Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 25 Oct 2018

Vol. 974 No. 3

Tuam Mother and Baby Home: Statements

I welcome this opportunity to update the House on the decision by the Government on the site of the former mother and baby home in Tuam, County Galway.

Before I outline the substance of what has been agreed, I warmly welcome former residents, their loved ones, advocates and friends who are here today and those watching proceedings from afar. I acknowledge the role which their collective determination has played in this historic decision. I want to especially mention the heroic persistence of Catherine Corless and other advocates in seeking truth and justice for innocent and forgotten children. I also acknowledge the broad welcome and positive expressions of support for the course of action upon which we are embarking. It is my sincere hope that this process delivers answers that assist to dispel the secrecy and the shame so unjustly experienced by vulnerable mothers and their children.

At its meeting on Tuesday, the Government approved my recommendation for the forensic examination of the site of the former mother and baby home in Tuam, County Galway. This allows for an approach recognised internationally as humanitarian forensic action. What has been agreed is a phased approach, which meets best practice in terms of human rights, as well as science and forensic practice. The actions which will now be taken are a phased approach to the forensic excavation and recovery of the children’s remains insofar as this is possible; the use of systematic on-site testing to locate potential burials; the analysis of any recovered remains to include individualisation and identification; and arrangements for the respectful reburial and memorialisation, as well as appropriate conservation of the site.

All reasonable steps will be taken to ensure the children interred at the site have a dignified and respectful burial and to assist their families, as well as the wider community, in seeking answers to as many questions as possible.

I acknowledge the work of Dr. Geoffrey Shannon who produced a report entitled, Human Rights Issues at the former site of the Mother and Baby Home, Tuam, County Galway. Dr. Shannon has examined the legal and human rights issues relating to the burials in Tuam. His report is clear - we have a duty to act to the greatest extent possible. Dr. Shannon’s report has now been published in full on my Department’s website.

I also acknowledge the work of the expert technical group on the Tuam site. I am grateful to Niamh McCullagh, forensic archaeologist and her multidisciplinary team of experts who helped us understand what options were open to us for the site at Tuam, as well as what each option would entail in practical terms. Both documents endorse the proposed phased approach and have greatly assisted us in arriving at this decision.

A phased approach means an informed and targeted approach to the forensic excavation and recovery of the commingled remains. In this way, the sequence of complex scientific decisions will be informed by real-time information emerging from the site as work progresses. In addition, this approach also facilitates the systematic piloting of an identification programme, including the use of DNA technology. On the potential role of DNA technology, we know it is an ever advancing and powerful science but we must accept it comes with no guarantees before the work commences. The expert technical team has been clear in the need to be cautious and realistic in terms of our expectations in this regard.

The potential scale of the excavations cannot be determined in advance. Excavations will initially focus on the remains we know to be within the series of chambers identified by the commission of investigation last March, with further testing to allow for the informed and phased extension of the field of investigation across the available site as necessary. Forensic excavation of the full site will be undertaken as this is deemed necessary to find answers.

The expert technical group has already identified eight separate anomalies. These findings will be supplemented by further investigations to determine the extent of potential human remains across the site. We will not include areas where houses and gardens have been built and developed. In this way, I hope the level of disruption around the site can be effectively managed and minimised. Let there be no doubt that every effort will be made to locate and recover all juvenile remains from the site. Such actions are correct. Implementing this decision will not be straightforward. As Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, I am committed to taking a lead on the commencement of this project.

First, new legislation is needed to provide specific lawful authority for the proposed course of action. Exhumation is strictly controlled in law. The two relevant statutes are the Coroners Act 1962 and the Local Government (Sanitary Services) Act 1948. The legal advice of the Attorney General is that the existing legislative pathways are inadequate to sustain exhumations and the related forensic actions in the circumstances of the Tuam site. Before significant works at this site can commence we must ensure there is a sound legal basis upon which to do so. My aim is to have this legislation published by the end of the first quarter of 2019.

Some groups have suggested a role for the local coroner. Again, it is important to recognise that the coroner’s role is prescribed in law. A coroner may open an inquest into a death, or seek a licence for exhumation of remains, only in specified and limited circumstances. Should further information emerge about the remains, then it would be a matter for the coroner to consider what response may be appropriate in accordance with his independent functions. I expect the coroner to remain in close contact with relevant agencies as matters progress.

As I announced on Tuesday, a small cross-departmental team is to be established to advance the preparation of the legislation and I have received commitments of support from key Departments. We will work with the Ministers for Justice and Equality, Housing, Planning and Local Government and Rural Affairs and Community Development, among others. Together, we will consider details of drafting necessary legislation, as well as project plans to make sure that our future actions continue to meet the highest possible standards. The wider interdepartmental group on Tuam, led by my Department, will continue to provide an oversight role in terms of strategy and overall approach for the project.

