Tuam babies campaigners call for exhumation of burial site
Forensic DNA analysis must be pursued, says the Tuam Babies Family Group
Tuam babies: Anna Corrigan accuses the State of trying to avoid an investigation. Photograph: Peter Nicholls/Reuters
Exhumation of remains at the site of the mother-and-baby home in Tuam, combined with forensic DNA analysis and the building of a DNA database, must now be pursued, according to Dubliner Anna Corrigan of Tuam Babies Family Group.
She said the Irish genetics experts from UCD and TCD who outlined this approach, had made an undeniable case, which could not be ignored by the Minister for Children Katherine Zappone. “The group has confirmed basically what everybody knows about gene science,” she added.
Ms Corrigan is the representative of survivors of the home and families, who between them have nine members believed to be in the unmarked mass grave.
Given that the remains of Easter 1916 rebel Thomas Kent were identified by the same technology that they recommend be used in Tuam, she said “it’s kind of insulting” when other experts employed by the State implied this wasn’t feasible.”
The earlier report of the Expert Technical Group (ETG) appointed by the Government, in her view did not reflect adequately the work of Dr Jens Carlsson, a recognised authority on genetic relatedness, who led the research team that identified Kent, Ms Corrigan said.
The site should be treated as a crime scene until criminality was definitively ruled out, she added, especially as it is “an unmarked, unregistered grave”. She has made two Garda complaints.
“When the expert group report came out we were shocked,” she added. But the Tuam Babies Family Group believed it was all part of “the powers-that-be fighting back”; a strategy of “deny till you die” that was being deployed against them.
Confirmation in 2014, using ground-penetrating radar, that bodies were buried on the site was largely ignored, and it took two years before the Government responded, she added. It was “two years lost” in trying to determine what happened.
Their call has always been for full excavation of the site, DNA identification of the remains and the creation of a DNA database built from “those that have family in the grave”, she added. “It’s not just about taking physical remains . . . it’s about identifying who is there.”
This had to be done, Ms Corrigan said, in light of evidence indicating that death certificates were falsified and clandestine adoptions were processed in relation to mother-and-baby homes generally.
Both of her baby brothers – John and William – “vanished after spending less than two years there”. They had a birth cert; John has a death certificate but there is no death certificate for William as is required under law; though he is marked as “dead” in the register of the Bon Secours nuns.
She made a Garda statement in 2013 which led to a missing person report for William, as she believed he might have been adopted illegally in the US.
Critically, she said exhumation and forensic DNA analysis could prove if people are dead as the authorities say they are. She confirmed she has met Prof David MacHugh and Dr Carlssson, both of UCD, and had been briefed on the new technologies they use in their research that make identification of remains possible.
“Our worry is that family members are not dead. The death rate at the home plummeted after the introduction of the 1953 Adoption Act. That indicates something rotten happened. That is why we need identification,” she told The Irish Times.
When combined with an investigation of internal memos and closed files in the possession of the HSE and the child and family agency Tusla, the answers families needed could be provided, she said.
In February, Galway historian Catherine Corless, whose work resulted in the discovery of the remains of hundreds of babies and infants on the site of the former mother-and-baby home, urged members of the public to support full exhumation and DNA testing of the remains and submit their views to Galway County Council, which is directing a public consultation process on options proposed by the ETG on behalf of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.
She criticised the process, stating it amounted to a “vote” on what to do with the site, which she felt was “a cold and callous” approach.
In 2012, she published an article revealing 796 children, most of them infants, had died at the home during its years of operation.