People of the Year Awards: Catherine Corless and Irish Coast Guard
Galway historian calls for full exhumation of remains of babies on site of Tuam home
Winners of the People of the Year Awards: Ifrah Ahmed, left, with Colette Byrne, Chris Reynolds, director, Irish Coast Guard, Joy Neville, Catherine Corless, Harry and Molly Flynn, Fr Peter McVerry, Cyril Donnellan, representing Galway, Senior Hurling Team, James Gannon, representing Community of Ballaghaderreen, and Keith Swanick and John Gallagher, representing the Erris Community, right. Photograph: Robbie Reynolds
Galway historian Catherine Corless called for a full exhumation of the remains of hundreds of babies on the site of the former Tuam mother and baby home after she was honoured at the annual Rehab People of the Year Awards on Sunday night.
Ms Corless, homelessness campaigner Fr Peter McVerry and the Irish Coast Guard were among those presented with awards at a ceremony in the Mansion House in Dublin.
The event is an opportunity for the public to honour and celebrate “extraordinary people who have shown courage, bravery, commitment and determination”.
Ms Corless’s extensive research identifying records relating to the deaths of nearly 800 babies and infants at the Tuam home led to the establishment of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and the discovery of significant quantities of human remains on that site.
Speaking on Sunday, she said there were some suggestions the dead infants be memorialised on the site but she believed this was disrespectful and unacceptable.
“We need to remove the remains of these innocent children – it is no place for them – and give them a respectful burial. It would be part of the healing process for all of the families involved. The only thing stopping a full exhumation is money, and that is not good enough.”
The Irish Coast Guard, the crew of the downed helicopter Rescue 116, the late volunteer member Caitríona Lucas and the community of Erris were also honoured.
Rescue 116 disappeared off the north coast of Mayo on March 14th last year claiming the lives of Capt Dara Fitzpatrick, Capt Mark Duffy and winch team Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith.
Hundreds of volunteers, fishermen and colleagues supported the emergency services in combing the area for the missing crew. The bodies of Ms Fitzpatrick and Mr Duffy were recovered but those of Mr Smith and Mr Ormsby have yet to be found.
Just six months previously, the Irish Coast Guard community had suffered another loss when volunteer member Caitríona Lucas died during a search operation off the coast of Kilkee.
Irish Coast Guard search and rescue operations manager Gerard O’Flynn said those colleagues would “always be sadly missed and we remain deeply saddened by the depth of this tragedy”.
“We are humbled to receive this award which honours the bravery of all of our colleagues and pray that their bereaved families will take courage from this recognition, ” he added.
Fr Peter McVerry said the fact he was being honoured with a second People of the Year Award in 13 years showed the lack of progress being made on the issue of homelessness in Ireland.
The winners also included the people of Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon, for their warm welcome for a group of 240 Syrian refugees last year.
Other winners were rugby referee Joy Neville; Vera Twomey, who campaigned for more than two years to secure a licence for medicinal cannabis to treat her ill eight-year-old daughter Ava Barry; Ifrah Ahmed, an Irish-Somalian citizen who campaigns against female genital mutilation; and Colette Byrne, who founded the online community widow.ie following the death of her husband, Peter.
The Galway Senior Hurling team was presented with the Sports Person of the Year award for winning the Liam MacCarthy Cup for the county for the first time in more than 29 years.
Brother and sister Harry (13) and Molly (10) Flynn were presented with the Young Person of the Year award by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar for saving the life of their six-year-old sister Isabelle on many occasions. Isabelle has cerebral palsy and sleep apnoea, which means she can suddenly stop breathing at any stage during the day or night.