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Minister Zappone appoints a team of international experts to advise on burial site in Tuam during

Dáil Statements on Mother and Baby Homes

…” Any action must respect the memory and dignity of the deceased children

who lived their short lives in this home” …


1st June 2017      

Katherine Zappone T.D., Minister for Children & Youth Affairs today announced the appointment of a team of international experts to advise the Government on the burial site in Tuam.  Announcing the appointments in Dáil Éireann the Minister said “Having visited the site at Tuam and met with former residents and their families, I am acutely aware that many people are experiencing a great deal of understandable anxiety and anticipation for what might happen next. 

While the Commission has concluded its excavations in Tuam, it has not yet reached any formal conclusions about the burials.  I am pleased to announce that I have appointed Dr. Niamh McCullagh, Forensic Archaeologist, to bring together a team of international experts in DNA analysis and forensic anthropology to provide us with the necessary advices.  I am publishing the team’s terms of reference today”. 

Minister Zappone’s speech also dealt with a number of other significant issues in relation to the burial site in Tuam including, Transitional Justice Measures to explore why these events occurred. Improved Communication measures to provide regular updates on the programme of work relating to mother and baby homes to concerned parties. Health and well-being supports and improved Access to the records of former Mother and Baby Homes.

Speaking in Dáil Éireann Minister Zappone said “A central question is whether the approach in relation to the burial site at Tuam should focus on reinstating the site to the condition it was in prior to the recent works, with potentially further ground works to preserve the site and – perhaps - erect an appropriate memorial, or whether further excavation work should first take place in an attempt to recover, examine and identify the infant remains interred there. 

I am determined that any action must respect the memory and dignity of the deceased children who lived their short lives in this home. However, I recognise the diversity of views and concerns on how this might best be achieved. My preference is to encourage and support efforts to build towards a consensus on how these sensitive issues would be addressed. 

Deliberations on the approach to be adopted would benefit from expert technical guidance on international best practice in this highly specialised area in my view. Certainly, we need a fuller understanding of the various options for managing and preserving the site, the relevant technical considerations, and the potential to achieve specified outcomes such as the recovery and identification of remains.


Team of International Experts

Therefore, I am pleased to announce that I have appointed Niamh McCullagh, Forensic Archaeologist, to bring together a team of international experts in juvenile osteoarchaeology, forensic anthropology and DNA analysis and to provide us with the necessary advices.  I am publishing the team’s terms of reference today. 

Ms McCullagh is an Irish based expert with extensive national and international experience, including work with the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains in Northern Ireland and the Joint Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Command that aimed to locate the bodies of war dead.

Significantly, Ms. McCullagh already has a detailed understanding of the site as she led the Commission team which located, identified and conducted the preliminary excavations of the buried chambers in Tuam.  I am delighted to appoint a person of Ms McCullagh’s calibre and experience to lead this work.

Her team of experts will include Dr. Hugh Tuller, a Forensic Anthropologist from the United States, and Dr. Tim Clayton, a Forensic Scientist from the United Kingdom who is world renowned in the field of DNA testing. The team will also consult with additional experts as it considers appropriate. In addition, the team will arrange further geophysical surveys to examine the extent of potential burials on the full site in the ownership of Galway County Council.  I have asked the team to submit an initial Technical Report on the Tuam Site to me by the end of June, with more detailed work on options for the future and what these would involve from a practical perspective, by the end of September.

I have asked the expert team to provide its technical advice in easy to understand language, so that we can all appreciate the options for the site and what each option would entail.  This information will help us have a much better-informed consultation on the future of the site.


Transitional Justice Measures

While the independent statutory investigation progresses its work, I believe there is also a need for us as a society to look beyond the important legal questions surrounding mother and baby homes by developing complementary comprehensive understanding into the truth of what happened in our country.

Dr. James Gallen of the School of Law and Government, Dublin City University, is assisting me in this regard. Dr Gallen is mapping out a possible model of transitional justice with proposals for an interim strategy which would seek recognition for the experiences of former residents, promote civic trust and serve to re-assert the fundamental value of the rule of law in our democracy.

