A recommendation on the future of children’s remains at the site of the former Mother and Baby Home in Tuam is expected to be announced in early autumn, a meeting in the Co Galway town was told on Monday night.
Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Dr Katherine Zappone met with Tuam residents and members of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home Survivors at a well-attended public meeting where she sought feedback from the community before she signs off on her final recommendation to Government.
Ms Zappone told the meeting it was her personal opinion that the possibility of exhumation of the remains and their reinterment in a respectful and sensitive manner should be investigated. The Minister also said that she was willing to introduce any legislation required to ensure the approach decided on could be carried out.
“Based on my considerations so far, I believe that an approach based on human rights and the principles I have already outlined would involve taking all reasonable steps to investigate the scope for retrieval of human remains and, if logistically possible, to exhume and reinter the bodies in a respectful and sensitive manner. Of course, questions of scale arise here, which are not altogether straightforward.”
She continued: “I very much hope to be able to bring proposals to Government by the early autumn, and I commit to being as open as possible as things develop.
“Let me assure you that if what seems to me to be the best approach requires us to introduce legislation to ensure it can be done, then I will not be dissuaded from that task.”
The media was banned from the meeting, but several people attending it continued to live tweet reports of what was happening.
Outside the venue, hundreds of children’s toys were laid out on display by former Tuam residents. At the centre of the arrangement was a sign saying: “Bury our babies with dignity.”
In 2015, research from local historian Catherine Corless revealed that there was no burial records for 796 children at the Tuam home between the years of 1925 and 1961, and shortly after that a Commission of Investigation was launched to look at the actions of 18 State-linked religious institutions.
Two years later the investigation confirmed it had discovered “significant quantities” of human remains at the Tuam site, which was managed by the Bon Secours Sisters.
Galway County Council was asked to liaise with the investigation, local residents and other interested parties, and it undertook a public consultation process surrounding the matter. The council was not represented at the meeting.
Local Fine Gael representative Cllr Peter Roche was at the meeting on Monday night, and he highlighted the fact that there were varying views on what should happen at the site and how sensitive an issue it was for the people of Tuam.
“It is a very emotional subject and there are no winners. There is no other way to describe it other than it’s very difficult to take sides in it. It is very, very complex,” said Mr Roche.
“People will be seriously upset and annoyed no matter what way this goes, be it exhumation and reinterment, or the celebration of the little lives with a memorial park in their honour. No matter what way it goes there will be deep division. This is so delicate you cannot gauge this by being outside the town.”