The Government has said it is willing to broaden inquiries into the deaths of hundreds of infants and children in a Tuam mother-and-baby home to other similar institutions in the State and raise the status to that of a criminal investigation if necessary.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny yesterday said that the disclosures that almost 800 children died over a 36-year period in St Mary’s Home in Tuam was “another element of our country’s past” that needed to be dealt with.
Establishing the facts
Mr Kenny, speaking during a visit to the US, said that the review announced by Minister for Children Charlie Flanagan would decide what was best to do to establish all the facts. He also undertook to broaden the scope of the inquiry if it were found there were "other locations around the country".
For his part, Mr Flanagan said the inter-departmental group examining the circumstances behind the high mortality rate at the home run by the Bon Secours order of nuns between 1925 and 1961 had met this week and would complete its review by the end of June.
Saying that the Tuam home was not exceptional or unique, Mr Flanagan said: “The revelations in Tuam have brought to the fore the situation in other mother-and-baby homes throughout the country.”
He added: “These revelations are a reminder of our darker past where children were far from cherished.”
Earlier Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin did not rule out a criminal investigation if warranted. "We will have a comprehensive look at what happened and will have such inquiries as are appropriate," he said. "There is a sense of revulsion at the callous disregard for the lives of children and young people."
It came as the issue again featured strongly in the Dáil, being made the subject of Leaders’ Questions and also of a prolonged topical issues debate later in the day.
Deaths in home
Politicians from Government and Opposition parties demanded inquiries to establish the circumstances behind the high morality rate, that meant some 796 children were recorded as having died in the home over 36 years.
There were also questions about the manner in which children and infants who died were buried and if any remains from that period were buried within a sewage tank on a burial ground adjacent to the home. The building complex had previously served as a workhouse dating back to the 1840s.
Local Fianna Fáil TD Colm Keaveney demanded that the Garda secure the site for forensic examination. His call was supported by Lucinda Creighton of the Reform Alliance who said the Garda had been premature in concluding there was no question of impropriety in relation to remains on the site.
Earlier investigations concluded the remains dated from famine times.
Independent TD Catherine Murphy said if the discovery had been made anywhere else other than near a religious institution, it would have been described as a “crime scene”.
Another Independent TD, Clare Daly, said that the knowledge of what was going on in such homes was widely known in Irish society.