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Tuam Mother and Baby Home Remains Will Be Exhumed, Ireland Says

DUBLIN — The remains of children buried in the old septic system of a mother and baby home in Ireland will be exhumed and identified if possible, the government said Tuesday.

Officials said they would search the grounds of a home run for almost four decades in Tuam, where as many as hundreds of fetuses and babies may be buried.

“I understand that this is a hugely important decision for all connected to the site in Tuam, most especially those who believe they may have a loved one buried there and those now living close to the site,” said the Irish minister for children, Katherine Zappone. “I am committed to ensuring that all the children interred at this site can have a dignified and respectful burial.

It is a landmark development in a scandal that emerged in 2014 when a local amateur historian, Catherine Corless, said she had found death certificates for 796 children who died in the home from 1925 to 1961 — but whose burial places were not officially recorded.

Run by a Roman Catholic order, the Sisters of Bon Secours, the home was one of a network of religious institutions where unmarried Irish women were sent to have their babies under a shroud of shame and secrecy. Poorly funded and deliberately austere, the homes often doubled as orphanages for infants. But death rates in the homes were high, with children falling prey to disease, malnutrition and neglect.

Ms. Corless’s revelations led the Irish government to commission an investigation, and test excavations were conducted at the site in late 2016.

The following year, the government said it had found “significant quantities of human remains” in what appeared to be a disused septic tank. They appeared to range in age, from 35-week-old fetuses to children up to 3, and they dated to the same period that the home was in operation.

Ms. Zappone said that a team of experts would exhume the remains and that arrangements would then be made to conserve the burial site.

“Only by taking the right actions now can we truly demonstrate our compassion and commitment to work toward justice, truth and healing for what happened in our past,” she said.

The exhumation, however, poses a number of technical and legal difficulties, Ms. Zappone said, and Irish lawmakers will need to pass legislation before work can begin.

James Gallen, a law lecturer at Dublin City University who has researched the mother and baby homes and has been advising the children’s minister, said technical advisers had laid out several options for how to proceed. Exhuming remains from the entire plot of land and then conducting forensic examinations was the most expensive and difficult course.

The expert group that carried out the test excavations said the remains it found were so commingled that it would be difficult to distinguish them. In addition to the full-excavation option, it proposed less expensive and less intrusive ones. These ranged from a simple memorial on the site to the excavation and examination of only those areas in which bodies have already been found.

Ms. Corless told an Irish radio station on Tuesday that she was surprised the government had opted for the fullest possible forensic investigation.

“I see it as a huge statement for justice,” she said.

Mr. Gallen said that the decision would be welcomed by survivors of the homes and by relatives hoping to retrieve the remains of relatives who died in infancy there or at other homes.

DNA samples already donated by those seeking long-lost family members could be used to identify remains, he said, and many more donors may yet come forward — both in Ireland and abroad.

“These were homes where a lot of people went through and then moved on and went abroad to places like England and the U.S.,” Mr. Gallen said. “We have to highlight this process and make it public to the diaspora community.”

He also said he hoped the exhumation would open a serious discussion about the general release of whatever records survive from Ireland’s era of secret births and mass adoptions.

Source: NYT > World

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