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Thursday 7 December 2023 Dublin: 10°C

Excavations at Tuam mother and baby home expected to start in latter half of 2019

The government must first pass legislation allowing it to carry out excavations.

THE FIRST EXCAVATIONS at the site of the former Tuam mother and baby home are expected to start in the latter half of 2019.

Legislation must first be passed by the Oireachtas to give government the power to carry out these excavations.

The Commission of Investigation into the home, which was run by the Bon Secours nuns as a home for unmarried mothers from 1925 until 1961, announced in March 2017 that it had uncovered a significant amount of human remains at the site,

A decision to carry out a full forensic examination was announced in October.

Speaking to reporters, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar confirmed that the next stage of the Commission of Investigation will move ahead in 2019, once legislation is passed allow for the government to carry out excavations.

“In the meantime, we can start appointing the experts and the ground team who’ll be doing the actual work,” he said.

We’ve never really done this before in Ireland, on this scale, so we’ve a lot to set up, [and] a lot to learn before we do it.

“We’re not entirely sure what we’re getting into, but as a government we’re convinced this is the right thing to do, to remove the remains and to give those children a proper decent burial they didn’t get – and if possible to remain some of them, if we can, if the technology allows that. ”

The investigation was sparked by local historian Catherine Corless who, after cross-referencing death certifications from the home with local burials, found that 796 children who died at the home were not given an official burial.

This, combined with stories of local children finding a disused sewage system ‘filled to the brim with bones’, led to Corless to speculate that children were buried in a single plot at the site, as first reported by the Irish Mail on Sunday.

Initial forensic examinations of the site vindicated her: Two structures were found during the investigation, a septic tank and a long, underground structure divided into 20 chambers used for processing sewage or wastewater. The latter is where the human remains were discovered, with testing revealing the deceased were aged between 35 foetal weeks to as old as three years old when they died.

It is not yet clear whether it was ever used for sewerage or wastewater.

Experts have previously said that the excavation of the site will be extremely complex, and that identification of the remains would be difficult, primarily because they would have ‘mixed’.

The cost of the forensic investigation at the Tuam site is estimated at between €6 million and €13 million. The Bon Secours Sisters, who ran the mother and baby home, have offered the Government a €2.5 million voluntary contribution towards the investigation.

Additional reporting by Christina Finn and Cónal Thomas

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