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Laura Hutton/ Catherine Corless pictured at the site of the former institution in Tuam, Co Galway
catherine corless

Tuam mother and baby home site to be excavated after President signs Burials Bill into law

The legislation will also allow for the excavation and reburial of remains at the sites of other former institutions.

LONG-AWAITED LEGISLATION that will allow for the excavation of remains at the sites of former mother and baby institutions has been signed into law by President Michael D Higgins.

The Institutional Burials Bill 2022 passed its final stage in the Oireachtas last Thursday and is now law.

The legislation will allow for remains at sites such as the former mother and baby home in Tuam in Co Galway to be excavated, recovered, analysed, and finally given a formal burial.

Other locations may also be excavated but the former Bon Secours institution in Tuam is the priority for the Government. Survivors and relatives have expressed concerns that other sites may not be excavated for several years – until the process at Tuam is complete or at least well underway.

The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes was set up following claims that 796 babies were interred in an unmarked mass grave at the former institution in Tuam – following research carried out by local historian Catherine Corless.

Excavations carried out between November 2016 and February 2017 found a significant quantity of human remains interred in a vault on the site.

Anna Corrigan of the Tuam Babies Family Group said that particular site needs to be urgently excavated as families have waited long enough for answers.

“They started digging in 2016 and 2017. They should have kept going then, it could have been resolved at this stage,” Corrigan said.

Speaking to The Journal today, she questioned how long it will take to set up the agency tasked with overseeing the excavation of sites such as Tuam.

“How long is it going to take to set up this agency? It could take four or five years to get staff in. That’s just for Tuam and the Bill is not confined to Tuam – what about other institutions?”

She added: “The devil is in the detail.”

Corrigan’s two brothers, John and William, were born in the Tuam mother and baby institution. A death certificate was issued for John, but not William.

She believes William may have been adopted illegally in the US – but there is a chance one or both of her brothers were buried at the site.

DNA testing

The Burials Bill will allow DNA-based identification to be undertaken to reunite families with the remains of their loved ones, and “will ensure that the children there have the dignified burial that has been denied to them for so long”.

In response to pre-legislative scrutiny recommendations and concerns expressed by family representatives,  Children’s Minister O’Gorman previously made a number of changes to the Bill, including:

  • The restriction on the jurisdiction of the coroner has been removed entirely
  • The role of the director has been strengthened to include forensic excavation, recovery and analysis of remains to support, where possible, establishing circumstances and cause of death, in line with international standards and best practice
  • A new advisory board, chaired by a former coroner or someone with coronial expertise, will provide for scientific and family input and enhance transparency and accountability
  • The identification programme has been expanded to allow for the participation of grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nephews and nieces
  • A requirement for a pilot has been removed from the identification programme, allowing identification to be undertaken on each set of remains where possible

Speaking when the legislation was launched in February, O’Gorman said the excavation at the Tuam site will be “one of the most complex forensic excavation and recovery efforts ever undertaken not only in Ireland but anywhere in the world”.

What happened at Tuam is a stain on our national conscience. The Institutional Burials Bill will allow us, at long last, to afford the children interred at Tuam a dignified and respectful burial. I have listened carefully to families, survivors, and independent experts in order to strengthen and improve the legislation, and this is reflected in the Bill approved by Government.

“It is now five years since remains were confirmed at the site in Tuam, and I believe that the families affected have had to wait far too long for exhumation to commence…

“I am absolutely committed to now advancing the Bill as quickly as possible. If it is enacted, I intend to establish an Office of the Tuam Director and start the excavation later this year,” O’Gorman said. 

Corless welcomed the publication of the legislation in February. 

“The amendments made to the legislation are positive and very welcome. This is what many relatives have asked for right from the start. They will have no closure until they know if a loved one is buried in Tuam,” she told The Journal at the time.  

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