Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Mass baby grave in Tuam, Galway: Irish president Michael D Higgins appalled at terrible reports

The Sisters of Bon Secours operated the Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, Co Galway
The Sisters of Bon Secours operated the Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, Co Galway

Irish police are preparing an initial dossier for the Republic's Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald on reports of an unmarked grave at a former Catholic Church-run home in Tuam, Co Galway where almost 800 children died.

But it is not clear when they will be in a position to determine if a criminal investigation is warranted.

Two local senior officers, Chief Supt Tom Curley and Supt Patrick McHugh, visited the site  yesterday along with 51-year-old Frannie Hopkins, who found what he believed to have been a mass grave there when he was 12 years old.

Separately yesterday, President Michael D Higgins said he was "appalled" at the terrible reports that have been appearing, in particular in relation to the high death rates in Tuam.

Mr Higgins said the structure of any inquiry into these deaths was a matter for the Irish government.

Yesterday, Mr Hopkins, who first found the graves, described in detail to the gardai where he discovered the suspected bodies of the children who died in the home between 1925 and 1961. "They brought me up to the site and I showed them where it was and how we came across it. It was all quite informal and only took about 15 minutes," he said.

Gardai said officially last night they were feeding into the inter-departmental process that was now under way, with a view to providing any information and assistance.

Mrs Fitzgerald had earlier indicated she had requested the garda report and said her department had been liaising with the gardai.

She said it was important that they addressed those disturbing issues as sensitively as possible. "There is no doubt that coverage over the last few days will have inevitably evoked very painful memories," said Ms Fitzgerald.

A decision on a criminal investigation was an issue for the gardai, the minister said, and pointed out that the purpose of a criminal investigation was to lead to the prosecution of people where the commission of offences had been established.

She promised consideration would be given by the government on how best to proceed in the interests of all those who were affected by these extremely disturbing events.

A number of markings have now been laid on the small site, where a septic tank is located.

However, the director of the Adoption Rights Alliance Susan Lohan accused the government of lagging behind the church and public opinion in relation to the discovery there.

She said it was inconceivable that anything but a criminal inquiry would be launched into the discovery of the grave.

Alliance chairman Paul Redmond said he had given Mrs Fitzgerald, when she was Children Minister, an 8,000-word report on the home but she had failed to take action.

He also revealed that he held three meetings with Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmaid Martin in 2012.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has asked Republic's Children's Minister Charlie Flanagan to put together a team of officials to establish what was involved and determine whether this was an isolated incident.

He said he understood the situation had been known about since 1972 and there were Dail records relating to inspections, dating back to the 1930s.

Several hundred people are expected to join a candlelit vigil at the Dail this week.

A group, "Justice for the Tuam Babies", will march from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs on Mespil Road to the gates of the Dail.

The long gone Tuam Mother and Baby Home in Galway, which is at the heart of latest scandal to hit the Catholic Church in Ireland 

Related articles

'Priest said Mass, then grave was covered up again'

The person who discovered the remains of hundreds of babies in a septic tank has recalled the "tiny skeletons" he encountered when he unearthed the grave when he was just 12 years old.

Frannie Hopkins was playing with a friend at the site back in 1975 when the pair noticed that one of the slabs covering an old septic tank had come loose.

"At the time we found a concrete slab over what I described at the time as a tank, I now see it was a tomb," he said.

"We removed the lid and we found that it was full of skeletons; they appeared to be that of children. They were tiny skeletons, there just seemed to be an awful lot for one small little grave.

"A few days later, our parents told us not to go there, that the priest had been there and had said Mass and prayers and that the grave had been covered up again."

Mr Hopkins said he visited the grave site repeatedly over the years, but never knew the true extent of the tragedy until Catherine Corless's research emerged.

Meanwhile, locals who lived near the site paid special tribute to local man Padraic Dooley, who cared for the tiny graveyard for 40 years. Sadly, Mr Dooley passed away just two weeks ago before the gravesite could be properly recognised.

"Padraic looked after it for more than 30 years. He would always keep flowers there. It's a pity he can't see this now.

"We would have Masses and special blessings at the grave over the years. We knew there were some babies buried here but we never knew how many," said one local man.

Now locals are eager for the site to be marked but insist that they want to see the babies left undisturbed.

As calls for a government inquiry grow, Minister for Children Charlie Flanagan accepted that the Tuam mother-and-baby home was not unique in Ireland, adding: "We will properly review these issues and we will not confine this review to Tuam."

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin said all necessary inquiries would take place, including a criminal one if it was deemed appropriate by the authorities.

A statement on behalf of the Sisters of Bon Secours said they were "shocked and deeply saddened" by the recent reports about St Mary's Mother-and-Baby Home.

"The Bon Secours Sisters say they are committed to engaging with Catherine Corless, the Graveyard Committee and the local residents as constructively as they can on the graves initiative connected with the site.

"The Sisters welcome the recent government announcement to initiate an investigation, in an effort to establish the full truth of what happened," it added.

Earlier, the Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin urged those responsible for running any of the mother-and-baby homes in Ireland, or people with information about mass graves, to go to the authorities.

He called for a "full-bodied inquiry" to be set up and revealed that he had tasked the Dublin diocesan archivist to compile all information concerning the mother-and-baby homes in Dublin. This information will be passed on to any government inquiry.

Archives

Further reading

COMMENT RULES: Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. The moderator will not enter into debate with individual contributors and the moderator’s decision is final. It is Belfast Telegraph policy to close comments on court cases, tribunals and active legal investigations. We may also close comments on articles which are being targeted for abuse. Problems with commenting? customercare@belfasttelegraph.co.uk

Latest News

Latest Sport

Latest Showbiz