The excavation at the site of the former Tuam mother and baby home will be "one of the most complex forensic excavation and recovery efforts" ever undertaken "anywhere in the world", the Minister for Children has said.
Roderic O'Gorman said the excavation would involve a DNA identification process "on a scale never done before" in Ireland.
The Minister was speaking as the Dáil debated the Institutional Burials Bill 2022 on Wednesday, which will provide a legal basis to allow for the excavation of sites, such as that of the former Co Galway home.
Following the work of local historian Catherine Corless, the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes concluded last year that 978 children had died at the Tuam home. It said the "physical conditions were dire" at the home owned by Galway County Council and run by the Bon Secours Sisters.
The commission issued its final report in January of last year, though the methodology used in compiling it was criticised by some survivors’ groups.
Mr O’Gorman said the legislation was not “site specific” but that Tuam would be “the first such excavation and exhumation”.
"I know that there are concerns about other sites, like Sean Ross and Bessborough," he said.
The Minister said what happened at Tuam was “a stain on our national conscience”. He said he had met many of the families affected and heard “the sense of urgency and frustration around why the exhumation has not happened yet”.
“I share that frustration.These families want to give their loved ones the respect and dignity they were so grievously denied in their short lives,” he said.
“The uniquely tragic nature of the site at Tuam means that legislation is required to undertake this work.
“This will be one of the most complex forensic excavation and recovery efforts ever undertaken, not only in Ireland, but anywhere in the world. It will encompass a DNA identification process on a scale never done before in Ireland.”
Mr O’Gorman said “significant” changes had been made to earlier drafts of the legislation, including removing a restriction on the jurisdiction of the coroner, which campaigners had said could prevent inquests from being held.
Under the Bill, an independent agency will be set up to oversee the excavation, exhumation, identification and reburial of any remains found at the sites.
The identification programme has also been expanded to include a wider circle of relatives including grandparents, aunts, uncles, nephews and nieces who could provide DNA to compare with remains.
Mr O’Gorman thanked Ms Corless, who he said had become “a voice” for the children in Tuam and that the State “owes her a debt”.
“We can never erase the immense tragedy of what happened there, but this Bill will allow us, at long last, to afford the children interred at that site a respectful burial,” he said. “It is long past time that we afford those children that basic dignity, so long denied to them.”