Draft law for mother and baby home exhumations to be brought to Cabinet next week

Minister for Children writes to survivors and families on Institutional Burials Bill

Draft legislation to allow for the exhumation of remains at the sites of former mother and baby homes is to be published next week by Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman.

He has written to survivors of the homes and the families of former residents to say he will be seeking Government approval for the Institutional Burials Bill on Tuesday and will brief them beforehand.

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.

In the letter he says the legislation "will support intervention at the site of the former mother and baby institution in Tuam and at any other site as appropriate".

In a report published in January 2021, the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes found it “‘likely that most of the children who died in Tuam are buried inappropriately in the grounds of the institution”.

Human remains were found there in a “structure with 20 chambers . . . built within the decommissioned large sewage tank”, it said. There was also “evidence of possible burials in other parts of what were the grounds”.

Mr O’Gorman states in the letter he hopes to publish the legislation after bringing the Bill to the next Cabinet meeting, but also outlines that there will be a webinar on Tuesday morning before this happens so that survivors and their families “can immediately and directly hear the details of the proposed legislation”.

“This important and sensitive legislation has been a priority for me,” he says.

“I have taken time to meet with and reflect carefully on the feedback from those most closely affected by this issue and have made substantial and meaningful changes to the legislation to address their concerns,” he adds.

His intention is to bring the Bill through the Houses of the Oireachtas "as quickly as possible to support timely enactment and implementation in 2022".

Previous concerns

Concern has previously been raised by the Adoption Rights Alliance (ARA) and others over a proposal included in an earlier version of the legislation to suspend the powers of the coroner during the proposed exhumation and identification process at mother and baby home burial sites.

The issue arose during prelegislative scrutiny of an earlier version of the Bill at the Oireachtas committee on children last May.

Mr O’Gorman told the committee the coronial role would be suspended to avoid having “concurrent jurisdictions” between different State bodies while interventions at the sites take place.

The jurisdiction of local authorities over exhumations will also be suspended for this work, he said.

The Minister said at the time that the proposed Bill would place the legal authority for excavation works and attempts to identify remains in the hands of an agency to be created “so there is a clear line of legal responsibility”.

On Friday ARA said the draft legislation will require “detailed scrutiny from the relatives of those who died in or disappeared from various institutional settings, where unmarried mothers and their children were detained.”

It said unless the Bill recognises the rights of effected families to determine the causes of their relatives’ unexplained deaths by mandating inquests the facts behind the “neglect of our most vulnerable citizens will be forever hidden” and “no one will be held accountable and no lessons will be learned.”

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times