At this point it would be premature to speculate on a timeframe for completion of the legislation or the commencement of site works. By definition this is uncharted territory but I am determined to turn our commitments into action as soon as possible.

With regard to costs, we have estimated potential costs as between €6 million and €13 million. Given that the project will be responsive to the demands of the site, there is clearly potential for high variability in the ultimate costs. Accordingly, I want to emphasise again that these are preliminary figures. Our estimates include excavation and ground works on-site, as well as related technical and laboratory based forensic work with further costs arising for respectful reburial and memorialisation.

Further clarity on the contracting authorities and procurement considerations will emerge in the course of preparing the legislation and related considerations but I remain strongly of the view that the church should contribute willingly, unconditionally and quickly towards the costs of dealing with the Tuam site. Estimates of the costs of the options under consideration were provided to the Bon Secours order during the summer. On current estimates, the €2.5 million offer is between 20% and 40% of the estimated costs. The offer accepted in principle is not a settlement. It carries no indemnity in relation to any findings which may emerge from the commission of investigation.

Since confirmation that the site contains the remains of children, my officials and I have been grappling with how to ensure that as a Government, a country and a society we respond appropriately. We have been guided by families and campaigners, the residents of Tuam and the best possible expertise available to us. The views expressed to me during my visits to Tuam were uppermost in my mind as I prepared a recommendation for Cabinet.

The personal testimonies of those who are connected to the Tuam mother and baby home, either through personal experience, family or lost members of family, will live with me forever. There are lost children, lost sisters and lost brothers. The impact on individuals and families has been devastating. We are also mindful of those living close to the site, so as part of our inclusive approach dedicated community liaison and communication processes will be put in place and will be a key element of our plans.

This week our attention has returned to the site in Tuam and rightfully so. We have acted primarily to ensure that where possible people are given answers about their loved ones, acknowledging that the pain, grief and injustice caused by events in that home may never heal. Of course, the mother and baby home history is much wider. What happened in Tuam was part of a pattern of injustice that we cannot overcome unless we acknowledge it.

The commission of investigation will report its findings for the whole investigation early in the new year. As Minister, I will continue to examine the ways we can respond to the wider concerns of the advocates, families and survivors.

I thank the Minister. I welcome the opportunity to speak today on the news of what came out of the Cabinet meeting earlier this week. Fianna Fáil welcomes the recent announcement of the Minister that a full forensic excavation will be conducted at the site of the former Bon Secours mother and baby home in Tuam. We fully support all efforts to bring justice to all survivors of the mother and baby homes and to deliver some peace to relatives and survivors. This era in Irish history represents a blemish on our collective morality and we must do our best to right the wrong of this era.

We have reached this point through the tireless work and campaigning of many people, most notably Catherine Corless, the amateur historian from Tuam who slaved behind the scenes for years to investigate the history of the Bon Secours mother and baby homes and finally uncovered the horrific story. Furthermore, a number of survivors' groups and individuals have done Ireland a great service by ensuring the story was heard even when many people had no interest in listening to it.

There is a need to manage expectations, as the Minister has said, with regard to the excavation. In its report the expert technical group, comprising academic leaders in DNA and forensic science, were honest about the severe technical challenges in many cases and the impossibilities of identifying the mingled remains of many very young children. The expert technical group further stated there is a need to communicate realistic expectations about what DNA may be able to produce in a complex site such as Tuam.

Given the advanced age of many survivors of the Bon Secours mother and baby homes we believe it is crucial that the work is done as quickly as possible. This is something I referenced with the Taoiseach yesterday. As the Minister indicated in her speech, we do not have timelines. The Minister has given a welcome commitment that we will have the primary legislation in the first quarter of next year but anybody who has ever come in the doors of Leinster House realises how difficult it is to get legislation through.

One of the issues I spoke about yesterday was with regard to all of the good work being done by the various expert technical groups and how the excavation will be mastered on a phased basis. It will need to run in tandem with the legislation because there is no point in completing one part of the jigsaw if we are not ready immediately with the legislation. No Member of the House would want legislation to be the cause of a delay. From what I can gather, the Bill will refer to complex existing legislation, including the Coroners Act, the Local Government (Sanitary Services) Act, the Public Health (Ireland) Act, the Criminal Justice Act, and legislation on forensic evidence and the location of victim remains. An awful lot of work must be done in this regard. I am glad and heartened to hear the Minister will work with other Departments to pull it together. That in itself will be fantastic. This will be about using the Tuam site to map how we can bring closure to other sites throughout the country if needs be, with Tuam being the priority at present.

I acknowledge the work done by Dr. Geoffrey Shannon. He produced the report on the former site of the mother and baby home. He brought a human aspect to this as he chronologically went through it.

