The Commission has completed two test excavations of the Galway site and today confirmed that “significant quantities of human remains have been discovered” in a structure which appears to be “related to the treatment/containment of sewerage and/or wastewater”.
The structure where the remains were found is long and divided into 20 chambers. The Commission is not yet clear if it was ever used for sewerage or wastewater.
There were remains found in at least 17 of the 20 chambers. A small number of the remains were recovered for testing. A scientific analysis has put the ages of the deceased at between 35 foetal weeks to two to three years old.
Radiocarbon dating suggests that they are from the time the Bon Secours home was in operation between 1925 and 1961. A number of the samples are likely to be from the 1950s.
A second structure discovered during excavations between November 2016 and February this year appeared to be a decommissioned septic tank which had been filled with rubble and debris and then covered with topsoil.
In a statement, the Commission said it is “shocked by the discovery” and its investigation is continuing “into who was responsible for the disposal of human remains in this way”.
State authorities have been asked to take responsibility for the appropriate treatment of the remains and the North Galway Coroner has been informed. He will determine if there is to be any garda involvement in further investigations.
Speaking today, Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone said the “sad and disturbing news” confirms rumours about the possibility of a mass grave at the site.
“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,” she added.
Decisions have yet to be taken on whether more excavations will be required at other mother and baby home sites.
The Commission was established following a 2014 report in the Irish Mail on Sunday that 800 children died in the home and were interred in a mass grave.
Local historian Catherine Corless has spent years researching the home, even obtaining death certificates for each child who died there, in the hope of rectifying an injustice.
In a statement today, the Bon Secours order said:
“The Bon Secours sisters are fully committed to the work of the Commission regarding the mother and baby home in Tuam. On the closing of the Home in 1961 all the records for the Home were returned to Galway County Council who are the owners and occupiers of the lands of the Home. We can therefore make no comment on today’s announcement, other than to confirm our continued cooperation with and support for the work of the Commission in seeking the truth about the home.”
Call for identification
The Adoption Rights Alliance (ARA) and Justice for Magdalenes Research (JFMR) said that they were saddened by the news.
They said that Tuam “is not an isolated case” and reiterated their call for an expansion of the Commission’s Terms of Reference to include all institutions, agencies and individuals that were involved with Ireland’s unmarried mothers and their children, and to include investigations of burial practices at all of these locations.
They said that they want the government to ensure that all children who died in Tuam,a nd all children and adults who died in institutional care or custody, are identified.
In addition, they urged an Garda Siochána to establish its own investigation, independent of the Commission of Investigation, into abuse, neglect and illegal separations of mothers and children in Mother and Baby Homes, County Homes, maternity hospitals, and through adoption agencies and similar entities.
We reiterate our concerns that the Commission’s Terms of Reference are not comprehensive enough, and stress that Tuam is but one institution in an ad hoc and almost entirely unregulated, State-funded system which had responsibility for the care of unmarried mothers and their children. Today’s disturbing statement from the Commission underscores that the State failed in its ‘duty of care’ towards these children and their mothers.
In the context of these revelations, and in the public interest, we also reiterate our call on Minister Zappone to publish the Commission’s second interim report without delay.