Galway County Council has apologised for its role in the running of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home, into which women were "forced", according to chief executive Kevin Kelly.
“It is to our shame,” he told a special meeting of the council, “that we acknowledge, that there, when at their most vulnerable, in need of compassion, empathy, support and understanding and in need of our care, we failed them”.
The council which owned the home had to hold itself accountable, he said, a view echoed by Cathaoirleach James Charity, who spoke of the local authority's "deep sense of shame".
Following statements by both men, council members and staff present at the special meeting in Corrandulla village sports hall stood for a minute's silence in memory of those who had died at the Tuam home, which was run by the Bon Secours Sisters.
A total of 978 children died at the home, the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes found. The home operated from 1925 to 1961.
Mr Kelly said the council had to acknowledge its role. "The lack of respect and dignity afforded to the women and children in death is also particularly upsetting and a source of great hurt and sorrow," he said in apparent reference to the fact that local historian Catherine Corless presented an opinion that the remains were buried inappropriately in a chambered structure built within a decommissioned large sewage tank, which was confirmed by the commission's fifth interim report in 2019.
“The council accepts its role in failing to ensure that these individuals were afforded the dignity of an appropriate and respectful resting place.”
Mr Kelly said the council was “fully committed . . . to providing survivors with appropriate access to archives and records”.
He continued: “We acknowledge with deep regret that the relationship between this local authority and those entrusted to the care of the Tuam mother and baby home has been broken due to our failings in the arrangements for their care. . .
“Today, I affirm the commitment and renewed determination of this local authority to continue our efforts to assist and support the survivors and all those with a personal connection to the Tuam mother and baby home.
“No one can change the past; however it is important that we accept and learn from it, acknowledge the sad and painful truth, the personal impact and heavy burden carried by survivors and I humbly acknowledge our failings.”
Mr Charity noted that this week marked the 60th anniversary of the closing of the home. But the legacy continued “to cast a long shadow over this council”, he said.
He praised Ms Corless for her dedication and advocacy.
“We remember the 2,219 women whom we know were admitted to Tuam from the findings outlined in the [recently published commission] report, we remember those born in the home and we remember those who sadly died there,” he said.
The report made for “difficult, uncomfortable and upsetting reading”, he told his fellow councillors present.
“It is almost incomprehensible that a time could have existed where a resolution would be passed by this council calling for legislation to commit women who were pregnant for a second time to Magdalene homes,” he said.
“But happen it did and I am sure that all members of this authority will have shared the deep sense of shame that I have no difficulty in saying I personally experienced, as the extent of the long standing failures of this council were set out in black and white for all to see.”
The council had failed “in its most basic duty” when it should have put the needs and welfare of the most vulnerable to the fore, he said.
He described them as: “The invisible and voiceless, in particular vulnerable women, innocent beautiful precious new born children; little girls and boys, who should have survived, grown and thrived, learnt and laughed, worked and played, participated in society and perhaps even led it”.
Continuing, he said: “But to our eternal shame, this council failed both mothers and their children at a time when they most needed its support and protection.”
It was important to apologise and, where possible, “to right the wrongs of the past”.
On behalf of all in the council – members and staff – he offered “a sincere and humble apology for the failings of this local authority”.
The failings were a source “of shame and sorrow of all of us” those who died at the Tuam home were not afforded the dignity of an appropriate place of rest.
“We are profoundly sorry that as a local authority, this council did not have the foresight or courage to at all times ensure the welfare of those entrusted to its care was paramount, and to be kinder, more compassionate and more charitable.”
Ms Corless said the council wouldn’t have said what it did if they weren’t under pressure. “I’ve had dealings with them over the last six years and I’m sorry to say that they put every obstacle that they could find in my way ... it is a pity that it took until now, until the pressure was put on them,” she told RTÉ’s News at One.