Identifying Tuam babies difficult, not impossible, says Varadkar

Zappone to examine report from UCD-TCD scientists on DNA extraction at burial site

A shrine on the the site of the former mother-and-baby home in Tuam, Co Galway. Photograph Peter Nicholls/Reuters

A shrine on the the site of the former mother-and-baby home in Tuam, Co Galway. Photograph Peter Nicholls/Reuters

 

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone will bring proposals to Cabinet about the prospects of identifying babies in a mass grave in a former religious-run institution in Tuam, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

Speaking in Limerick, Mr Varadkar said a report on the issue previously filed to the State did not say that it was “impossible” to identify the nearly 800 remains at the former mother-and-baby home.

“It may have said it was difficult, but not impossible,” he went on, adding that Ms Zappone wanted to consult the relatives of those who died in Tuam and those who were held there, and with locals in the town.

Meanwhile, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs said a report from UCD and TCD scientists, which argues that DNA advances means that the remains can be identified, will be examined.

Ms Zappone said she was “very interested to see that other experts in the field of forensic archaeology and genetics have a different view” to the experts she appointed.

Opinion

The expert technical group which she had appointed will inform her of their opinion on the submission, and this would be part of her decision-making process on what to do next, she said.

Meanwhile, one of the authors of the UCD-TCD report, genetics expert Prof David McHugh, expressed confidence that the latest DNA extraction and analysis techniques would succeed.

They have successfully identified whole genetic profiles of remains that were thousands of years old. This had also been achieved with infant remains, which were smaller and posed particular difficulties.

Difficulties to be found on the grounds of the former Bons Secours home in Tuam could be overcome, he argued, especially if the remains were in walled chambers, which could have helped their preservation.

He acknowledged it would not be possible to identify every skeleton, but by focusing on petrous bone samples from the skull, it was possible to identify remains of many of those buried there.

Costs

Historian Catherine Corless, whose research revealed the mass grave, said she expected the Government would “play down” the possibility of deploying the latest DNA technology because of the costs involved.

“It is the least that can be done for these babies, who were given no name, just discarded and forgotten about,” she told RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke. “We know it can be done and it should be done.”

Ms Corless said a database could easily be set up, which would allow for families who believe they may have relatives buried in Tuam to come forward to give DNA samples, which could then be used to identify babies.

Anna Corrigan of the Tuam Babies Family Group, which represents families with relatives in the grave and survivors from the home, said she believed politicians are unwilling to tackle the issue.

There “is a distinct possibility” that some children “are not there, and that the death rate plummeted after the introduction of the 1952 Adoption Act, which is highly sinister, so we need the DNA. We need the bodies exhumed,” she said.