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Tuam babies: Remains found in 'underground chambers' at Galway excavation site

By Kevin Doyle

Quantities of human remains have been discovered at a Galway site excavated by the Mother and Baby Homes Commission.

The Commission has described itself as “shocked” by the discovery made in Tuam over recent weeks.

The Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation is currently probing how unmarried mothers and their babies were treated between 1922 and 1998 at 18 State-linked religious institutions.

A small number of the remains discovered in Tuam were recovered for the purpose of analysis.

“These remains involved a number of individuals with age-at-death ranges from approximately 35 foetal weeks to 2-3 years,” the body said.

“Radiocarbon dating of the samples recovered suggest that the remains date from the timeframe relevant to the operation of the Mother and Baby Home. The homes ran from 1925 to 1961."

A number of the samples are likely to date from the 1950s. Further scientific tests are being conducted.

“The Commission is shocked by this discovery and is continuing its investigation into who was responsible for the disposal of human remains in this way,” it added in a statement.

A stratigraphic survey of the site which was conducted in October 2015 identified a particular area of interest and identified a number of sub surface anomalies that were considered worthy of further investigation.

These were further investigated by a test excavation in November/December 2016 and in January/February 2017.

Test trenches were dug revealing two large structures. One structure appears to be a large sewage containment system or septic tank that had been decommissioned and filled with rubble and debris and then covered with top soil.

The second structure is a long structure which is divided into 20 chambers.

The Commission has not yet determined what the purpose of this structure was but it appears to be related to the treatment/containment of sewage and/or waste water. The Commission has also not yet determined if it was ever used for this purpose.

Responding to the development, Children's Minister Katherine Zappone said it was "very sad and disturbing news".

 "It was not unexpected as there were claims about human remains on the site over the last number of years.

 "Up to now we had rumours. Now we have confirmation that the remains are there, and that they date back to the time of the Mother and Baby Home, which operated in Tuam from 1925 to 1961," she said.

 The Minister said that everybody involved must respond sensitively and respectfully to the situation.

Her Department had brought together all of the key Departments and agencies to set out a way forward.

 This will include the following:

  • The Commission will continue its work under its terms of reference, including such matters as post mortem practices and procedures, reporting and burial arrangements for residents of Mother and Baby Homes.
     
  • The Coroner for North Galway will take the steps he deems necessary under his independent statutory functions.
     
  • Galway County Council will engage with the Commission in relation to the immediate next steps on the site.
     
  • Galway County Council will engage with local residents and other interested parties on what should happen next in relation to the remains.
     
  • There will be an information line for factual information, and a service for those who feel personally affected by the news.

 Ms Zappone said:“Today is about remembering and respecting the dignity of the children who lived their short lives in this Home.

 "We will honour their memory and make sure that we take the right actions now to treat their remains appropriately.”

*Information and Counselling Services

There is a telephone Information line available for people seeking information or details of support available to those affected by these issues.  Those seeking such information may telephone the HSE National Information Line; Low Call Telephone 1850 24 1850 during Monday to Friday 9am to 5 pm.

The National Counselling Service is also available to assist those affected.  The HSE National Counselling Service is a professional, confidential counselling and psychotherapy service available free of charge in all regions of the Health Service Executive for adults who have experienced trauma and abuse in childhood with priority given to adult survivors of institutional abuse in Ireland.   Callers to the HSE National Information line will be connected to a local service.

Those seeking adoption information and tracing information may wish to visit the following sites:

Tusla (the Child and Family Agency) - www.tusla.ie or

The Adoption Authority of Ireland - www.aai.gov.ie.

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