The Irish Times view on Tuam Mother and Baby Home: dignity in death

The decision to carry out a forensic examination has already brought comfort to survivors of the institution

The Government’s decision to undertake a forensic examination of the site at the former Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, Co Galway has already brought comfort to survivors of the Home and to relatives of children believed buried there. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images

The Government’s decision to undertake a forensic examination of the site at the former Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, Co Galway has already brought comfort to survivors of the Home and to relatives of children believed buried there. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images

 

The Government’s decision to undertake a forensic examination of the site at the former mother-and-baby home in Tuam, Co Galway, is significant. The intention is to recover the children’s remains in so far as this is possible, their identification, and their respectful reburial. The decision has already brought comfort to survivors of the institution and to relatives of children believed buried there. It is also an acknowledgment by this State of the inherent right to dignity of those children and to a respect for them in death which it appears was altogether absent in their sad, brief lives.

Some are uneasy with the seemingly open-ended estimate of costs involved, ranging from between €6 million to over double that at €13 million. That can be put into some perspective when it is realised that €17 million has been set aside for a necessary refurbishment of the roof at Pearse railway station in Dublin. One would expect those buried children, their identification, reburial and preservation in memory, is a more worthy aspiration than restoration of a railway station roof.

Less acceptable is the €2.5 million fixed sum committed this week to the Tuam excavation costs by the Bon Secours sisters who ran the home. It was not spontaneous, but followed correspondence from Minister for Children Katherine Zappone. The amount has about it none of the State’s generosity of spirit towards these excavations and it is less than what Zappone sought. This may fit with a business approach that comes of being the largest provider of private healthcare in Ireland, as are the Bon Secours sisters. But it is hardly compatible with their mission of “care for the sick, the dying and their families within a Catholic ethos”.

Such a business approach would also appear less than consistent with a Catholic ethos which emphasises respect for the person from conception to natural death, and in death. It is striking that this would appear so with November on the horizon, a month when people traditionally remember the dead.

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