Order behind Tuam home defends dealings with commission

Roderic O’Gorman writes to hundreds of survivors telling them ‘you are believed’

Tuam babies protest “coffins” from a demonstration in 2018: Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman has written to survivors to say, “Your evidence stands as a profound published account of the lived experiences of those who suffered within the walls of these institutions.” Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Tuam babies protest “coffins” from a demonstration in 2018: Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman has written to survivors to say, “Your evidence stands as a profound published account of the lived experiences of those who suffered within the walls of these institutions.” Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

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The order of nuns that ran the mother and baby home at Tuam has defended its interaction with the commission of investigation into such institutions in the wake of a claim that it had offered “heavy pushback”.

One of the members of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, Prof Mary Daly, last week told an online event organised by Oxford University that they had to be “ultra careful”.

If the commission wrote something “adverse or critical” about an individual, entity or institution, it had to draft a report and send it to them so they would have a chance to read it and respond, Prof Daly said.

In the case of the Tuam mother and baby home, she said: “They came back with a vengeance. I mean the burial report I would have thought was fairly conclusive in what we said about both Tuam and Bessborough but we got heavy pushback on both.

“Tuam came with this extraordinary assertion . . . that those burial tanks were actually purpose-built burial vaults. The kind of thing you see in continental Europe used by royal and other families.

“Now, apart from the idea that a cash-strapped local authority would have constructed something like that in the 1930s . . . They had the nerve to send that back to us.”

Archaeological report

The Sisters of Bon Secours Ireland, which ran the Galway County Council-owned home before its closure in 1961, responded to Prof Daly’s remarks in a statement on Sunday.

It told The Irish Times: “As is standard practice for commissions of investigation, this commission did send us what are known as ‘response documents’ – drafts of proposed reports. They asked us for comments on them in order to ensure they were accurate.

“In this case, we did furnish them with an archaeological report that indicated that the structure might have been a burial vault. That report mainly referred to comparative sites relating to impoverished anonymous burials in Co Galway.

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“The commission rejected that suggestion and we pursued it no further.”

The statement added: “It was the only occasion on which we made any observations about the content of any of the draft reports circulated to us for comment.

“This took place in December 2018 and was included in their fifth interim report.”

The statement added: “Even if the commission had agreed that what our archaeologist had indicated was a possibility, we would not view that as being a fit and proper method of interring the remains of the children.”

The order also said: “Our apology stating that ‘We acknowledge in particular that infants and children who died at the home were buried in a disrespectful and unacceptable way’ would remain the same.”

Meanwhile, Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman has written to hundreds of survivors of mother and baby homes telling them “you are believed”.

‘Profound’ account

The message, seen by The Irish Times, said he was writing “in light of the concern, distress and upset which I know many of you may feel” over a lack of emphasis placed on confidential committee testimony in the final report.

In the message, he said: “The commission’s terms of reference were designed to provide for a comprehensive and robust statutory inquiry.

“The terms of reference for the commission made clear that the general report of the confidential committee, containing the personal experiences of survivors, could be relied upon to inform the processes and outcomes of the inquiry.

“Your evidence stands as a profound published account of the lived experiences of those who suffered within the walls of these institutions.

“For my own part, I want to be clear – you are believed.”

He noted how he has stated publicly that “a restricted academic event was an inappropriate forum for the former commissioners to first speak about the report”.

The Oireachtas Committee on Children has written to the former commissioners inviting them to appear to answer TDs and Senators questions on their work.

Mr O’Gorman wrote: “I have written to the former commissioners, urging them to accept this invitation.”

The Minister said work had almost concluded on the development of a redress scheme and he would bring the proposals to Government for approval in the coming weeks.

A spokesman for the Sisters of Bon Secours said it was the order’s intention to engage with the proposed redress scheme.