Readers like you keep news free for everyone.

More than 5,000 readers have already pitched in to keep free access to The Journal.

For the price of one cup of coffee each week you can help keep paywalls away.

Support us today
Not now
Saturday 9 December 2023 Dublin: 9°C
Laura Hutton via
confidential letter

Religious order that ran Tuam says it was 'under supervision, direction and inspection' of Irish State

That’s according to a confidential letter to a government minister.

THE RELIGIOUS ORDER that ran the Tuam mother and baby home said the home was “under the supervision, direction, and inspection” of the Irish State in a confidential letter to a government minister.

It said that any infant deaths at the home were registered at the time and that both the Department of Health and Galway County Council must have been aware that burial arrangements would have to be made for the children.

The letter also said the Sisters of Bon Secours Ireland had not been given “full and open access” to records involving the home.

The correspondence gives a clear picture for the first time of the order’s views on the Tuam controversy saying that the home was “created and operated” by the Irish government with the involvement of both the Department of Health and Galway County Council.

In the letter, Country Leader Sister Marie Ryan also expressed surprise that Minister Katherine Zappone wanted to meet with them given a commission of investigation was underway.

She was responding to correspondence from Zappone who had asked the Sisters of Bon Secours Ireland to share costs with the State arising from the Tuam scandal.

That letter, sent on 24 July, has also been obtained by the transparency group Right to Know following an intervention from the Information Commissioner.

‘Operated by the Irish State’

In the letter from Sister Marie Ryan from 2 August, the order said that the Mother and Baby Home had been “created and operated by the Irish State”.

Sister Ryan wrote: “Given the passage of time, it certainly appears to us that the Home was not only under the stewardship of the Sisters at that time but under the supervision, direction, and inspection of the local authority Galway County Council and also the Department of Health.”

The order said that when the home had been closed in 1961 they had passed on all documentation to the local authority in Galway.

Sister Ryan wrote: “Unfortunately, to date we have not been provided with full and open access to those records which are now held by the Commission [of Investigation].”

They said work undertaken by their own social historian showed that Galway County Council had significant involvement in the House including payment for a doctor and a chaplain.

“It also appears that the Home was inspected by the Department of Health inspectors,” she said.

The letter also explained that “the deaths of the infants were registered at the time”.

Sister Ryan wrote: “It would seem to us that it would follow that Galway County Council, the Department of Health and the doctor employed by the local authority for the Home would have been fully aware of the fact of these deaths and no doubt then would have been aware that burial arrangements would have to be made for the remains.”

The order said that following Tuam’s closure, the property was taken into the possession of the local authority and the land developed for social housing.

They said they had looked for Galway County Council records from this time but they had been “denied to” them.

Sister Ryan wrote: “We would assume that, for the purpose of taking possession of the former Home and for its development as local authority housing, Galway County Council would have been aware in the late 1960s of the existence of graves at the site.

“Presumably this would have formed part of any assessment by them for the purpose of creating local authority housing on the site.”

They said if Minister Zappone wanted to “engage in dialogue” with the Sisters of Bon Secours Ireland, then they wanted clarification of whether this was also happening with Galway County Council and the Department of Health.

The order also said that when asked for a contribution towards the creation of a memorial garden by a local organisation, they had been happy to do so.

Sister Ryan wrote: “We are always interested in dialogue and we look forward to hearing from you regarding the queries we have raised above so that such dialogue then can be arranged.”

Katherine Zappone’s approach

In Katherine Zappone’s original approach to the Sisters of Bon Secours Ireland, she said the government was “committed to identifying the most appropriate option for dealing sensitively and respectfully with the human remains found at the site”.

Zappone said options being explored included memorialisation with no further excavation, a full excavation, exhumation of all remains and DNA analysis, ad reburial elsewhere.

She said that given the order’s involvement in the site from 1925 to 1961, it seemed “reasonable to seek discussions with the Order about sharing a proportion of these costs with the State”.

Zappone wrote: “Whichever option is agreed, it is clear that there will be cost implications arising over a number of years.”

In a second letter to the religious order, the Minister for Children said that the Commission of Investigation and its inquiries were independent of the Department.

She said she had no information on the interactions of the Bon Secours and the Commission and that her interest relates “exclusively to the future of the site and the remains interred therein”.

Zappone wrote: “As such I see this as separate and without prejudice to the ongoing investigations into the circumstances and responsibility for the disposal of human remains in this way.

“You may recall that in expressing its shock at the discovery of the infant remains, the Commission asked that the relevant parties take responsibility for the appropriate response to this discovery.”

She said all parties including the State and the order had a “shared moral and ethical responsibility” to “compassionately respond to this tragic situation”.

In a statement, Zappone’s department said they would not be making detailed comment while the commission of investigation was underway: “At this juncture it would not be appropriate to pre-empt the outcome of the independent Commission’s work on this or other matters.”

They said: “As indicated in the correspondence, Minister Zappone considers that all parties involved with the former institution have a responsibility to ensure appropriate action is taken to honour the memory and dignity of the children who died.

“The Minister’s request to the Sisters of Bon Secours related exclusively to the issue of financing such an appropriate course of action at the site of the former institution.”

No comment on the contents of the correspondence has been made by the religious order as yet.

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel