Kerry Babies: Compensation issue should be dealt with quickly

Taoiseach apologised on behalf of State, saying Joanne Hayes had been ‘very badly treated’

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD has offered an apology on behalf of the State to the woman at the centre of the Kerry babies case, Joanne Hayes, while speaking at the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Video: EU Parliment TV

 

Compensation for Joanne Hayes, the woman at the centre of the Kerry babies case, should be dealt with privately and quickly, the Minister for Justice, Charlie Flanagan has said.

“I think it’s important we proceed along these lines, towards the matter of compensation and that we do so in a way that’s discreet, in a way that’s private and in a way that’s speedy,” the Minister told RTÉ’s Six One News.,

Ms Hayes was arrested and wrongly charged during an investigation into the discovery of a baby’s body on a beach in Co Kerry in 1984, but DNA tests released this week proved definitively that she was not the mother, as she had always maintained.

The Garda investigation into the Kerry Babies case and the subsequent tribunal of inquiry led by the late Mr Justice Kevin Lynch, and the terms of reference for that inquiry laid down by the State, have been sharply criticised.

Mr Flanagan said there “is merit” to investigating the handling of the Garda investigation, though he cautioned that some officers are now dead and others are retired “so it may be difficult to provide a conclusive level of evidence”.

Urging people to co-operate with “a live murder investigation”, Mr Flanagan said: “It’s important the investigation continues to get to the bottom of this dreadful matter which resulted in a horrific ordeal for Joanne Hayes.”

In Strasbourg, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar apologised on behalf of the State, saying Ms Hayes had been “very badly treated by her State and by her society”.

Speaking during a visit to the European Parliament on Wednesday, Mr Varadkar said Joanne Hayes was “evidently a woman who was very badly treated by her State and by her society in a way that so many other women have been in the past, and that needs to change”.

He said the issue of compensation would be discussed with her representatives in time.

‘Baby John’

Ms Hayes received an apology from An Garda Síochána on Tuesday about the botched investigation into the discovery of a baby’s remains on White Strand beach near Cahersiveen in April 1984.

She was wrongly charged with the murder of ‘Baby John’, who was found with 28 stab wounds, with garda investigators suspecting the then 24-year-old from Abbeydorney, about 75km from White Strand, had given birth to the baby and killed him.

Mr Varadkar said he had only recently learned the full facts of the Kerry Babies case, as he was very young at the time, and that it had been an “eye opening” experience. “It reflects the extent to which Ireland was such a different place in the 1980s than it is now,” he said.

“I can’t offer compensation here and now but it is something I think we can discuss with her representatives in the period ahead, but I absolutely want to add to the apology made by the gardaí and make that an apology on behalf of the State as well.”

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin told the Dáil that the Government should “adequately and properly’’ compensate Ms Hayes and that she should not be put through any duress or process.

Mr Martin said it is not good enough to say that “it was a different era”, and that mistakes could be excused: “Even at the time the then Garda Commissioner, Larry Wren, described the performance of gardaí as revealed in the State papers as “grossly negligent”.

“There are also lessons for us today. There is no room for an absence of professionalism in agencies of the State in terms of investigations, the conduct of tribunals and so on.

“Notwithstanding the culture of the era and the mores of the time, there are still very significant lessons to be learned by the agencies of the State today in terms of how we deal with citizens in our society and the moral approach we can take,” he said.

Meanwhile, Tánaiste Simon Coveney laid some of the blame at the door of the inquiry headed subsequently by Mr Justice Kevin Lynch: “The way in which the tribunal was conducted was described as insensitive, very, very frightening, harrowing, quite horrific and shameful by the Dáil committee on women’s rights subsequently. There are lessons here for the State.

“There is also a need to respond to the family’s wish for privacy so that a woman who had to go through an extraordinary ordeal of accusation and blame does not have to relive that awful period in her life. Her extended family should not have to go through that either,” Mr Coveney told the Dáil.

Ordeal

Patrick Mann, solicitor for the Hayes family, said the fact they survived the Kerry Babies ordeal was a tribute to their resilience.

“We said all those years ago we had nothing at all to do with it. There was a refusal to accept we had nothing to do with it,” Mr Mann told Radio Kerry. “The fact we survived at all is a tribute to these wonderful people, they were terribly dealt with.”

A DNA test carried out late last year as part of the investigation into the death of Baby John, who was about five days old and had been dead for two days, proved she could not have been the mother.

Acting Garda Commissioner Dónal Ó Cualáin on Tuesday sent a letter of apology, backed up by a telephone call to Ms Hayes, for an investigation that had fallen short of acceptable standards.

Mr Mann said the Hayes family were wonderful people who had enjoyed wonderful support from the community in Abbeydorney, for whom he said the whole episode was “pretty hard going”.

He asked that the Hayes family be allowed their privacy and the chance to put the episode behind them.

A “serious crime review” investigation has now begun, but it has already been established that there is no match between Baby John and anyone whose DNA is held on the State’s DNA database. Gardaí plan to identify people to ask for DNA samples in an attempt to identify relatives of the infant.

Gardaí arrested Ms Hayes when they learned she had been pregnant with a near full-term baby which had been born prior to her admission on April 14th, 1984 to Tralee General Hospital.

She also had a child by the reputed father of the dead child, Jeremiah Locke, prompting gardaí to suspect the Cahersiveen baby was hers.

Ms Hayes said she gave birth in a field and her baby died soon after. He was later found buried on her family farm. Blood tests on this baby showed he had the same blood type as Ms Hayes and Mr Locke but a different one to the Cahersiveen baby.

Different fathers

Gardaí then alleged Ms Hayes had become pregnant with twins simultaneously by two different men. However, the DPP directed the murder charge be dropped.

Supt Flor Murphy on Tuesday said it was a “matter of significant regret for the Garda that it had taken so long for it to be confirmed she was not Baby John’s mother.

“On behalf of An Garda Síochána, I would like to sincerely apologise to Ms Hayes for that, as well as the awful stress and pain she has been put through as a result of the original investigation into this matter, which fell well short of the required standards.”

Jack Griffin, who found the body of Baby John, told The Irish Times that at first he hoped what he had seen was a doll. “It was pink in colour, face downwards with black hair and I thought to myself, it can’t be a baby. I was trying to say to myself it was a doll, but deep down I knew it wasn’t.”