17 April 2019
More questions than it can answer
The 5th interim report of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission reveals disturbing detail on the failure of institutions to provide dignified burials for hundreds of children who died in their care and raises more questions than it is able to answer.
The Commission emphasises throughout the report that it believes there are many people with relevant information who have not come forward. This demonstrates how the lack of appropriate powers to compel evidence is hindering its ability to uncover the truth. ICCL reiterates our previous calls for increased investigatory powers for Commissions of Inquiry. We also reiterate our deep concern that all evidence submitted to this Committee will be sealed and therefore inaccessible to any further investigations.
Criminal Investigations Warranted
ICCL calls on the Minister for Justice to mandate individual criminal investigations and to ensure that where the law was broken or where human rights abuses have been committed, accountability is prioritised. It is deeply regrettable that because of the strict rules on the use of evidence gathered by the Commission, witnesses in such cases would need to be re-interviewed and are likely to be re-victimised as a result.
We have previously described the burying of infants in unmarked graves as potentially constituting enforced disappearance. This is on ongoing human rights violation that the State must address this appropriately, including by ensuring proper investigations, the attribution of individual responsibility and remedies for families of victims. We reiterate our call for the state to ratify the UN Convention on Enforced Disappearances and comply with international human rights obligations in this area.
Something to hide?
The revelation by the Commission that it has only been able to establish the burial place of 64 of 900 children who died in the Sacret Heart Home at Bessborough raises huge questions. Either 836 bodies are missing or the records of deaths are wrong. The description by the Commission of the affidavit provided by the Sacred Heart Congregation as “speculative, inaccurate and misleading” suggests at best an unwillingness to cooperate, at worst that they have something to hide.
The State is implicated in these practices. Health authorities paid for the upkeep of women and babies in these homes. Bills for burials were sent to the local health authority by Bessborough.
Survivors Entitled to Truth
Mothers and survivors are entitled to the truth about where their children are buried and about the circumstances of their deaths. But they are also entitled to know who was responsible for the decisions leading to these actions.
The Commission’s revelations reveal the horrifying treatment of human remains at Tuam, contrary to the right to dignity and contrary to the law at the time. The extensive research into the structures at Tuam including of historical material relating to sewage disposal units, soil analysis and osteoarchaelogy led the Commission to state that “the scientific evidence suggests that at least some of the chambers in which human remains were found were at some stage used to receive sewage.” The Commission concludes “this was not a recognised burial ground or purpose built burial chamber. It did not provide for the dignified interment of human remains.” These ‘human remains’ were of children aged up to six years old.
It is not sufficient to say that this is shocking. The Galway and Mayo County Councils were responsible for the residents of the Tuam Home and thus responsibility for appropriate burial rested with local authorities. The Commission notes that, in particular, Galway County Council had a legal responsibility to keep a record of burials. The failure to do so is evidence of illegality. The failure to provide information to the Commission can be considered an obstruction of the right to truth.