State Papers: Gardaí ‘grossly negligent’ in Kerry babies inquiry

Two dead infants featured in 1985 case, which led to a judicial tribunal

Joanne Hayes and her sister Kathleen leaving the tribunal with  solicitor Patrick Mann. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

Joanne Hayes and her sister Kathleen leaving the tribunal with solicitor Patrick Mann. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh


Then Garda Commissioner Lawrence Wren believed gardaí were “grossly negligent’’ in conducting the investigation into the murder of an infant whose body was washed ashore in the controversial Kerry babies case 30 years ago, according to recently released official Cabinet papers.

Two dead infants featured in the case which led to the then Fine Gael-Labour government setting up a judicial tribunal in 1985.

Twenty-five-year-old Joanne Hayes, who had a relationship with a married man, gave birth late on the night of April 12th, 1984, in what later became disputed circumstances, to a son who did not survive. The infant would later become known as the Abbeydorney baby, named after the north Kerry village close to the Hayes family farm.

Some 75km away, at the other side of the county, the body of a baby who had died from stab wounds to the heart, was washed up in the White Strand, near Cahirciveen, on April 14th. The murdered infant became known as the Cahirciveen baby.

Under Garda questioning, Hayes signed a statement saying she had killed her baby in the house. Members of the family signed statements about dumping the baby’s body in the sea off the Dingle Peninsula. Gardaí would later strenuously deny allegations by the Hayes family that they were coerced into making the statements.

An initial offer from Hayes to show gardaí the location of the body of her baby on the farm in Abbeydorney, which she said would prove she was not the mother of the Cahirciveen baby, was refused. She had previously denied to medical staff in a Tralee hospital that she had given birth.

Blood group

The charges of the murder of the Cahirciveen baby against Hayes, and concealment of birth against four other members of the family, were dropped on the instructions of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Blood group findings had ruled out Hayes, and the man with whom she was having a relationship, as the parents of that baby.

Two chief superintendents were appointed to investigate the matter and submitted their report to the commissioner on November 26th, 1984. A copy was forwarded to then minister for justice Michael Noonan, on the same day, with the Commissioner’s assessment of the case.

A Department of Justice memorandum, on December 6th, informed the Government Noonan intended setting up a judicial tribunal to investigate the matter.

Outlining the background to the case, the memorandum said following the discovery of the body of the Cahirciveen baby, Garda inquiries led to Hayes. She was known to have been pregnant and was suspected of having given birth about the same time to a full-term infant about whose whereabouts there appeared to be doubts.

Initially, it added, Hayes claimed she had a miscarriage but subsequently said she had given birth to a baby in a field on the family farm, had panicked and left the baby in a field overnight.

She said the following day she found the baby was dead and she disposed of the body by placing it in a plastic bag and burying it in a pool of water on the farm.

“This statement was not believed by the gardaí, who continued to question Ms Hayes until eventually she confessed to giving birth to a baby in the farmhouse and killing it by stabbing it with a carving knife and beating it on the head with a bath brush,’’ it added.

“Following lengthy interrogation, members of Ms Hayes’s family also made statements which were broadly to the same effect – though there were some inconsistencies – concerning the death of the baby and which described how some of them had disposed of the body by throwing it into the sea near Dingle, Co Kerry.’’


The memorandum noted Hayes was formally arrested and charged before a special court with the murder of an unnamed infant at 9.55pm, on May 1st, 1984.

“Although the charge did not specifically allude to the Cahirciveen baby, this was the only unnamed infant known to the gardaí to have died at that time,’’ it added.

Hayes was remanded in custody and members of her family were charged with concealing the birth.

The memorandum said on the following day a family member brought a number of gardaí to a spot on the family farm where the body of another infant (the Abbeydorney baby) was discovered.

“The body was in a plastic bag and was lying in a pool of water under heavy undergrowth,’’ it said.

“A postmortem examination indicated that the cause of death was uncertain and that it was also uncertain as to whether the baby had had a separate existence.’’

The memorandum said the internal Garda investigation had not been able to arrive at any conclusion relating to the allegations made by Joanne Hayes and members of her family that they were ill-treated by the Garda and, in effect, forced to admit to committing offences, “which they say they did not commit and which the evidence tends to suggest they could not have committed’’.

It stressed all the gardaí involved denied the allegations and there was no independent corroborating evidence.

“The Commissioner has concluded that, whatever about the truth of the allegations of the Hayes family, the report clearly indicates that the officers conducting the criminal investigation into the death of the Cahirciveen baby were grossly negligent in their handling of the case, and he considers some form of sworn inquiry is required to establish really happened,’’ it said.

It said the issues involved were clearly of major public importance and warranted the most searching investigation.

“Moreover, as a result of all the publicity the case has received, there is a very large public interest dimension to the case,’’ it said.

