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Dublin: 15 °C Monday 1 September, 2014

Allegations about mass grave of 800 babies ‘being taken very, very seriously’

“This is turning into a horrific account of maltreatment, neglect and a complete abdication of responsibility”.

Updated 8.15pm

THE CABINET DID not discuss allegations that a mass grave containing the bodies of almost 800 infants has been found on the grounds of a former children’s home in Galway, despite an assertion by the Minister for Children that it would.

Minister for Children Charlie Flanagan said he was shocked by the “appalling revelations” about the home.  ”The full facts surrounding the matter must be established,” he said.

He had confirmed to TheJournal.ie that he expected the matter to come up at today’s ministerial meeting. However this evening, a spokesperson for the minister said that it was not specifically discussed..

They said the minister has been in touch with the Department of Justice and the Taoiseach on the matter and it is being considered at senior levels in the coalition.

“The matter is being taken very, very seriously. The full facts need to be established,” the spokesperson said.

The death records for 796 children, ranging in age from newborn babies to children up to the age of nine, were discovered by local historian Catherine Corless who was researching the history of the home, which was run by the Bon Secours order of nuns from 1925 until 1961.

While the area was known locally as being a graveyard,  the extent of how many children were placed in the former septic tank was only discovered by Corless during her research.

She found that the children died of malnutrition and neglect, as well as illnesses such as measles, tuberculosis and pneumonia.

Fine Gael TD for Galway East Ciaran Cannon said the deaths were a “horrific account of maltreatment, neglect and a complete abdication of responsibility for the care of these very vulnerable young children”.

“Doing nothing is simply not an option for us in Government when presented with details of this nature,” he said.

“These children were denied love and respect, they were treated almost as a sub-species and no-one reached out to put a protective arm around them”.

“And I don’t accept the argument that their deaths can somehow be anonymised on the basis that there were deaths of a similar nature across the country, that this was the nature of the times they lived in. Every child was someone’s son or daughter, every child was an individual deserving of our respect and they were denied that”.

Cannon also said that a “large number” of unidentified remains were discovered in a water tank close to the home in the 1970s.

The skeletons of the children were discovered by two boys who were playing in a field in 1975.

The dead children were not buried in coffins and no gravestones mark the place where they were buried. The home was closed in the 1960s and then demolished and a housing estate now stands in its place.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of the Dublin Archdiocese said there should either be a public inquiry into “outstanding issues of concern” at the mother and baby homes or else, where appropriate, a social history project to get an accurate picture of what happened at the homes.

Corless and a local committee are trying to raise money to build a memorial to the children but said last week that fundraising efforts have been slow so far.

The mortality rate at the home was significantly higher than it was for children generally at the time in Ireland: a Dáil debate in February 1934 noted that one in three children born outside of marriage died within one year of their birth – a rate which was about five times higher than for other children.

“From the abnormally high death rate amongst this class of children one must come to the conclusion that they are not looked after with the same care and attention as that given to ordinary children,” Fianna Fáil TD Dr Conn Ward told the Dáil.

First published 4.46pm

- Additional reporting by Hugh O’Connell.

Read: ‘It’s time to do something’ – The forgotten mass grave of 800 babies in Galway > 

Opinion: Mass grave filled to the brim with tiny bones and skulls shows how we cherish children > 

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