Fresh surveys of Tuam mother and baby home to go ahead
Minister for Children Katherine Zappone hires expert team to advise Government
Minister for Children Katherine Zappone: “The decision to do further excavation as well as exhumation, where we’re dealing with effectively a mass grave, are decisions effectively for Government,” she said. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins
Minister for Children Katherine Zappone has said decisions about further exhumations from the former mother and babies home in Tuam, Co Galway are a matter for Government rather than the county coroner.
Remains were found during archaeological work initiated last year for the Commission on the Investigation of Mother and Baby Homes and have been referred to the coroner.
Asked if further excavations would take place under the authority of the coroner, Ms Zappone said she did not think that was necessarily the case.
“The decision to do further excavation as well as exhumation in terms of this kind of context, where we’re dealing with effectively a mass grave, are decisions effectively for Government, as I understand it,” she said.
Ms Zappone was speaking after announcing in the Dáil fresh geophysical surveys of the burial site.
She said she had appointed forensic archaeologist Niamh McCullagh to lead the work and bring together a team of international experts in juvenile osteoarchaeology, forensic anthropology, DNA analysis and archaeology to provide the necessary advices.
She told the Dáil the commission would make an initial report by the end of the month.
Ms Zappone said the team of experts would include: Hugh Tuller, a US forensic anthropologist; Dr Tim Clayton, a UK forensic scientist who was world-renowned in the field of DNA testing; Dr Linda Lynch, an expert in juvenile osteoarcheology; and Aidan Harte, an expert in Irish archaeology and remote sensing.
She said the team would also consult with additional experts as it considered appropriate.
Ms Zappone was asked what the coroner had done in respect of the limited number of remains that had been reported as found.
“I understand that the coroner has begun to take a look at this, has not made any decisions, I suppose, in relation to suspicious deaths and has really tried to take a look at the various circumstances that are in this very exceptional case,” she said.
“In the context of that I felt that it was necessary to bring in a wider set of experts in order to help us to understand if we did wish to exhume, or further excavate or try to identify the remains.
“Those are the kinds of things things that the families and the survivors wish to have us to make decisions on. So we will do that work now; in the meantime, if the coroner has to come to say anything further to us we will also take that into account.”
Meanwhile, the appointment of international experts to advise Government has been welcomed by local historian Catherine Corless.
She said she hoped the announcement on Tuesday by Ms Zappone would lead to the identification of children’s remains.
“It is a step forward. I’d say most of the survivors are happy with that . . . she hasn’t dilly-dallied on that. She has done what she said she’d do,” Ms Corless said.
She said there was “international pressure” on Ireland. The New York Times was especially interested in the story, she said.