The memorandum noted the minister had already indicated in Dáil statements he would think it probable a sworn inquiry would be justified if the Garda investigation failed to clear up the matter.

“It must be borne in mind, however, that there can be no guarantee that a sworn inquiry will succeed in satisfactorily resolving the conflicting versions of the events that have already been given but, at the very least, it will bring the facts of what happened out into the open so that people can make up their own minds about them,’’ it said.

“There is also the possibility that the examination and cross-examination of witnesses on oath may make a difference.’’

According to the memorandum, two features of the internal Garda inquiry effectively prevented the investigating officers from probing the allegations as fully as they might otherwise have done and contributed significantly to the unsatisfactory outcome.

The Hayes family, it said, refused to be interviewed by the investigators and, instead, handed in prepared statements that had been edited by their legal adviser.

“The investigators had, therefore, no opportunity of clearing up contradictory aspects or of assessing the truthfulness of the witnesses,’’ it said.

While most of the gardaí involved co-operated with the inquiry, it said, a number, specifically those against whom allegations of assault had been made, handed in prepared statements reiterating that their earlier statements, made in connection with the preparation of the book of evidence, were true and refused to make full statements after caution and to answer specific questions.

“This was done on the basis of advice from their legal adviser,’’ it said. “The investigators were, therefore, of the view that some aspects of the original criminal investigation were being concealed.’’

The memorandum said although results of the blood grouping of Hayes, the man she was associated with and both babies showed they could not be parents of the Cahirciveen baby, no explanation had been given by gardaí as to why they persevered with the charge of murder against Hayes.

To all intents and purposes, it added, active investigation of the case ceased once the charges had been preferred against the Hayes family, notwithstanding the finding of the body of the Abbeydorney baby.

The conclusion of the investigating gardaí from the finding of the second baby seemed to be that Hayes must have had twins, although the results of the forensic tests on the blood groups threw serious doubt on that, it said.

The tribunal, under High Court judge Kevin Lynch, began its hearings in Tralee on Monday, January 7th, later moving to Dublin Castle, and lasted 82 days.


The report, published on October 3rd, 1985, said the baby found at the Hayes family farm was born inside the farmhouse and died after Joanne Hayes put her hands on its throat to stop it crying. It also said Hayes hit the baby with a bath brush in the presence of other family members.

These conclusions were strongly rejected by Hayes and her family through her solicitor, Pat Mann, at the time.

The report found she was not the mother of the Cahirciveen baby and that she gave birth to only one baby. It criticised several aspects of the Garda handling of the case, although it exonerated the Garda from any ill-treatment or physical abuse of the family.

An Irish Times editorial, under the headline “Questions Not Answered’’, was critical of the judge’s report.

“It is especially unsatisfactory in that it fails to explain how the detailed statements from the Hayes family, tallying precisely in details which are now known to be false, came to be taken in Tralee Garda station and at the Hayes farmhouse on May 1st and 2nd, 1984,’’ the editorial said.

“Who came up with these details? How did they come to be translated into statements supposedly taken after caution? He cites two causes: pressure and guilty conscience of the Hayes family. Those answers are no answers at all.’’

The Cabinet papers reflect the public outcry at the time about the treatment of Hayes in the witness box, particularly under cross-examination by barrister Martin Kennedy, representing Garda superintendents. She became physically sick on one occasion.

It was considered, particularly by women’s groups, to be excessively abrasive and intrusive and reflecting a patriarchal society.

Irish Women’s Forum chairperson Audrey Dickson wrote to Noonan on October 6th, 1985, following a meeting attended by 600 women from around the country. She sent copies to then taoiseach Garret FitzGerald and minister for women’s affairs Nuala Fennell.

Grave concern

She quoted the text of a motion that had been passed unanimously. “As a result of the Kerry babies tribunal and its report, this forum has no confidence that women will receive justice from the Irish legal system.’’

Dickson wrote the Council for the Status of Women considered it a matter of grave concern that women should lose confidence in the legal system of their country. “We are sure that you will share our alarm at the situation,’’ she said.

FitzGerald received a letter from Muireann Ní Bhrolcháin, in Maynooth, Co Kildare, urging him not to accept the tribunal report.

“This case must not be relegated to a quiet backwater,’’ she wrote. “It must be challenged.’’

The wives of the some of the gardaí involved also wrote to FitzGerald about the assignment of their husbands to different duties at the case.

FitzGerald’s private secretary replied saying Noonan had told the Dáil the Garda commissioner had told him he “considered it right and indeed necessary to transfer from their present posts most of those who were assigned from the Technical Bureau to the ‘Kerry Babies’ investigation’’.

The minister, he said, had also told the Dáil: “It was not a disciplinary decision, making clear at the same time that decisions on discipline, as on transfers, are made by the Commissioner and not by him.”

Thirty years on, the murder of the Cahirciveen baby remains unsolved.