Irish Times view on the Mother and Baby homes report: concealment, past and present

Greater public cooperation is required to expose the truth and confront old prejudices

Flowers at the site of a mass grave for children who died in the Tuam mother and baby home. File photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Flowers at the site of a mass grave for children who died in the Tuam mother and baby home. File photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

If the failure to record the deaths and burials of so-called illegitimate and abandoned children who died in various institutions during the last century is not appalling enough, the present unwillingness of local residents, public officials and religious orders to openly acknowledge such treatment shames us all today.

The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes is examining practices surrounding the births, deaths and burials of children in public and religiously run institutions. In its fifth interim report – into burial arrangements – it suggests that, in some instances, deliberate efforts are being made to hide the truth. It is particularly critical of officials and employees at Galway County Council and the Bon Secours Sisters who operated the Tuam mother-and-baby Home. Extraordinarily for a public body, the council did not respond to technical reports of the Tuam site or a first draft of the commission’s report.

Noting that the “social and economic context” had changed, the commission expressed concern at the limited co-operation it had received, particularly in relation to unauthorised and unrecorded disposal of remains at a disused sewage system in Tuam. In that case, the Bon Secours Sisters expressed “deep sorrow” over what had occurred and “apologised unreservedly”. But they also challenged a structural report that found parts of the sewage plant had been deliberately modified to receive the remains of children.

A review commissioned by the Sisters suggested the commission’s archaeological reports did not adequately consider the possibility that the structure in which the remains were found was designed as a burial vault and then used as such. The commission was succinct in its response: “This was not a recognised burial ground or purpose built burial chamber. It did not provide for the dignified interment of human remains”.

In the case of Bessborough in Cork, one of three homes run by the Congregation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary, where 900 children had died, the commission found no evidence of recorded burials. Instead, the order supplied it with information that was “speculative, inaccurate and misleading”.

The report found no evidence to support a suggestion that the deaths of children had been falsified so that they could be “sold” in America. Yet, chillingly, it disclosed that the bodies of more than 950 children were sent to University College Dublin, Trinity College and the Royal College of Surgeons for anatomical research between 1920 and 1977. Most people, it said, would find this arrangement “distasteful at a minimum”.

A final report, next year, will address the causes of death of children in the institutions under investigation. This scandal remains active. Greater public co-operation is required to expose the truth and confront old prejudices.

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