The only way this can be approached is on a phased basis to take into account the residents who live locally and the survivors at the epicentre of this. It will take into account the community, which is most important. Many people never thought it would come to this stage. They all thought it would just be reports and accolades for Catherine Corless and the fabulous work she has done. I do not believe they envisaged it would come to the stage where we have a report that states it will be done on a phased basis and that the Government will support it. We are happy to be part of that support. It is very productive and heartening to see and it is very welcome. There is a wider community we must bring with us. There is a community that has been silent and this is hitting a very raw nerve. This was the norm and the way of life back in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. We are touching history but we are going right under the skin. Some families have never had this discussion and it will go right to their heart. Conducting it on a phased basis, with regard to what the DNA sampling will throw up and what people will learn when they decide to investigate their history, will bring closure for many very good people.

I always reference one or two people when I speak in the Chamber and those I will mention today have been met by the Minister. They are Tommy Ward, who is a good friend of mine, and Pat Duffy. They are deeply grateful for the progress to date but we cannot stop here. We need to ensure that the work of the commission of investigation is completed. I do not know whether it is on track. It has received extension after extension. Will it be finished by February 2019? Are we on track to see the completion of this work?

There is also a concern, and I believe it is only right that I say it, with regard to where it will go next. People are fearful it will turn into a forensic site or a crime site. This is some of the commentary that is taking place. Perhaps the Minister will be able to allay some of these fears. Some residents are afraid that where they are living will be made a crime scene. This is a real question from the residents in Tuam.

There is another moral aspect to all of this.

Although the excavation will bring some closure, we must also consider the survivors. In some cases, they were deprived of an education, a proper upbringing or access to their records. The Minister referred to a cross-departmental group which is to be established. Some of the survivors are seeking housing, medical or counselling supports. Now more than ever we must offer them real supports such as counselling. These people need the opportunity to talk with professionals. They need their voices heard and to feel listened to. Some of them do not have access to transport or are dependent on State support. We must find a way to ensure that the survivors of the Tuam mother and baby home have access to a counselling service such as those in Ballinasloe and Galway. It is not like Dublin, where one can take a taxi or a local bus to such appointments. Those services are not freely available in my area of the country. We must find a mechanism to support those seeking counselling or assistance with housing issues. Some of the residents and survivors I have encountered have issues with literacy and numeracy and would like some help. We have a very good council in Galway with which we should liaise in order to support the survivors. We can help them to achieve closure by offering them such supports. I thank the Minister for her action on this matter.

I welcome the announcement by the Minister of a forensic excavation of the burial site at the former mother and baby home in Tuam. I acknowledge the work of and offer thanks to Catherine Corless and the families and loved ones of those believed buried at the site. I thank the campaigners and activists who kept this issue at the top of the agenda.

This is a very important decision. These institutions are a very dark and shameful part of our State's history. The hurt inflicted on women and children is beyond measure. Addressing these historic wrongs is of great importance. It is important to the victims and those who believe their loved ones may be buried at the site. It is also important for our younger generation who are rightly shocked that this went on in recent times in their country. It is important that those generations see that the relatives and campaigners are not abandoned by the State and that the State is willing to recognise the wrongs of the past and go some way to addressing them.

I hope that as well as bringing the truth to individual families this decision will help reveal a broader truth about how the system operated here for far too long. The State has an obligation to investigate the cause of death of those buried at Tuam and to ensure that their bodies are returned to their families for burial. Many of the relatives of those buried at Tuam are rightly concerned by the likelihood that some of the remains may never be identified. I welcome the statement yesterday of the Taoiseach that DNA analysis and forensic examination will be used to try to individually identify the remains and arrange for their respectful reburial.

A separate scoping exercise is under way into illegal adoptions. I have spoken to many people who were illegally adopted but had absolutely no idea that was so. We must recognise that there are likely to be people who were born in Tuam and illegally adopted and have no idea that a relative of theirs may be buried at the site. That must be addressed.

On the burial site, the Government must do all it can to ensure that whatever resources are necessary are made available to respectfully recover and identify the remains. The Minister made the point that new legislation will be needed to provide specific lawful authority for the proposed course of action and announced the establishment of a small cross-departmental team to advance this priority task. That is particularly welcome given that this is a unique situation. In some cases, the excavation of such sites takes place after armed conflict. I ask that the House be kept informed of the progress of the legislation. It is to be hoped that it will pass swiftly through the House. I hope it will not be the case that nothing can be done until the legislation is passed. Will it be necessary to fast track the legislation? How can we ensure progress on this issue? I ask the Minister to outline whether she believes work will begin on the site as soon as possible.

In the past few days the religious order which ran the mother and baby home in Tuam, the Bon Secours Sisters, announced that it will contribute €2.5 million towards the cost of the excavation. We do not know how much the project will cost, but reportedly it may cost €12 million or far more. If that is the case, the cost of the excavation should be shared. The €2.5 million offered will not come anywhere near covering even half the cost of this necessary and important work.

