The following is the response of the Tuam Home Survivors Network to the 5th Interim Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and Related Matters.
It is not intended as an exhaustive response but is intended to draw attention to some of the matters set out in the Report.
Tuam Home Survivors Network
It is impossible to say what was in the mind of the last Bon Secours nun who closed the doors of the Grove private hospital Tuam in 2001, but it was certainly the end of an era. The Bon Secours' role in the Tuam Mother and Baby Home may have ended when it was closed suddenly in 1961, but it was forty years later, that they left behind the evidence of perhaps the most monumental and ugliest crime in the history of the State. The Bon Secours had left the scene of the crime.
They left behind them the bodies of some eight hundred children and a number of unfortunate women in what was, or had been a cess-pit, however described. They removed their own dead from the grounds of the Grove with great reverence and re-interred them with dignity at another of their properties. But they did not leave empty-handed. They sold the Grove, complete with Convent, chapel and the outmoded hospital building, already decaying, for the absurdly inflated sum of €4.1 million. It was a handsome going away present.
The Fifth Interim Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes provides little new to those intimately concerned with the Tuam Home.
It does however confirm:
- That the bodies of children dying in the Tuam Home were placed in what was or had been a cess-pit, however described.
- That this was at very least done under the direction of the Bon Secours nuns.
- That under the law this was not merely illegal, it was an act of criminality.
- That the statutory authority which owned the building throughout the history of the Home were aware of this practice and complicit in it.
In respect of Chapter 8 of the Report which deals specifically with the Tuam institution and particularly at 8.12 and 8.13, the Commission's Report, appears to us to come up short.
It is a matter of fact and record that what are described as
Records compiled in the Tuam Children's Home...
were little more than a Roll of those women and children confined there, with some sparse personal details recorded. These 'records' became more formalised on foot of the requirements of the Registration of Maternity Homes Act 1934 - but the half-yearly Returns- from the 'Home Registers', essentially had only one purpose, to calculate the 'headage' payable to the Bon Secours Order. Some may prefer the term 'capitation fee', but in the context of the treatment of those women and children, the former seems more appropriate.
These 'records' indeed were handed handed over to the State at the closure of the 'Home' in 1961.
It is a matter of record and fact that very substantial documentation passed from the Bon Secours Order to the State in 2012. It followed protracted legal negotiations which inevitably included the Office of the Attorney General. That documentation constitutes the records of the Bon Secours in their child-trafficking and adoption racketeering as well as effectively extorting or obtaining money from women who had left the 'Home', for the upkeep of children already registered by the State as deceased.
To be fair to the Commissioners, they only learned of the existence of these 'records’ through the Examiner newspaper edition of June 2nd 2015.
From our own direct dealings with Tusla, it is our clear understanding that some of these records had not been provided/or disclosed to the Commission as late as July 2017. Only the Commission can clarify what assistance it received thereafter.
We cannot on the evidence therefore accept the assertion by the Commission at paragraph 19 of its Introduction to the Report where it states:
There are instances of deaths noted in the Tuam Children’s Home records which are not on the register of deaths. The number of such discrepancies is very small and may yet be resolved. In the Commission’s view, there is very little basis for the theory that the children concerned did not die but were “sold” to America. Children from Tuam were adopted to America (as were children from nearly all the institutions under investigation). These adoptions are generally recorded in the Tuam records. It is not obvious why subterfuges would be required to arrange such adoptions.
When we consider the unwillingness of the Commission elsewhere in its Report, to draw the most reasonable inferences from compelling evidence, its view, in this instance is surprising. Where it says that 'these adoptions are generally recorded in the Tuam records', leaves us in some confusion and we believe that the Commission is obliged to identify the nature of those records. In any case, there is no certainty that all the children registered as dead, did in fact die at the time their deaths were registered. We do not concur with the Commission's view on this matter.
We believe that paragraph 8.21 dealing with Tuam speaks for itself but the Commission can come to no conclusion or in this instance or even express a view.
Paragraph 8.43 deals with two aerial photographs dating from 1974 and 1977 in which the area now identified as a mass grave is successively described as being covered with vegetation and 'overgrowth'. What is clearly visible, is in fact a plantation of young trees created by Galway County Council after the closure of the 'Home', consciously and deliberately on the area which it knew contained a mass grave(s), both inside and outside the area now known as the Children's Graveyard. The portion outside the 'Graveyard' area being cleared of the trees in the 1977 photograph and indeed marked on the Council Planning file as a 'burial ground'. This is beyond dispute.
Paragraphs 8.60 and 8.63 contain detail which is particularly troubling and upsetting because they provide quite compelling evidence of matters which have been a cause of great concern for some time. That is the likelihood that children of the Home were required or forced to place the bodies of dead children in the chambers of a sewerage tank. It becomes clearer with each passing day that the full horror of Tuam is not yet exposed.
We note in passing that members of the Tuam Home Survivors Network have faced criticism because we insist that there can be no closure in the Tuam story without establishing the cause of death of the Tuam victims.