Dr. Gallen has prepared a draft strategy to outline a number of innovative proposals which have both national and international dimensions. I will be in a position to make further announcements after I receive Dr. Gallen’s final report.

In the meantime, I am asking my Government Colleagues to support me in inviting the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion of Truth, Reparation and Guarantee of Non-Repetition, Pablo de Greiff to visit Ireland. Dr de Greiff has extensive experience and insights which I believe will help me as a Minister and us as a Government to promote truth, justice and reparation as he has done with a wide range of other governments. 

Improved Communications

I have listened carefully to the concerns expressed by stakeholders about communication of information to them.  I will introduce enhanced communication arrangements to provide regular updates on the programme of work relating to mother and baby homes and to engage with former residents and their advocates in relation to the issues of concern to them.

Although these issues necessarily involve multiple Departments and agencies I want to coordinate and centralise a number of communication initiatives to allow developments to be publicised in a timely manner. Starting from July, I plan to publish a monthly update which will be available on my Department’s website on the first Friday of every month.

Facilitated consultations on health and well-being supports

I also plan to hold detailed consultations, focusing on those who were resident as children without their mothers in Mother and Baby Homes and County Homes.  I am pleased to announce that I have appointed an experienced qualified facilitator with an international reputation to assist in these consultations.  He will help us explore the nature of services and supports in the area of health and well-being that former unaccompanied residents feel may be of genuine and practical value to them now.  This series of consultations will provide a safe forum for former residents to raise their concerns directly with me and my officials. 

Starting from tomorrow, my Department will issue an invitation to former residents and those with personal connections to these institutions, seeking expressions of interest in participating in this facilitated process. Details will be available on my Department’s website. The facilitator will hold meetings in Dublin and other parts of the country, depending on the level of expressions of interest from those involved.

I want to listen, learn and respond to the needs of former residents. The outcome of these meetings will inform my proposals to Government so that we can have appropriate supports in place as quickly as possible.  I want to commence the process quickly and I look forward to meeting with stakeholders later this month.

Access to the records of former Mother and Baby Homes

In responding to the increased demand for access to records, I asked Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, to enhance its capacity for the provision of information to assist former residents who may wish to establish when they resided in a Mother and Baby Home.  My Department has worked with Tusla to progress this matter and I am pleased to confirm that the work will commence as soon as possible.

My Department is also working with Tusla in relation to the resources required to enhance capacity and professional support within the Adoption Information and Tracing Services”.
In concluding comments Minister Zappone said she was open to broadening the terms of reference of the Commission of inquiry into the Mother and Baby Homes if required in the future.

Terms of Reference of the Commission

In conclusion Mr Zappone said “While the Commission has stated that it is not seeking an extension to its present remit I have indicated that I am open to considering whether broader terms of reference would help to answer some of the questions which have been raised again in public debate. I will consult with stakeholders as part of the scoping review I propose to undertake over the summer months.


Seanad Statements on the Second Interim Report of the Commission of investigation into Mother and Baby Homes (1st June 2017)



The Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and certain related Matters) was established in 2015 to examine the experiences of women and children in Mother and Baby Homes over the period 1922-1998.

An early focus of the Commission’s work was to examine the question of burials on the site of the former Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, Co. Galway. Following a series of surveys and test excavations, the Commission confirmed the presence of human remains interred on the site.
The Commission’s statement on 3 March 2017 is attached as Appendix 1 for ease of reference.

The discovery has generated a demand for clarity on a series of complex questions which arise in relation to the interred remains and the future of this site more generally. The deaths of 796 children were recorded during the 36 years in which the Home was in operation although it is unknown how many of these children’s remains may be interred on the site. Public reaction to the discovery has at its core a focus on respecting the dignity and memory of the children who lived their short lives in this Home.

Those persons with personal and family connections to these issues, and the wider local community, will be consulted by the relevant authorities as part of an inclusive process of responding to their concerns.

The Government is committed to responding to these issues as effectively and as sensitively as possible. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs wants to ensure that the approach to be adopted is informed by technical input that accords with international best practice in this specialised area.  For this reason the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs is proceeding to appoint a team of technical experts to provide the necessary advices as soon as possible.