The mother and baby home in Tuam is not an isolated case. For decades, women and children were treated appallingly in similar institutions across this island. Many relatives and campaigners have been very upset by the delay in the report of the commission of investigation into other sites. It is due in February and many people across the island and further afield are hoping that similar progress will be made at other suspected burial sites. We must ensure that Tuam is the beginning of a process and that similar steps are taken to investigate, locate and recover remains at other sites in a timely manner. Obviously, nothing can undo the tremendous hurt and wrong inflicted on those who suffered in these institutions. The State and religious orders must do all they can to ensure that at the very least those who died in these homes are afforded dignity in death and that, insofar as possible, the loved ones of those who died are given the answers they seek and find some form of closure.

It is important that survivors and families are informed of announcements before they are made in the media. Some of the families and campaigners were upset when news about the Tuam announcement was reported on radio and online before they had been informed. Regular updates on the progress at the site should be provided to the families and loved ones involved. Members of this House should also be updated. All present are aware of the enormous public interest in this matter. I hope the Minister will ensure that will be done.

Unfortunately, I missed the Minister's opening statement so I might ask questions that have already been answered. I congratulate her on how she has dealt with this. It is probably one of the best outcomes we could have hoped for. As well as congratulations being due to the Minister, huge congratulations are owed to Catherine Corless. There is no doubt that she has become a national hero for her work on this. I have noticed that there is a renewed interest in our history, particularly our recent history, among a lot of young people. Much of it is dark and concerns how the State formed after the War of Independence and the awful things that are emerging. There is a renewed interest in it and our population will keep an eye on how this progresses because people are quite passionate about that and where it ends up.

I understand, which is why I pre-empted it by saying I did not listen to the Minister's opening remarks as unfortunately I had something else to do, that the Tuam Home Survivors Network is calling for an inquest into the deaths and for the coroner to have a statutory obligation to do so. Perhaps the Minister could speak on that.

The striking issue is the cost, which should not be the case because it is worth spending the money regardless of the cost to ensure that we get full disclosure and the survivors and their families are satisfied with the outcome. The reason it is an issue is because of the paltry offer of €2.5 million from the Bon Secours order towards the overall cost of €13 million or so. It echoes the legacy the Catholic Church has given us and its recent failure to pay into the Residential Institutions Redress Board and fully acknowledge its responsibility. Of course, it was a responsibility shared with the State but the church seems very unwilling to share it in terms of actual pounds, shillings and pence, which in itself is not evidence of regret or full retribution but would go quite a long way towards saying it acknowledges its responsibility and its role in this and is going to meet the State halfway on it. All of us in this House should condemn the Bon Secours order for its refusal to do so, all the more so because the Bon Secours Health System is the largest private healthcare provider in the country and its profits over the past number of years have been enormous. In 2016, it recorded pre-tax profits of €5.4 million. It employs over 3,000 people and does so in a private health system that is basically propped up by the public health system. That is what the Sláintecare report has told us and is one of the causes of the trolley crisis, bed blocking and all of the issues involving waiting lists. The private healthcare system cuts through that and allows medicine to be provided on the basis of who can afford what rather than on the basis of need. Rather than just seeing this as a piece of history, which it is, a fitting tribute to it should be the dismantling of the preference for private healthcare over public healthcare because we end up with understaffing in public hospitals, historic waiting lists and the trolley crisis in our accident and emergency departments. These issues are in no small measure due to the prevalence of private healthcare. These outcomes are not the direct responsibility of the Minister but they are outcomes the population would desire and this State should see as something we want to move towards. This is reiterated in the Sláintecare report.

Another outcome should be the separation of church and State. Everywhere we turn, the legacy of the combination of church and State in education and health is very prevalent. We still see the Catholic Church's domination of our education system and many voluntary hospitals. Many of us in this House, probably even the Minister, are concerned about the future of the national maternity hospital, which the State is giving over to St. Vincent's to build at a cost of at least €360 million. We still have not seen the final i's dotted and t's crossed on that contract and until we do, many of us will be extremely concerned about the genuine independence of the national maternity hospital from the ethos of the Catholic Church. There are many concerns that are indirectly connected with this report on the Tuam mother and baby home.

The main thing here is to remember the babies and show them the dignity they deserved. When we first spoke about this, it was the day after the then Minister for Finance opened the Bon Secours Hospital Limerick at Barringtons. I remember being outraged that the two things coincided, looking at the profits of Bon Secours Health System and arguing at the time that its empire was built on the bones of the dead Tuam babies. I still think there is an argument for what I said then but I think we need to remember the babies, children and the 79% who were recorded as having died in that facility during their first year. It is a shocking statistic that was way above any other mortality rate in any other institution or aspect of Irish society. The one thing this House can do very effectively is to continue to call on the Bon Secours order to carry at least half of the cost of the outcome. I look forward to the Minister keeping us posted as things develop with the excavations, reports and research. I say "well done" on the report and congratulate the people of Tuam and Catherine Corless in particular on the fantastic work they have done in memory of these people who were treated so cruelly by Church and State in our horribly dark past.

