Government may expand mother and baby homes inquiry

Move comes after discovery of the remains of a ‘significant’ number of babies in Tuam

March 6th, 2017: A number of people share their personal stories at ‘The ‘Flowers for Magdalenes’ memorial event in memory of the women who once lived and worked in the Magdalene laundry in Galway. Video: Joe O'Shaughnessy

 

The Government is considering expanding the scope of the inquiry into mother and baby homes to include a far greater number of institutions than initially planned.

Government sources said the prospect of expanding the Commission of Investigation is being examined in light of public concern since confirmation last week that the remains of a “significant” number of babies and infants up to three years of age were found on the site of the former mother and baby home in Tuam, Co Galway.

Several hundred bodies were discovered under the site of the former institution for unmarried mothers run by the Sisters of the Bon Secours.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny yesterday described what has been discovered in Tuam as “appalling, truly appalling”, and said the terms of reference for the inquiry would be expanded, if necessary.

“This is not something that happened way back in the dawn of history,” the Taoiseach said. “This happened in some cases in our own time. It’s a horrendous situation for those whose siblings were treated in this fashion.”

The most likely way of expanding the terms of the inquiry, it is understood, is to carry out initial assessments of county homes that may have dealt with unmarried mothers and babies. In such a scenario, any entity that had not dealt with mothers and babies would be excluded.

“The mother and baby commission will only deal with mothers and babies,” said one source.

The Justice for Magdalenes research organisation has said it has compiled a list of 180 institutions, agencies and individuals involved with unmarried mothers and their children.

Terms of reference

The existing terms of reference take in 14 mother and baby homes and four county homes. The county homes – St Kevin’s Institution in Dublin, Stranorlar in Co Donegal, St Finbarr’s in Cork city and Thomastown in Co Kilkenny – were taken as a representative sample of county homes nationwide.

Sources said this could be expanded to take in all county homes that dealt with mothers and babies.

The commission could proceed on a modular basis, it is understood, with homes being looked at in sequence.

Expanding the terms of reference of the Commission of Investigation, chaired by Judge Yvonne Murphy, would require a government decision. It is not expected this will happen in the immediate term, given that substantial preparation would have to be undertaken.

The Cabinet is expected to discuss the fallout from the controversy today. Minister for Children Katherine Zappone will brief her colleagues on how the issue has developed since the public disclosure about Tuam last week.

UN warning

It comes as the United Nations has warned that the terms of reference of the inquiry are “too narrow” and do “not cover all homes and analogous institutions [and] therefore may not address the whole spectrum of abuses perpetrated against women and girls”.

It says it may not uncover all abuses inflicted on women and girls in these homes, the perpetrators of which should be “prosecuted and punished”.

Mr Kenny said the next step in Tuam will be for the local coroner to judge how to proceed.

The north Galway coroner’s office said yesterday it was making no comment at present in relation to the test excavation by the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes.

The commission has completed its work at the Tuam site, and has no further plans for excavation.

However, Galway County Council is maintaining a hoarding at the site, and has said it is consulting with local residents on its future, while also working with the commission until it reaches “formal conclusions”.