The team should be comprised of independent experts with appropriate qualifications and relevant national and international experience. Several areas of expertise including forensic archaeology, juvenile osteoarchaeology, forensic anthropology and DNA analysis will be required. The appointed team may consult with additional experts as it considers appropriate. The expert technical team will be tasked with producing a Technical Report on the Tuam Site which can assist and inform Government deliberations on the appropriate course of action.

The technical advices will be provided in a stage process. Stage 1 will form the basis for the extensive enquiries that will be required to deliver a final report in Stage 2. Stage 1 will be to investigate and produce a preliminary report on the options available in relation to dealing with the human remains at the site of the Children’s Burial Ground at Tuam. This report shall be delivered to the Minister by the 30th of June. Stage 2 will investigate each option in a substantive manner, consult with relevant experts and conduct scientific testing as required. This will inform the Minister on the the feasibilty of each option and the relevant outcome for each option that has been outlined in the preliminary Stage 1. The final Technical Report on the Tuam Site shall be delivered to the Minister by the end of September 2017.

The Final Technical Report should address:
1.    The relevant factors in the management and conservation of the Tuam site, including the range of options for further survey or physical analysis of the site;
2.    The possible options and best international practice in the event of a decision to proceed with full or further partial excavation with a view to the exhumation of human remains;
3.    The potential to identify the remains of children buried on the site, and the logistical and technical challenges that would be involved in the event of undertaking such work;
4.    The potential viability of various options and the potential to achieve specified outcomes; and
5.    The measures necessary to protect the human remains interred on the site during any works which may be undertaken
In drafting its Report the expert team is required to:
6.    Liaise as appropriate with the Minister and Department of Children and Youth Affairs;
7.    Ensure the report is accessible to a non-technical audience and have regard to the potential of the report to inform public debate on these issues; 
8.    Take account of any information made available by the Commission on Mother and Baby Homes in relation to the site and the chamber structures already identified;
9.    Arrange for the completion of a geophysical survey to further clarify the extent of potential burials on the extended site which remains in the ownership of Galway County Council; 
10.    Have regard to the history of the site, the geology of the local landscape and any relevant environmental factors;
11.    Specify the steps which are necessary to comply with the  legislative and administrative arrangements which generally apply to such activities in Ireland; and
12.    Provide an initial estimate of the potential timeframe and approximate cost involved with each option outlined.

The expert technical team will be required to submit its Report to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs by the end of September 2017.

It is recognised that the specific circumstances of this discovery gives rise to a number of potential legal and ethical questions which may require clarification in the context of the Government’s deliberations on the future of this site. The Government will arrange for these matters to be examined in parallel with the work of the expert technical team. 

Appendix 1:

Notice published by the Commission of Investigation on 3rd March 2017 on its website

The Commission has completed its test excavation of the Tuam site.

The stratigraphic survey which was conducted in October 2015 identified a particular area of interest and identified a number of sub surface anomalies that were considered worthy of further investigation. These were further investigated by a test excavation in November/December 2016 and in January/February 2017. Test trenches were dug revealing two large structures. One structure appears to be a large sewage containment system or septic tank that had been decommissioned and filled with rubble and debris and then covered with top soil. The second structure is a long structure which is divided into 20 chambers. The Commission has not yet determined what the purpose of this structure was but it appears to be related to the treatment/containment of sewage and/or waste water. The Commission has also not yet determined if it was ever used for this purpose.

In this second structure, significant quantities of human remains have been discovered in at least 17 of the 20 underground chambers which were examined. A small number of remains were recovered for the purpose of analysis. These remains involved a number of individuals with age-at-death ranges from approximately 35 foetal weeks to 2-3 years. Radiocarbon dating of the samples recovered suggest that the remains date from the timeframe relevant to the operation of the Mother and Baby Home (the Mother and Baby Home operated from 1925 to 1961; a number of the samples are likely to date from the 1950s). Further scientific tests are being conducted.

The Commission is shocked by this discovery and is continuing its investigation into who was responsible for the disposal of human remains in this way. Meanwhile, the Commission has asked that the relevant State authorities take responsibility for the appropriate treatment of the remains. The Coroner has been informed.

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs is making a statement on the matter today.

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