Gabh mo leithscéal nach raibh mé anseo. Bhí mé ag an gCoiste um Chuntais Phoiblí. I apologise; I wish I was here for the opening statement but I am a member of the Committee of Public Accounts, a meeting of which is still running. I did read the Minister's detailed press release and also sped-read Dr. Geoffrey Shannon's work. I also compliment the Minister on her decision, which was the right one, and thank Dr. Shannon. From what I have read, he has been very helpful in placing this matter in a rights-based context. From what I read, there was clearly an obligation to bury the infants lawfully and with decency and respect and the Bon Secour Sisters were under a statutory duty to report each death and inform the families of the circumstances. That is my reading of what Dr. Shannon was saying and putting it in a statutory or legal context. Is it not extraordinary that he has to confirm there was a duty on the Bon Secours Sisters to bury the infants lawfully? Is it not extraordinary that in 2018, in the 21st century, we are grateful that he is confirming that this should have been done? Clearly, it was not done.

It is also important to realise that the Minister's decision, which is very welcome and correct, has come at the end of a long journey of pain and suffering for the families. I will declare an interest. I am involved on a personal basis and was involved on a professional basis. I also have a very specific interest on a political basis. This is really just the first step in dealing with Ireland's buried past. I hope that this process is the first positive step in saying that we will leave aside the patronising attitude that was displayed up until now that we knew best and that knowledge should not be given out and that this is a new era where maximum knowledge will be given to the survivors so that they, and I put myself in one of those families, can decide what is best and how we go forward. I attended a briefing in Tuam where we were told about closure. I do not think it is the Government's business to tell any of us about closure. That is up to each individual based on maximum information. I would like clarification about the inquest that has been mentioned by Deputy Bríd Smith. Very strong representations have been made to us because it is important to establish the circumstances of the death and how the children died. Clearly, there are lots of questions. I pay tribute to Catherine Corless and all of the survivors and their families. It has not been easy for any of them. It has been particularly difficult. There is a huge element that wants to leave well enough alone and get on with living yet there is another segment within us that says no, we cannot do this.

Even though it is messy and difficult, we have to deal with this. We owe it to the families, our relatives and the babies who were never buried with dignity. We need details of the phased aspect of the Minister's decision. I get worried when I hear the words "phased aspect" without time limits. There is an onus on the Minister, and perhaps she has done this, to explain how she approaches the Bon Secours sisters.

I have come from a meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts, which started at 9 a.m. One of the items of correspondence we dealt with and which is relevant in this regard relates to the 2002 legal agreement on redress. First, in 1999, there was an unreserved apology, without conditions, from the former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern. He said what happened should not have happened and that he was sorry. That was followed by a commission of inquiry which reported in 2009 and there was the redress board. The last figure I saw for this was €1.5 billion out of the State purse. Caranua was established and there was a statutory scheme under the remit of the Department of Education and Skills. What emerged again from the correspondence this morning was that the legal commitment entered into in 2002 has not been complied with. There are still several properties that have not been fully transferred.

In 2009, following publication of the Ryan report, which was utterly damning of the system that allowed children to be incarcerated in the manner they were, the religious orders came forward and kindly offered several properties and money but now, in 2018, we are still awaiting the completion of that offer. There is no legal obligation on them to do that. The initial legal agreement in 2002 under the former Minister, Michael Woods, underestimated what was involved. There is a particular onus on the Minister this time not to agree in any manner behind closed doors on the contribution from the Bon Secours sisters. If we have learnt anything, it is that it should be done in an open and accountable fashion with minuted meetings and be based on reality as to what this process will cost us. It has implications for many other sites so it must be done with diligence.

We learned today that Lenaboy, the industrial school in Taylor's Hill in Galway that was given over in 2009, is still empty. The Department is now completing a geophysical survey and we do not know its results. There is an intimate connection between this institution and the mother and baby home in Tuam.

In the course of the Magdalen inquiry under then Senator McAleese, a great deal of information emerged. I have highlighted this to the Minister before now. Many Deputies were given briefing papers marked "Strictly Confidential". They had been given to the assistant national director, HSE intelligence. There was no intelligence following these briefing papers. They were also given to the assistant national director, HSE children and family services. They came from the consultant public health physician and epidemiologist. That was health intelligence. I have repeatedly referred to this. It refers to Bessborough but I will not discuss it now.

