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Thursday 30 November 2023 Dublin: 3°C
Laura Hutton/ Flower and tributes left at the grounds where the unmarked mass grave containing the remains of nearly 800 infants who died at the Bon Secours mother-and-baby home in Tuam, Co Galway

Burials Bill will be published today, paving the way for Tuam site to finally be excavated

Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman will bring the draft legislation to Cabinet this morning.

THE LONG-AWAITED Burials Bill will be published later today.

Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman will bring the draft legislation to Cabinet this morning, prior to meeting Tuam survivors and relatives and then publishing the Bill.

The Certain Institutional Burials (Authorised Interventions) Bill would allow excavations, exhumations and re-interment of remains at the sites of former mother and baby homes.

If the legislation passes through the Oireachtas as expected in the coming months, the site of the former Bon Secours mother and baby institution in Tuam may finally be excavated – five years after a “significant” quantity of human remains were found in a test excavation.

Other sites may be excavated after Tuam but that particular location is the priority.

In a letter sent to survivors on Friday, O’Gorman said: “This important and sensitive legislation has been a priority for me. I have taken time to meet with and reflect carefully on the feedback from those most closely affected by this issue and have made substantial and meaningful changes to the legislation to address their concerns.”

Survivors and legal experts had raised concerns about a number of aspects of the proposed legislation in recent months, including the role of the coroner and the possible exclusion of certain institutions.

The latest draft of the Bill is expected to make clear that the coroner will have jurisdiction over the sites in question and the new legislation is intended to complement the Coroners Act.

The general scheme of the Bill published last year provided for the creation of an agency which would oversee the excavation, exhumation, identification and reburial of any remains found at sites where “manifestly inappropriate burials have taken place”.

The Bill would also permit excavations and exhumations from these sites and provide a basis for identification using DNA samples from unidentified bodies exhumed and from people who are or may be close relatives of those unidentified persons. These relatives will include siblings, cousins, parents, aunts and uncles.

Pre-legislative scrutiny

Survivors, relatives and archaeologists have called for the Tuam site to be excavated urgently.

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 extensive research 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.

In July 2021, O’Gorman received the Oireachtas Children’s Committee’s report on the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Burials Bill

In a letter sent to survivors on 15 December, the minister said this report “has been the subject of close examination by myself and my officials”.

“It has taken some time to reflect on its recommendations and to consider how best these can be taken on board in the context of developing the Bill – a Bill which is essential to restoring dignity to the children who died in the institution at Tuam.”

In November, eight UN human rights bodies said they were concerned that the legislation may actually “create additional obstacles” to investigating deaths at mother and baby homes and related institutions.

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