A man and a woman arrested in connection with the 1984 ‘Kerry babies’ case remain in custody, with the latest investigation into the matter understood to be focused on the south of the county.
Gardaí have not disclosed where the man, aged in his 60s, and the woman, aged in her 50s, were arrested but they are being questioned at garda stations in Listowel and Castleisland.
At the announcement of a cold-case review in 2018 into the killing of ‘Baby John’, whose body was found on White Strand near Cahersiveen on April 14th, 1984, gardaí said they believed people in south Co Kerry could assist their inquiries.
“We are certainly acting on the premise that the answers to the questions lie in south Kerry and the Iveragh Peninsula and we would ask people to come forward even,” said Det Chief Supt Walter O’Sullivan, who was heading up the Garda Serious Crime Review Team at the time.
“Time has moved on, but time can become the friend of the investigator in that society has changed and people may be freer to come forward with information.”
[ From the archives: Farmer who found Kerry baby on beach breaks silence ]
[ 'Difficult for women': The Ireland of 1984 when 'Baby John' was found ]
He suggested that somebody who might have been young in the 1980s and under the influence of an older person might have by 2018 been in a position to come forward with information they previously feared mentioning.
Gardaí were remaining tight-lipped on Friday regarding the latest arrests with few details emerging as detectives continued to question the man and woman. The force has not indicated when or where the pair were arrested, if they were arrested at one or two locations or why they are suspects for the murder of the baby.
A solicitor for the two people detained expressed concern about discussions taking place in the media about the case, some of which “has absolutely no justification in the context of due process”.
“Has anyone learned from the previous incarnation of this tragic event?” asked Padraig O’Connell.
A fresh investigation into the ‘Kerry babies’ case began in 2018 following a Garda apology to Kerry woman Joanne Hayes, who had been wrongly accused of the murder.
When announcing the cold case review, Supt Flor Murphy confirmed Baby John had been dead for two days when he was found wedged in a rock by farmer Jack Griffin while he was out running on White Strand.
Supt Murphy said a postmortem by then State pathologist Prof John Harbison in 1984 confirmed the baby had been stabbed 28 times and had his neck broken. Det Supt Chief O’Sullivan described the fatal assault as “a frenzied attack”.
The Garda Press Office confirmed in a statement on Thursday night announcing the latest arrests that the force had interviewed hundreds of people as part of its cold-case review and that 560 separate lines of inquiry had been followed.
Since the review was announced, gardaí set about seeking voluntary DNA samples from a large number of people in the greater Cahersiveen area. This came after they spoke to local fishermen about currents and came to the view that the if baby’s body to be washed up on White Strand, it must have entered the sea locally.
Gardaí in September 2018 turned their focus to Valentia Island and a team of 20 officers carried out door-to-door inquiries as they explored the theory the body of the baby may have been thrown into the sea from Valentia and carried by currents across to White Strand.
Baby John is buried in Cahersiveen under a simple headstone proclaiming, “I am the Kerry baby, Christened on April 14, 1984, named John. I forgive”. The fact the headstone has been vandalised several times has led gardaí to believe someone living locally has information on his birth and death.
Det Chief Supt O’Sullivan told the press briefing in 2018 that Forensic Science Ireland had been able to build a full DNA profile for Baby John from a blood sample taken at his 1984 postmortem.
[ Kerry babies timeline: Two arrested almost 40 years after death of ‘Baby John’ ]
But in September 2021, gardaí exhumed the baby’s remains at Holy Cross Cemetery in Cahersiveen on foot of a ministerial order and the remains were taken to the morgue at University Hospital Kerry in Tralee for examination. It is understood DNA samples were later taken for analysis.
Speaking on Friday morning, Minister for Justice Simon Harris said the period of the ‘Kerry babies’ case “was extraordinarily traumatic and painful for people in Kerry, for people across the country”.
“We’ve got to remember here, the most innocent of people, an innocent baby was found murdered on a beach,” Mr Harris said on Friday morning.
“No matter how long ago it was or how different an Ireland it may have been. Every person in Ireland, young or old, has the right to truth and justice. And I know the gardaí have been working extraordinarily hard on this, particularly since a renewed effort in 2018,” Mr Harris said.
The Minister said he did not want to say anything that cuts across a live investigation other than “to encourage anybody with any information to come forward as this is a pivotal moment and anybody who has any information, no matter how small, and that could be extremely helpful”.
Mr Harris said the Kerry babies case was “a defining moment in social history” and that his thoughts were with “Joanne Hayes today and her own family and all of the pain that she went through and the really despicable and unacceptable way she was treated at this time”.