuam babies burial site to be examined by expert group

Local historian Catherine Corless says she hopes children’s remains can be identified

A shrine in the corner of part of the site of the former mother-and-baby home where the remains of an unknown number of infants were found buried, in Tuam. Photograph: Reuters

A shrine in the corner of part of the site of the former mother-and-baby home where the remains of an unknown number of infants were found buried, in Tuam. Photograph: Reuters

 

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone has established an expert group to determine whether there should be a full excavation of the burial site at the Tuam mother and babies home in Galway.

Remains were found during archaeological work initiated last year for the Commission on the Investigation on Mother and Baby Homes.

Ms Zappone told the Dáil on Thursday if there was a consensus about recovering the infant remains and trying to identify them, it should be known if it was possible.

“We have made too many decisions in this country in the dark,” she added. “We are not going to do that again in relation to Tuam.”

She said the commission would make an initial report by the end of the month.

She said she had appointed forensic archaeologist Niamh McCullagh to lead the work and bring together a team of international experts in juvenile osteoarchaeology, forensic anthropology, DNA analysis and archaeology to provide the necessary advices.

Ms Zappone said Ms McCullagh was an Irish based expert with extensive national and international experience, including work with the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains in Ireland.

Significantly, she added, Ms McCullagh already had a detailed understanding of the site as she had led the commission team which located, identified and conducted the preliminary excavations of the buried chambers in Tuam.

“The knowledge that she already has about the site will mean that her work and that of her team will proceed quickly,” she added.

Ms Zappone said the team of experts would include: Hugh Tuller, a US forensic anthropologist; Dr Tim Clayton, a UK forensic scientist who was world renowned in the field of DNA testing; Dr Linda Lynch, an expert in Juvenile osteoarcheology; and Aidan Harte, an expert in Irish archaeology and remote sensing.

She said the team would also consult with additional experts as it considered appropriate.

Further geophysical surveys to examine the extent of potential burials on the site would be arranged, she added.

The appointment has been welcomed by local historian Catherine Corless.

She said she hoped it would lead to the identification of children’s remains.

“It is a step forward. I’d say most of the survivors are happy with that…she hasn’t dilly-dallied on that. She has done what she said she’d do,” Ms Corless said.

She added there was “international pressure” on Ireland. The New York Times was especially interested in the story, she said.