The briefing document of 12 October 2012 on the Tuam mother and baby home states that the home was involved in the provision of babies to America for the adoptive market. It added that there were letters from senior church authorities asking for babies to be identified for the American adoptive market and that the records relating to Tuam were "detailed and extensive" and would require time to comb through. There were one or two areas of deep concern that needed to be looked at. There are letters from bishops and senior church officials who had written to the home asking for babies to be made available for adoption. A careful study of these letters is necessary it stated. There were also examples of the home sending out bills to parents for the upkeep of their children, in many instances when the mother and the baby had been discharged. The home was also in receipt of State money. Like the institutional diaspora, there was frequent admission to, and discharge from, psychiatric hospitals and so on. The briefing document concluded that in both Bessborough and Tuam there were issues of concern in respect of historic patient safety, medical care, accounting irregularities, and interference with birth and death certification, which required further investigation and so on. It also referred to illegal actions and stated that although much time has passed, the possibility that illegal actions took place required further investigation. This document went to the highest people in the HSE.

According to Catherine Corless and her careful research, there were matching death certificates for 796 infants. If the same number of children and babies is not found or if more are found, there will be serious questions to answer. There are also questions regarding what adult remains will be found there. The Minister has made a good decision, which I welcome. I hope it is the start of maximum information and accountability and letting this Dáil, but most important, the survivors and families, decide what they want to do with that information.

On the day of the Pope's visit, I have to confess I felt it impossible to attend the events in Phoenix Park. I wish the Pope and the people who were attending the events well but for somebody like me who has lived through much of this era, the pomp and circumstance in the park, when so many people's stories are incomplete, or in some cases totally unknown to them and their families, was not only hurtful but almost intolerable. I find it difficult to keep on having to talk about this. People who were in the homes have gone on to make their own lives, and very good lives in many cases of which they have every right to be proud because they overcame circumstance and went on to rear families and raise children, yet they still do not have full status in this country.

On that day I went to the Garden of Remembrance, a very appropriate name. I stood with the people who carried beautiful banners with a blue background simply titled, "Truth Justice Love". That is all that is required. There is no big politics in this. The politics of the people who defended the nuns and priests and the institutions at every stage is gone. Many people would remember them for all the good they did for many people, particularly those who worked in the institutions, local people who supplied food and bread and so on and sold stuff to the institutions. There were many in the community who knew a lot about it. That is our history. In the five years since Catherine Corless discovered the official records showing that 798 infants and children had died at the site of the mother and baby home in Tuam, we have taken a rather long road to this point.

Nonetheless I welcome the Minister's statement and I hope it addresses some of the issues for people who have lived to tell the tale and build their own lives but also for their families.

In particular I welcome that the remains will be exhumed, but the Minister should acknowledge that it may be necessary and appropriate to have some kind of coroner's inquiry into the deaths. These were Irish children like any other Irish person who has died. I realise the Minister is probably concerned about the cost. However, sometimes money is not that important and the amount is not necessarily that huge. In order to make a reparation for what was done to people in the name of Irish society down the decades, we need to acknowledge that many of the survivors' families want to see some kind of court proceedings.

I understand that the process of exhuming the remains and examining the site is very delicate archaeological-type work, but we have done that previously. Ireland supported the work on the mass graves in Bosnia, which are still being excavated. Modern technology has developed. We know of the searches being done for the disappeared. The Minister should be confident that this examination will greatly inform us and more importantly inform survivors, families and friends of the little babies who died. They died like flies, really, from neglect, although for a long time officials covered it up.

I commend the officials in the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, working with the registrar of births, marriages and deaths, who were very helpful to Catherine Corless when she commenced her long research. When I was told about it, I immediately complimented the staff on being so helpful. Deputies from the area will know that the staff went out of their way to ensure that whatever records were available were made available, which was important.

On the day of the Pope's visit we had the Truth, Justice, Love protest. That is what we want in all of this. We want to see it completed. In particular I mention Peter Mulryan, brother of the little baby, Marian Bridget Mulryan. We are given to understand that she may have died and was buried in that septic tank, which is a horrible thought for any family. Even if for decades Irish society deemed those children to be illegitimate, one only has to visit little cilliní at the top of mountains to know that was not the total Irish feeling. People did bury children who were outside the structures of the Catholic Church and still continue to visit those graves and honour them. The people in Tuam want to be able to properly honour all those children who died as well as the mothers who died in a way that we find appropriate in this day and age.

One of the problems for Peter Mulryan is that he does not know if his sister is really buried there or if she, in fact, had an arranged adoption to America. When I went searching for my records, I found it is a social worker-led process. By the time I went searching I had been elected several times to this House. I had also served as a Minister of State in three Departments, including the Department of Justice. I subsequently served in Cabinet. Yet, I have no legal rights to my records. I cannot demand my records. The Minister needs to come out and say I do not need a social worker. I know children who need a social worker, but I certainly do not, nor do many of the adults I know. We have no legal rights in this country. Such legal rights were given in Scotland about 50 years ago and much earlier in other jurisdictions.

I am glad for what has happened, but we need to get the complete story. This first step with modern technology should give us considerable information. However, the Minister needs to listen to the community in Tuam and to the families. As a society, we are obliged to go the whole way on the journey with them. I think the Minister needs to get off the fence and do something about the 50,000 other people who, in this country only, have no rights to their own records. We had the recent revelations about a couple of hundred people, whose births were wrongly registered, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. The Minister knows that, as do I and everybody else here. We know this from the stories we were told.

