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Kerry babies tragedy: Apology and questions

Inside Politics: It has not been explained how the Hayes family came to sign statements in Garda custody that implicated them

Joanne Hayes leaves the tribunal of enquiry into the Kerry babies tragedy in June 1985. Photograph: The Irish Times

The papers this morning are full of the awful story of the Kerry babies, which transfixed and horrified the country 33 years ago.

Gardai yesterday apologised to Kerry woman Joanne Hayes for charging her with the murder of a baby, washed up on a beach near Cahirsiveen with 28 stab wounds.

The apology came as gardai announced they were renewing their appeal for information about the case, which has never been solved. A full murder inquiry has been launched.

It has not been explained how Ms Hayes and members of her family came to sign statements in Garda custody that implicated them in a crime they could not have committed.


Our reports are here and here, and Michael O'Regan's account of the time is here.

The Kerry babies – Ms Hayes did give birth to another baby who died soon after birth and whose body was later found on her family farm – and the gruesome tribunal of inquiry that followed took place soon after the pro-life referendum of 1983 inserted the Eighth Amendment into the Constitution as Article 40.3.3.

This evening the Dail will debate the report of the Oireachtas Committee that recommends the deletion of that article from the Constitution.

Yesterday the Taoiseach warned that even if the referendum is passed, the legislation that the Government introduces – likely to provide for abortion on request up to 12 weeks – may not be passed by the Dail.

The Taoiseach is right to point out the Government does not have a majority in the Dail and so cannot impose its will.

But should the referendum be passed, with the proposal for the 12 weeks’ limit clearly proposed during the campaign, it is hard to see how TDs could substantially amend it.

The Taoiseach was reported yesterday as saying the referendum would not be about the 12 weeks proposal. I don’t know about that. All referendums are unpredictable.

For many people, this campaign will be about the treatment of women in Ireland. But for others it will also be about what the Constitution calls the “unborn”. Therein lies the central conflict.

All that may seem very far away in Strasbourg today, where the Taoiseach will address the European Parliament.

No doubt he will receive a warm reception from MEPs. Well, from most of them. The independent MEP Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan tweeted yesterday that he is “stocking up on anti sickness tablets for Leo’s speech in the European Parliament tomorrow”.

Let’s hope the tablets work. It wouldn’t do for Ming to be unwell and miss the big speech.