Government asked for higher contribution from Bon Secours order

Legislation needed as excavation of mass grave never done in Ireland before

Historian Catherine Corless holds a list of the names of missing children from  the mother and baby home in  Tuam. Photograph: Peter Nicholls/ Reuters

Historian Catherine Corless holds a list of the names of missing children from the mother and baby home in Tuam. Photograph: Peter Nicholls/ Reuters

 

The Government asked for a higher contribution than the €2.5 million offered by the Bon Secours sisters towards excavating the remains of children buried at Tuam, the Dáil has heard.

But Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the €2.5 million “is what is forthcoming”.

The Government on Tuesday approved a full exhumation of all human remains at the mother and baby home in Co Galway, which had been run by the Bon Secours sisters from 1925 to 1961. It estimated the costs of the exhumation at between €6 million and €12 million.

“I am not entirely sure if anyone fully knows what we are getting into, but I am absolutely sure that we have made the right decision,” the Taoiseach said.

Mr Varadkar paid tribute to Galway historian Catherine Corless who first identified records of almost 800 baby and infant deaths at the home.

The Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation, established in the wake of the discovery of the human remains and amid allegations about the deaths and burial of the infants, started initial excavations at the site in 2016.

‘Equal responsibility’

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald described the amount offered by the nuns as wholly inadequate and said Ms Corless believed the cost would be significantly higher. “The order bears at least an equal responsibility to that of the State in respect of this scandal and should pay significantly more on that basis.”

The Taoiseach said the Bon Secours sisters were not under any obligation to make a contribution, “but they are making a contribution of €2.5 million”.

Mr Varadkar said he wanted to make it very clear that “this is not a settlement, this is not an indemnity, this is an initial contribution to the cost of carrying out these works”.

As this had not been done before, “we don’t know for sure what the cost will be”.

The exhumation will aim to identify as many of those buried in underground chambers at the home as possible and rebury them, but legislation will have to be passed by the Dáil and Seanad in advance.

The Taoiseach said the legislation would be ready in the first quarter of next year.

“The advice of the Attorney General is that in order for us to excavate a mass grave in this way, which has never been done before in Ireland, we require new bespoke primary legislation.”

Mr Varadkar pointed out that it would be a very difficult process because it was a very old mass grave.

“There may also be adult remains because it was a workhouse prior to that. It was used during the famine period as well.”

The Taoiseach said it would be a slow and painstaking process “and what we learn along the way will inform what we do with regard to other sites”.