Going back to the American adoptions, one of the first things I was told was that I was meant to be sent to America, but for health reasons I was not fit enough. That is Ireland's gain and maybe America's loss. When I went to St. Patrick's Guild, the people there continually denied it. Then one day a couple of years later, when my husband was with me, out they brought something like a little trophy and said, "And here's your passport."

When the relatives talk about what they know or what they heard - some of it is pretty awful - a lot of it is true. We need to end this cult of secrecy forever, and just honour the dead and their families.

I call Deputy Harty, who is sharing time with Deputy Mattie McGrath.

I welcome the Government’s decision to carry out a full forensic excavation and DNA testing of children’s remains at the site of the Tuam mother and baby home. I know the Minister recognises it will be a huge logistic and scientific undertaking. It is an extremely important decision and is the correct response by the Minister.

This episode in our past is a gigantic blot on our religious institutions and how they cared for and, in this case, did not care for children entrusted to their care. Without the intervention and investigation of this site by the historian, Catherine Corless, and the publication of her findings we would not be aware of this awful episode in our past.

The lack of care, compassion and respect for these vulnerable children is still unbelievable. However, when we add the total disregard for their dignity and humanity in the manner of their disposal rather than burial, the gravity of what happened is compounded. It is incomprehensible today that only a few generations ago, this behaviour was going on in a religious institution, run by members of a female religious order, who should have had compassion as one of their guiding principles.

Illegitimacy seems to have diminished the children’s human rights in the eyes of the nuns in the Bon Secours order. When they should have received even greater care and understanding, as they were not responsible for their plight, they were treated in a shameful way. Every one of the 796 children had a mother and father whose rights were also diminished in an appalling manner in the events that unfolded in Tuam.

As there are undoubtedly other sites where events like this were perpetrated, this may only be the start of a long journey. I welcome the commitment to individualisation and identification of as many remains as possible, and that there will be individual burials in a respectful manner. Between 1926 and 1960, a total of 796 children died at Tuam mother and baby home. Undoubtedly some of these children would have died of inevitable natural causes, but such a death rate seems out of proportion with the general population. This is over four times the number of seats in this Chamber.

Deaths were recorded but no information on why they died or where they were buried was recorded. No post mortems or inquests were carried out. It is inconceivable that these deaths were not known outside of the order. I hope that this forensic examination will start the healing process and bring some closure and peace to families of survivors. As Catherine Corless said, it is a huge statement for justice.

The Minister indicated that bespoke legislation will be now needed prior to beginning the examination of the site.

I ask that the cross-departmental group be set up as quickly as possible so the legislation can be brought to fruition.

Justice, truth and healing are essential components of this investigation, and we need to offer the Minister our sincere thanks in making this correct and important decision.

Sculptor Jim Connelly, who works from Kilbaha, County Clare, is working on an evocative and poignant commemorative piece depicting a faceless nun holding a child standing beside its mother. This work is partially finished. When completed, it will be a tangible and emotional memorial to the events that have been uncovered in Tuam.

I completely accept this is a matter of the utmost sensitivity. I acknowledge the pain and trauma that many people continue to feel owing to the events in Tuam and, in particular, the burial of children at the site.

The Government approval of the recommendation for the forensic excavation of the site of the former mother and baby home in Tuam, County Galway, is welcome, even though questions still need to be asked about what can be achieved. The Government has agreed to implement the multidisciplinary framework as the appropriate response to the discovery of children's remains interred at the site, yet we know that a report presented to the Government in December of last year made it clear that separating the bones found at the Tuam mother and baby home into individual sets of remains could prove to be an impossible task. We know from Dr. Geoffrey Shannon's analysis that the report of the expert technical group states:

There are a number of factors that make this situation unique:

- The forensic requirement of the site;

- The 'significant' quantities of juvenile remains;

- The commingled or intermixed state of the remains;

- The position of the remains within subsurface chambers, with limited access.

The report concludes that the comingled state of the remains renders identification "particularly challenging". Moreover, the expert technical group report states there is a "risk of destruction to human remains" that raises ethical issues. I would like the Minister to be specific about what has changed since those findings were presented and how she and the Department intend to identify and address these ethical issues.

I welcome the families, loved ones and supporters who are in the Visitors Gallery. We are appalled at the very thought of what happened but some Deputies and many others just wish to keep attacking the sisters. There were obviously many more people involved. Who gave planning permission for the chambers? Who constructed them? Who placed the human remains in these tanks? It could not have happened without these individuals. The children were under the charge of the health board, the regional health board, the county council and the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. Are we going to lay all the blame in one area without full acknowledgement and a respectful investigation to find out who was involved?

