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'Ghosts in their own country': Government accused of 'wall of silence' over Tuam babies

Survivors and family members of the dead babies gathered at the site today.

Memorial placed at the Tuam site today.
Memorial placed at the Tuam site today.
Image: Caelainn Hogan/Twitter.com

THE IRISH AUTHORITIES have been accused of producing a “wall of silence” in response to demands from family members and survivors who are seeking dignified burials for the 796 ‘Tuam Babies’.

One year on from the visit of Pope Francis to Ireland, survivors of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home and family members of the dead babies gathered at the site today to remind the Irish Government that they have not given up their campaign.

The families and survivors are continuing to press for a full exhumation of the site and for the children to be given dignified burials.

A giant labyrinth made of turf was put in place at the site and a number of artists from Galway and Clare joined family members and survivors for poetry and songs, in what was described as a “peaceful protest” to keep pressure on the Government.

Annette McKay, whose older sister is one of the 796 ‘Tuam Babies’, travelled from Bury in the United Kingdom in order to show solidarity with the survivors. She said they had been treated appallingly by the Irish State.

“All citizens have rights and you cannot take people’s rights away,” said McKay. “This is a crime scene. The survivors get no health insurance, no proper housing, they never had a proper education, they have been ghosts in their own country. Why is the State continuing to perpetuate these injustices?”

After emigrating to England, Annette’s mother only opened up about the child she lost in Tuam when she was 70 years of age. She had kept the existence of her eldest daughter, and her life in the home, secret from her family for almost her entire life.

Annette has since discovered that her mother was transferred to the Tuam Home after being raped by the caretaker of an institution in Galway City when she was just 17 years of age.  

An elected member of Bury Council, McKay accused the Irish Government of abdicating its responsibility in relation to the survivors of religious institutions across Ireland.

“Everybody blames the Church, and the Church was a big part of it, but the State abdicated responsibilities for its citizens and allowed these human rights abuses to continue for so long. The Irish Government cannot say that it had nothing to do with them.”

‘A shivering thought’

Local historian Catherine Corless, whose painstaking research uncovered the grim truth about the 796 ‘Tuam Babies’ in 2014, said that campaigners mapped out the exact locations of the burial chambers to remind visitors to the site that the children never had the dignity of Christian burials.

She called on the Irish Government to speed up legislation which would allow the full exhumation of the site and help to bring some closure to the families.

“It is a shivering thought that there are so many little babies buried down here,” said Corless. “This is a call for the Irish State, the Church, and the Bon Secours order to listen to the families and the survivors, and to do something about this.”

cc Historian Catherine Corless at today's gathering in Tuam Source: Caelainn Hogan/Twitter.com

Corless said the exact location of the buried children was known since the publication of the Fifth Interim Report by the Commission of Mother and Baby Homes in April, and campaigners mapped out the burial chambers before the ceremony.

“Anyone that walks in here today cannot but be moved by the love and the care that was put into these exhibitions here. People care so much about the babies who were put into the sewage tank and if only the Government and the Church could show a bit of care, just as the people have here today,” she said.

Veteran campaigner Izzy O’Rourke said that children were buried in the vicinity of a septic tank to save money, conceal deaths, or to facilitate illegal adoptions to the United States.

“The youngest survivors are over 60 now and most of the mothers are dead,” she said. “The only way to find out the truth about what happened here is for the site to be excavated. The people of Tuam are very much on board with investigating this site now. Until that’s done, there will be no truth about what happened.”

‘Face up to the damage’

Amanda Larkin, whose mother Carmel was a resident of the Tuam Home, said she was compelled to organise today’s protest in response to inaction by the Irish authorities.

“It is one year since Pope Francis came to Ireland and nothing has moved on for the children who are buried in the ground here or for the survivors who are here today,” she said. “My mother spent the first five and a half years of her life here. She was one of the lucky ones, because she got a chance to leave.”

Peter Mulryan’s younger sister is one of the 796 ‘Tuam Babies’. He said he had no idea he had a younger sibling until Catherine Corless contacted him five years ago. His mother spent her entire life in the Magdalene Laundry in Galway City.

“I am still hoping against hope that my sister was sold off for adoption in the United States,” he said. “I don’t know where my sister is I won’t know until there is a full examination carried out at the site. All we want is to get those babies out of that septic tank and to give them a dignified, decent burial in a Christian grave.

“I want the Irish State and the Bon Secours order to face up to the damage they did to these mothers and their children. It is so hurtful and disrespectful that they haven’t faced up to the damage done.”

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Ciaran Tierney

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