Tuam site decision to be taken ‘within months’

Katherine Zappone publishes report outlining options for mother-and-baby home site

A shrine with an image of the Virgin Mary is seen on the site of the former mother-and-baby home run by the Bon Secours nuns in Tuam, Co Galway. File photograph: Peter Nicholls/Reuters

A shrine with an image of the Virgin Mary is seen on the site of the former mother-and-baby home run by the Bon Secours nuns in Tuam, Co Galway. File photograph: Peter Nicholls/Reuters

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A decision on what to do with the site of a former mother-and-baby home in Tuam, Co Galway, will be taken within months, Minister for Children Katherine Zappone has said.

Ms Zappone on Tuesday published a report from an expert group laying out a number of options for the site, where the remains of hundreds of babies were discovered.

While the report outlined five options – from creating a memorial to continuing examinations on the site – the Government did not take a decision on Tuesday on how to proceed.

Ms Zappone said that before any decision was taken she first wanted to consult with the local community in Tuam and other affected parties, such as relatives of those who were resident in the home.

The Dublin South-West TD said “engaging respectfully” will “help make the best decisions and the most practical decisions possible”.

“That is not kicking the can down the road, but it is acknowledging that this is a really complicated process that we are into. It is not something as simple as ‘let’s do this’ or ‘let’s do that’.”

She said that the consultation process, which would be undertaken by Galway County Council, would take three months. At the end of that period, Ms Zappone would then be presented with further recommendations on what to do.

The report said “the situation in Tuam is an unprecedented one for the agencies that usually deal with medico-legal death investigations in Ireland”.

It said there were no “directly comparable cases, either nationally or internationally” that involve commingled juvenile human remains in significant quantities in a restricted space.

The Commission of Investigation into Mother-and-Baby Homes earlier this year announced that “significant” quantities of human remains had been found buried under the site of the former institution for unmarried mothers, which was run by the Sisters of Bon Secours.

The remains belonged to children aged from about 35 foetal weeks to three years.

The commission was set up in February 2015 after a Galway-based historian, Catherine Corless, published research that revealed death certificates for 796 children at the Tuam mother-and-baby home with no indication of their burial places.

Site options

The five options outlined by the expert technical group to deal with the Tuam site were:

– Turning the site into a memorial without undertaking further examinations;

– Exhuming the remains and moving them to an alternative location without further examination;

– A full forensic excavation and recovery of human remains;

– A full forensic excavation and recovery of human remains with further evaluation and excavation of other areas of interest, and

– A forensic excavation of the total available area, which is described as the “most intrusive [option], covering 100 per cent of the available site”. This option, however, would exclude nearby private houses and gardens that have been built on the site of the former mother-and-baby home.

Even with all of these options, the report said the Government needed to “communicate realistic expectations as to what DNA testing may be able to produce in a complex site such as Tuam”.

It said DNA testing will face difficulties, because the “quality of samples are less likely to be usable for DNA identification in the case of infants because the best source of DNA can be teeth, including the root, which are not sufficiently formed in humans until the age of two years”.

DNA testing could also damage the samples of human remains, leaving little to reinter after the process.

Speaking after the report’s publication, Ms Zappone said the people affected by the ongoing work at Tuam wanted the Government to engage “with them, to listen to them, to help them express what it is they have experienced and how is it they want to find the truth”.

She told the Seanad on Tuesday the Government had decided to invite the United Nations special rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, Pablo de Greiff, to visit Ireland in recognition of the State’s absolute commitment to human rights.

“It is important to say that these developments have been welcomed by a number of advocates who recognise the progressive nature of the Government’s approach,’’ she added.

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