Belfast Telegraph

Why do the '11,000' babies buried in Belfast bog not get international media coverage, like Tuam?

By Paul Connolly

I often wonder whether old inter-media rivalries in Belfast are seriously clouding editorial judgments. I have plenty of examples of compelling stories, many from the Belfast Telegraph but from other outlets too, not being followed up by other media. Usually I put my bewilderment down to a personal mixture of cynicism and prickliness.

However, the latest example really does give greater cause for concern. Consider, if you may, two stories from last month.

In the first, nuns are accused of presiding over an uncaring regime that featured unnaturally high death-rates and the 'dumping' of babies' bodies in unmarked mass graves.

In the other, nuns are accused of presiding over an uncaring regime that featured unnaturally high death-rates and the 'dumping' of babies' bodies in unmarked mass graves.

Yes, you read that correctly. The same issue. The first story is from Tuam, Co Galway. The second from Belfast.

The Tuam case made, and continues to make, international headlines and is the subject of a high-level Government inquiry.

The Belfast case? No fuss, virtually no follow-ups and certainly no inquiry.

The most disturbing allegations in both the Tuam and Belfast cases have yet to be proven, but in both, detailed and credible concerns have been raised.

In my opinion the reaction to the Belfast story speaks volumes about the state of the media, the health of our body politic and an apparent lack of interest from the public. The long shadow of the Troubles is allowed to overly dominate discourse.

Tuam concerns an alleged unmarked mass grave at a former Catholic Church-run home containing the bodies of almost 800 children who died between 1925 and 1961.

It lies, almost unthinkably, in a disused septic tank. Much more disturbingly however, analysis would appear to show unnaturally high death-rates, which may have been caused by inappropriate care by ill-trained and ill-suited nuns.

"Unnaturally high death-rates" is jargon for the deaths of children who should have lived long and happy lives. Quite rightly Tuam became an international story and ignited a fresh round of soul-searching in the Republic.

Things are rather different north of the border. The Belfast story was revealed in Sunday Life on June 15. The allegations are credible and concern the burial of babies' bodies in the Bog Meadows – that strip of greenery on your right as you drive country-bound along the M1.

An archaeologist says she has found a grave with 429 children inside, but there are more. If the claims are correct, you're driving past the unmarked graves of up to 11,000 children. You'd have thought that vista of misery might concern lots of people.

It's not the first time that stories of unmarked children's graves in the Bog Meadows have been reported, but there has been precious little proper investigation into the scandal and certainly none I can find into death-rates and standards of medical care for the children of unmarried mothers.

The Belfast revelations follow the same disturbing path as Tuam: the callousness of the burials and the "unnaturally high" death-rates alleged in Nazareth Lodge between 1940 and 1951. And there are suggestions that not all babies who died at Nazareth Lodge were recorded as being from there.

Why did this story not ignite significant follow-up articles and action? Why the contrast with Tuam? Rivalries? Cosy consensus? I don't really know.

Campaigners Margaret McGuckin and Kate Walmsley were quoted calling for an official inquiry and pledging to fight for justice.

There should be an inquiry into this issue, particularly into the death-rates, standards of medical care and the scale – including whether these child deaths were properly recorded.

Good luck with the campaign, Margaret and Kate. Don't give up until you get to the truth. And don't let the silence deter you.

  • @BelTelReadersEd


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