DUBLIN — The Irish government established a working group to address details emerging about Catholic-run, state-funded mother-and-baby homes and the burial of deceased children.
Minister for Children Charlie Flanagan said June 4 that the initiative would result in a report to the government on how best to address “a shocking reminder of a darker past in Ireland.”
Revelations that 796 infants and children died at a home for unwed mothers and their babies in Tuam in western Ireland has put renewed focus on such institutions. The Tuam home was run by the Bons Secours sisters between 1925 and 1961, during which time the children, some as old as 9, suffered a death rate of nearly one every two weeks. Their bodies were buried in a disused septic tank and their grave was unmarked.
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, in a statement June 5, urged the people responsible for running any of the mother-and-baby homes or other people with information about mass graves to talk with investigators.
“The Gospel message is that authentic faith is measured by how we treat children who represent Christ, he said.
His statement described the details emerging from Tuam and perhaps elsewhere as “sickening.”
A day earlier, he said it was important that the stories of the homes be collected “to get an accurate picture of these homes in our country’s history.
Archbishop Martin also said that “where there are reasonable grounds,” he supports “excavating what may be unmarked graves” and “the setting up of monuments at any unmarked grave sites with, where possible, the names of those who died.”
Following research by local historian Catherine Corless into the operation of the mother-and-baby home that was run by the religious order, it emerged that up to 796 children may have died at the home during its 36 years of operation. Corless has been unable to locate a grave, and locals believe the children are buried in the disused septic tank. However, local police disputed the claim that any human remains buried in the site date from the Irish Potato Famine in the 19th century.
Flanagan said the government is giving “active consideration” to addressing the issue of children who died years ago in the homes.
“I am particularly mindful of the relatives of those involved and of local communities,” he said. “There are a number of government departments involved in this process. The cross-departmental initiative underway will examine these matters and report to Government on how they might be addressed.”
Archbishop Michael Neary of Tuam was scheduled to meet the Bon Secours sisters to discuss the issue.
“The archbishop will be meeting the sisters to discuss the matter of the memorial and also the holding of a memorial service for those who died there. I understand a suitable plaque is planned to contain the names and dates of death of all the 796 children,” an archdiocesan spokesman said.
“There is nothing in our archives about this,” the spokesman added. “The home closed in 1961 and all the records were handed over to the county council and the health board, I understand.”