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Tuam babies to be exhumed and identified, says Minister

By Ann Marie Foley - 25 October, 2018

The government has agreed to excavate the Tuam babies site, identify those buried there and respectfully rebury them. Proper inquests are required, according to representatives of families of the babies who died and were buried on the site of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home.

On 23 October, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr Katherine Zappone, announced that the government has approved the forensic excavation of the site in a “multi-disciplinary framework, known as Humanitarian Forensic Action”, in response to the discovery of children’s remains interred at the site of the former mother and baby home run by the Bon Secours order of nuns.

“I am committed to ensuring that all the children interred at this site can have a dignified and respectful burial,” she stated. “While we must not underestimate the legal and technical challenges ahead, this comprehensive and scientific approach provides us with the best opportunity to address the many deeply personal questions to which former residents and their families need answers. I am also mindful of minimising the level of disruption for those who live in the vicinity of the site.”

In advance of Minister Zappone’s announcement, the Tuam Home Survivors Network stated: “The only acceptable outcome in the matter of the Tuam mass grave is the immediate convening of an inquest into the deaths of all the children recorded as dying within it, for whom no burial record exists. This requires a complete forensic exhumation, together with use of all resources required, to complete the most extensive DNA database possible and post-mortems to determine, wherever possible, the cause of each death.”

The statement concluded that the removal of the children of Tuam from one mass grave to a different mass grave would be disrespectful and “will be resisted by all lawful means”.

The actions to be taken by the government include:
• a phased approach to the forensic excavation and recovery of the babies’ remains in so far as this is possible;
• the use of on-site *ground-truthing and test excavations to effectively locate potential burials;
• the forensic analysis of any recovered remains and, where possible, identification;
• the respectful reburial of the babies with memorial/s, and conservation of the site.

Minister Zappone confirmed that new legislation will be needed to implement these actions. Initially the excavation and recovery works will be focused on the remains within the series of chambers identified by the Commission of Investigation. Further testing will facilitate phased extension of the investigation across the site as necessary. This does not include the areas where houses and gardens have been built and developed.

The Expert Technical Group has already identified eight separate areas that should be examined. Further investigations will be needed to determine where there are more human remains across the site. The Minister’s statement said that every “reasonable effort” will be made to locate and recover all remains from the site.

There will be special community liaison in place to keep former residents and their families informed and involved in the process.

*Ground truth allows image data to be related to real features and materials on the ground.

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