The Commission says it will deal with the 'causes of death' in a 2020 Report. The causes of death of the the Tuam Children can only be established by an Inquest. Nothing else is acceptable or possible in law. We will not add our names to those who have betrayed the dead children of Tuam.
To ensure there is no ambiguity on the position of the Tuam Home Survivors Network in relation to recent announcements by Katherine Zappone and the Government, kindly note the following:
The aims and policy of the Tuam Home Survivors Network are
- The exhumation of all human remains at the Tuam site.
- The creation of a DNA database of all survivors, family members of survivors, family members of those registered as dying in the Tuam home and family members of any persons known to be missing from the Tuam home so as to identify as many as possible of the human remains.
- That all aspects of the forensic exhumation of the Tuam mass grave be undertaken by the only legal authority both permitted and obliged to do so, the Coroners Service under the auspices of the Department of Justice.
It is beyond debate that the Minister continues to act ultra vires in this matter. That is our clear position.
The fact that Coroner for North Galway has failed in his duty to convene an Inquest or that successive Attorneys General have failed in their duty to appoint another Coroner, or the fact that the Department of Justice has failed to fulfil its role, does not mean that their powers devolve on the Minister for Children by default.
It is difficult to see what if any role the Minister for Children has in this matter. Any suggestion that she has the power to control the process of bringing closure to the Tuam story is constitutionally and legally absurd and we do not in any way support it.
29/01/2019 - Tuam Home Survivors' Network, representing survivors of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home and families of the lost children of Tuam has this morning urged the Government to begin collecting their DNA samples immediately.
This work should proceed in a way that will be of greatest benefit to the greatest number of survivors, victims and families. For this to be achieved, as much information as possible should be obtained from each sample of human remains. The quantifying of the DNA extracted is the paramount task to be accomplished.
30/12/2018 -Tuam Home Survivors Network welcomes confirmation by An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, that excavation work will begin on the site of the former Tuam Mother and Baby Home during the latter half of 2019. We note that experts will be appointed in the interim and legislation passed in order to carry out the works which will commence on a phased basis.
It is now four and a half years since Alison O’Reilly broke the story of Tuam to the world press on Sunday the 25th of May, 2014. In March 2017, Minister Katherine Zappone advised that the remains uncovered during the test excavation dated to the period of the home (1925-1961) and were of babies and children aged between 35 fetal weeks and three years. This revelation, while confirming what many survivors and family members suspected, brought a new urgency to the situation. Finally, Dr. Geoffrey Shannon’s report focused on the human rights which continue from cradle to beyond the grave attributing to the #796 in an effort to provide much needed dignity and respect to the lost children of Tuam and six mothers whose burial place remains unknown.
22/10/2018 - Birth and Death Certificates for the former Tuam Home number 1101 births within the Home and 796 deaths within the Home. Of those recorded as dying within the Home, slightly in excess of 79% failed to reach the age of one year.
The graveyard records of Galway County Council disclose burial places for just two of those children. Despite the previous knowledge of both Galway County Council and the Bon Secours Order, the presence of large numbers of infant remains was finally confirmed by an exploratory dig at the Tuam site in October 2016. It further confirmed that the resting place of those remains had, for some decades, served as repository for sewerage.
27/08/2018 - The publication today of a letter, by Katherine Zappone, which she handed to the Pope is nothing more than a publicity stunt.
She writes in the preamble to that letter: I am the Minister responsible for the Tuam Mother and Baby Home. This is of course an absurd statement. Ms Zappone is merely the Minister to which the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes is to report. In a different country, such a Commission would be reporting to a Justice Minister. What Minister Zappone has been responsible for more than two years, is a dishonest exercise in respect of the Tuam pit, which has prolonged the agony of survivors and those whose relatives may be buried there, by standing in the way of an exhumation.
In the course of her letter to the Pope, she attempts to maintain the myth that she with her Cabinet colleagues can decide the future of the mass grave at Tuam. To be clear once more, the only office-holder with jurisdiction over the mass grave at Tuam is the local Coroner. Where a Coroner fails to convene an Inquest, the Attorney General has under s24 of the Coroners Act 1961, the power indeed obligation, to appoint another Coroner to do so. Neither the previous Attorney General Maire Whelan nor the current incumbent Seamus Woulfe, have fulfilled their obligations to do so. Minister Zappone has sat in Cabinet with both and cannot be unaware of the position.
08/08/2018 - The following is a copy of a letter sent to Mr Séamus Woulfe, Attorney General by Peter Mulryan dated 7th August 2018.
Mr Seamus Woulfe SC
Office of the Attorney General,
Dear Mr Woulfe,
Further to my recent letter.
Dr Val Costello as Coroner for North Galway continues to fail in his obligations to convene an Inquest into the mass grave at Tuam and the deaths of up to 800 infants.
Where he has so clearly failed, there is a clear obligation on you to appoint a Coroner to convene an Inquest into the Tuam deaths. It is not up to me to cite the legal argument or statutory basis under which that duty falls on you, it must be assumed that you as Attorney are reasonably aware of the law and of the significance of the Tuam mass grave.