None of us could say we do not know some people in our past who were sent away. I mentioned a woman before, Peig, who turned out to be a wonderful neighbour. I did not even know she existed. She was banished when she became pregnant. This was with the acquiescence of the families and, indeed, many others. We can all wash our hands and apportion blame.

I appeal to the Minister to address the serious issues affecting young people who are living today. I got calls about this today. There are disturbed children with no access to child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS. It is impossible to avail of the services in my area. The children need psychological services and treatments to deal with autism and ADHD. The waiting times for young children in these circumstances are appalling. Languishing in the paediatric ward in South Tipperary General Hospital, Clonmel, are adolescents aged between 11 and 14 who are very disturbed and have mental health issues. They are distressed themselves and distressing their families. They are also distressing all the other sick children who are in the hospital for the treatment of normal illnesses. We are just ignoring the present circumstances. It is fine to look back but we must also look forward and at the present.

I accept all the hurt in Tuam but it was not all down to the sisters' orders. There were others involved. Who is holding them to account? Are they being held to account? It is important that they should be.

Deputy Bríd Smith referred to the profits of Bon Secours Health Systems. They were champions here when we did not have health services or medical services. There were also champions in education. It was not all bad, vicious, violent and destructive. We must recognise that also when we note the costs today - €17 billion plus - and the inadequate, terrible and scandalous state of neglect. I got a call today from the parent of a young man who was in the hospital in my area last night. He was waiting for hours in corridors with trolleys. We cannot just keep washing our hands of the past and ignoring the blatant realities of the future. We cannot and must not. We certainly must have justice in respect of what happened, and justice must be for all, not just for a select few to be held up to be kicked around.

On behalf of the Government, I thank all Deputies who made contributions to the debate. I welcome their positive and supportive comments and the expressions of support on the course of action we are embarking on. The babies in Tuam and the people connected to them have long held a place in my heart. From the very moment I heard of these tragic circumstances, I have made it my mission to do all I can to afford to them the dignity and respect they deserve, which they never had when they were alive. This was so integral to my motivation and work over the past year and eight months since the juvenile remains were discovered.

In the past few days, the headlines around the world reflect the depth of feeling that exists, not only in Ireland but also worldwide, for those with a connection to Tuam and the comprehensive understanding that we did what we needed to do because it was the right thing to do. I appreciate the support of the House in that regard. We have a duty to act to the greatest possible extent. I make a commitment here today, as I did to the Government on Tuesday, that every effort will be made to locate and recover all the juvenile remains on the site. Many Deputies mentioned that it is important that we carry with us realistic expectations with respect to the efforts to identify the remains, particularly in light of the way in which they were buried, which was in a most undignified manner. At the same time, we know we will not really know the extent to which we can succeed until we begin. I am appreciative of the Deputies' support. The Government intends to take the phased approach, step-by-step, beginning with the remains that we know exist and bringing the scientific teams together to do the work. I hope that as the work is begun and as the greatest expertise is brought together in terms of research and people, we will, even at the site in question, learn more about the potential for DNA testing, identification and analysis for the people. Even if we cannot find and identify the remains of victims whose brothers and sister believe so deeply to be at the site, at least they will know we have made every effort.

Deputies raised a number of questions and I am unable to address all of them this afternoon, but I can send them some answers in written form. Many of them raised the question of an inquest. That has been raised by the advocates as well, and I have spent a great deal of time with the survivors and families. It is the independent coroner who makes the judgment on having an inquest, and under the law that is on the basis of evidence brought to the coroner by the Garda. That decision has not been taken yet by the coroner in his independent judgment. Second, I remind the Deputies that the commission will be reporting early in the new year. To reply to Deputy Rabbitte's question, that is the timeframe that has been identified and agreed to. We will have the findings of the investigation then so there might be other information for the coroner. In addition, as the excavation and exhumation proceeds the coroner will be very attentive to what is discovered. The forensic archaeologist who led the team from the expert technical group that was with me on Tuesday indicated that it might be possible to identify some causes of death in that excavation and exhumation. It also might not be possible. An inquest has not been called for yet. That is dependent on the independent judgment of the coroner, but it is something the coroner will continue to examine and consider.

With regard to many of the other issues raised, part of the Government's decision is that I have to return to the Government with the heads of the Bill, a detailed project plan and a greater estimate of the cost in order to receive approval as we proceed. I will continue to update the House in that regard and, to the extent possible, have the Deputies contribute to the debates and conversations as we move forward. I appreciate their deep concern about the urgency of the task and the concerns about the residents. We have tried to take those into account in the decision. We will put in place an ongoing communication and community liaison with those residents. We are aware of the wider issues Deputy Burton and others have raised in terms of the adoption implications of these decisions. Work is ongoing in that regard and on other aspects of my ministry. Above all, I am deeply grateful for the Deputies' support for our decision to do things that have never been done before with regard to one of the greatest tragedies of our history, and for their empathy and concern to walk with us as we do what we can.