Belfast Telegraph

Identity of children in mass grave at Tuam home may never be discovered

Children's remains discovered in underground chambers at a former home for unmarried mothers and their babies in Ireland may never be identified, a report has said.

DNA samples would be needed from living relatives and even then it would be extremely difficult and depend on the quality of remains recovered, an expert team added.

The mass grave of babies and children was discovered earlier this year at a former Catholic Church institution in Tuam, Co Galway.

They were found buried under the site of the former institution for unmarried mothers run by the Sisters of the Bon Secours.

An expert technical group established to consider options for the Irish government said to forensically excavate the entire 0.4 hectares area would cost up to five million euro (£4.4 million) and take up to two years.

Managing the site as a memorial could cost 100,000 euro (£88,075) and be completed within six months.

The group urged ministers to communicate realistic expectations on what DNA testing may be able to produce in a complex site such as Tuam and noted t he "impossibility" of achieving positive DNA identification of infants and young juveniles without samples from living relatives.

"Even then, identification will be extremely difficult, and will depend on the quality of the remains recovered."

It said the quality of samples are less likely to be usable for DNA identification in the case of infants because the best source of DNA can be teeth, including the root, which are not sufficiently formed in humans until the age of two years.

It said the process of DNA testing can itself destroy the samples, leaving little left to re-inter after the process.

"While this may be acceptable when dealing with, eg, whole skeletons or significant intact portions, it is far less satisfactory when being used to identify individual fragments of co-mingled remains which are effectively destroyed as they are 'individualised'."

The Tuam home operated from 1925 to 1961.

A number of the samples are likely to date from the 1950s, according to the commission which investigated it.

Children's minister Dr Katherine Zappone said: "I want to ensure that whatever action is taken respects the memory and dignity of those who are buried there and takes account of the concerns and wishes of all who are affected, whether as former residents of the home, relatives of those who may be buried there, or as local residents who live near the site."

The commission was set up by the Irish government to probe state-sanctioned, religious-run institutions used to house pregnant mothers.

It was charged with investigating high mortality rates at mother and baby homes across several decades of the 20th century, the burial practices at these sites and secret and illegal adoptions and vaccine trials on children.

It is thought about 35,000 unmarried mothers spent time in one of 10 homes run by religious orders in Ireland.

An inquiry was ordered after massive national and international focus on the story of the Sisters of the Bon Secours in Tuam, where the remains of 796 infants are believed to be buried.

Outside of Tuam, three other mother and baby homes have little angels plots believed to hold the remains of another 3,200 babies and infants.

They are Sean Ross Abbey, Tipperary - where the story of Philomena Lee began - Bessborough, Co Cork, and Castlepollard, Co Westmeath.

Infant mortality rates ranged from 30-50% in some of the homes in the 1930s and 1940s.

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