On Monday, the 23rd of July, Minister Katherine Zappone held a meeting in Tuam which we attended and where our secretary Breeda took the following notes as transcript in real time on the laptop as the Minister spoke.
Good evening everyone, almost all here, maybe more will gather. Thank you very much for coming. I am joined by Fergal Lynch (Secretary General) Michelle Shannon (Director, Youth assistant director), Doyle working in section of department with her – and Wendy and Liam will assist later as part of evening to help facilitate exchanges with me.
To say first of all how appreciative I am for you to give time, many having done this and having spent a lot of time thinking and reflecting and advocating for issues related to site of Tuam. Many of you are aware I’ve met with some of you this is my fourth visit over the last year and a half
Speaking a little first to you; First by speaking about the decisions I now have to make and how I hope to make them and why I am here this evening with my officials. We start with that point and may I say as more people are coming in, to acknowledge the montage of children’s toys that greeted us as we came in to recall the 796 children and I acknowledge that as part of the evening and the depth of feeling behind that as well.
I know from having heard some people remark on the evening, and also media reports, that people have expressed and wonder why we’re gathered here and you think surely there is enough information for me to decide on what to recommend to my cabinet colleagues – I’m aware of that. I do have a lot of information. I have also read the consultation report that has come from here and reports I asked for. I’m aware of the diversity and the depth of feeling, the anger the impatience and the hope – because I have been listening to it. In essence I want to say to you I’m here, because as the person with the responsibility for making this important recommendation on what is to be done, I do want to have one more chance to hear your perspectives and views. I also want to outline for you where my thinking is and how we might now proceed, and how I came to that, and of course you may wish to challenge me as you’ve done before and if you think that’s appropriate I welcome that in a constructive manner. It is my hope you accept, I come here this evening in good faith to find the best way forward for the former home in Tuam. The moral and ethical responsibility on what to recommend to government is something I take very seriously and regardless of what decision is arrived at I know it will not please everyone. I wish to assure everyone the recommendation will be made on a principal and empathic basis I just wanted to take a few minutes to give the principles guiding me on the right thing to do
I am committed that we comply with international standards and norms when designing and implementing – including obligations on international human rights law.
Greatly aided by the report of Dr. Geoffrey Shanon. Fair to say that Dr. Shannon concludes from a HR perspective we have a duty to act. Report is being considered by Attorney General. Government colleagues haven’t seen it yet – it will be brought to Government in early September – reiterates Geoffrey Shannon – have a duty to act.
Secondly I want to make sure all affected are central to design and implementation. I am aware of the fact there is not agreement across the board but even with that I am accountable to and hearing the differing and contradictory views – it includes both former residents, family and relations and residents of Tuam. I am aware that Tuam is more than this history,
Also mentioning the beautiful town and that it is the mother and baby home is part of the story but not all of it – and so for the residents of Tuam it is part of their story but not all of it. This is why I‘m establishing the Collaborative Forum and will meet for the first time this week in Government buildings. The importance of people impacted being part of it. I also hope to be able to ensure that we honour all of these parts of identities and realities of affected and will not shy away from challenge that this poses, the challenge of differing views, all of those are important to hear. That is the second principal in making the decision.
Thirdly and relatedly, I think that women’s rights must be respected in this process. What happened was gender injustice. So often women as mothers and children were affected. I am also committed to taking a child-centred approach.
Fifthly committed to developing real partnerships through which we make and implement decisions in a non-hierarchical and instructive manner. That’s why I established the Collaborative Forum
These principles, International HR., people affected, implementing way forward – these principals are not just words on page they mean a lot and shape the decisions I must now make and make into the future. My belief to place at the core of consideration our ethical and moral duties
Quotes: Marcel Prost – remembrance of things past – Love produces real geological upheavals of thought. We must act with empathy and compassion with those we previously abandoned.
Empathy and compassion are allies of love – I think we must recognise there is an ongoing relation between the living and those who died in Tuam – that the wounds and harm are in the present and are not just in the past. At the heart of that relationship is a bond of love between each human person that requires us to act with empathy towards others especially those who have been shamed and stigmitasied in the past. These were people whose futures were denied them with families and relatives. And they were part of our community. It is that commitment to love to be a caring society I think will deliver justice.
At this stage I want to share with you my personal vision informed by principals outlined, I published the results of consultation process. It highlights the different but equally valid views. In brief those who were resident are in view of full excavation – in contrast with residents from Tuam who favour memoralisation. These are views which are exceptionally diverse. I did note the ones living in – even within those groupings there was diversity – I appreciate and respect those views but obviously mutually exclusive.
To ensure local residents concerns are addressed and we can hopefully proceed in a collaborative way in adopting a rights based approach.
Approach based on Human Rights and would involve taking all reasonable steps for investing scope for retrieval of all human remains and in possible to exhume.
Questions of scale that arise here are not straightforward. A decision if requires full excavation of all land formerly occupied or whether more appropriate to test the areas where anomalies arise. The former full excavation eliminates risk but we cannot know from the outset if it would result in more complete excavation.
We cannot know that one is more right than the other, we must use the principals outlined above. It’s not something there is a single right answer and your views will be of assistance to me. This isn’t straightforward, and in light of various pieces of work undertaken with the best of intentions some ethical challenges about the treatment of remains but of an urgent nature issues to be dealt with – to make sure we actually have legal authority to exhume the remains, examine them, carry out successful DNA test where possible and this is part of the complexity which I referred – we have to act in a lawful manner. It’s also one of the primary reasons why I’ve not been able to make a recommendation to government. I trust that we will take that as true.
However let me assure you that if what seems to be the best approach to introduce legislation – I will not shy away from that task
It involves law relation to burial graves – and covers actions that can be taken, An Garda Siochana – the courts – the decisions about DNA testing and who can take DNA
Aware that this can sound impersonal and clinical which unfortunately it is and yet we must deal with these matters re every baby buried on the site. We need to have a clear legal framework to deliver what I believe is a shared commitment to do what is right here. Hearing these sensitive issues is difficult not least because we all want action as soon as possible For the moment what I can say is that we are working through so the Government will be empowered. I very much hope to be able to bring proposals to Government as early as possible.
That is why I am here this evening. It is always my intention to carry out my role as minister in a transparent manner to explain delays and listen and hear what people have to say and that is particularly true in relation to the site. Unfortunately solutions are harder to find and expected delays sometimes cannot be avoided. What I can assure you is my commitment to working in partnership with all affected to be as honest as I can about decisions the basis upon being made and the challenges in trying to give effect to them.
I’ll conclude in a moment.
I’m coming close to making a recommendation to government. I’ve had opportunity to exchange with some of you – not all of you – I’m aware that some groupings have been excluded to date and I do understand the depth of feelings and I’m also aware there are contradictory views. When I make that recommendation I have to be able to persuade them to make that recommendation what I’ve outlined to you some of the principals I’m thinking about – reflection and good practice – and in the various forms of reports.
I am well aware of the criticism of consultation that took place in Galway. I’m also describing in conclusion that one of the final and prime pieces that hasn’t been sorted is a legislative pathway in order to implement decisions if those recommendations are ones that have to do with excavation, exhumation, DNA analysis – those have not been able to be sorted yet. That at this point is where we still have some delay.
Before I talk about this I felt it was more appropriate to come and outline my thinking and to be able to hear directly from you our response to that.
I understand there are other issues that you have and have been coping with – but I hope most of our time can be spent in relation to the decision that we need to make in relation to the remains of the children and the site itself in Tuam.