LEGISLATION HAS today been published which provide a legal basis for the recovery and identification of children inappropriately interred at a site of the former Mother and Baby Home in Tuam.
The long-awaited Certain Institutional Burials (Authorised Interventions) Bill was signed off on by Cabinet this morning ahead of a webinar hosted by Children's Minister Roderic O'Gorman with survivors and relatives of the home.
In response to Pre-Legislative Scrutiny recommendations and concerns expressed by family representatives, the Minister has made a number of very significant changes to the Bill.
As a result, the Bill was strengthened and enhanced, with significant changes including the removal of the restriction on the jurisdiction of the coroner, the inclusion of a full programme of forensic excavation, recovery and analysis to international standards, and the expansion of family participation in DNA identification.
Now, the participation of grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nephews and nieces is provided for in the Identification Programme.
A requirement for a pilot has also been removed from the Identification Programme, allowing identification to be undertaken on each set of remains where possible.
The legislation will allow the Government, by order, to direct an intervention at a site and to approve the appointment of a Director to oversee and manage a phased, step-by-step approach, comprising some or all of the following steps:
- Excavation of the site;
- Recovery of human remains;
- Post recovery analysis of remains to support, where possible, establishing circumstances and cause of death;
- Identification of remains through DNA familial matching;
- Return of remains to family members or respectful re-interment.
An Advisory Board, which will include coronial and scientific expertise, as well as family and former resident representatives, will be appointed to guide and support the Director in the role
The legislation is also not site specific and will be able to cater for an intervention at other sites should similar situations arise.
The government believes that in the context of Tuam, the recovery and identification process will be "extremely complex" due to the number and age of the children interred there and the manner in which the remains are interred.
An Expert Technical Group (ETG) published a technical report on the Tuam site in December 2017. The report highlights the unprecedented nature of the site and notes that there are no directly comparable national or international cases.
It sets out the factors that make the situation in Tuam unique, including the "significant" quantities of juvenile remains, the commingled or intermixed state and the position of the remains within subsurface chambers with limited access.
"While this intervention is therefore expected to be challenging, the legislation ensures that it will be carried out by professionals in line with international standards and best practice so as to maximise what is scientifically achievable in relation to the identification and return of remain," a press release reads.
Speaking on the Bill, Minister O'Gorman said what happened at Tuam is "a stain on our national conscience".
"The Institutional Burials Bill will allow us, at long last, to afford the children interred at Tuam a dignified and respectful burial. I have listened carefully to families, survivors, and independent experts in order to strengthen and improve the legislation, and this is reflected in the Bill approved by Government today.
"It is now 5 years since remains were confirmed at the site in Tuam, and I believe that the families affected have had to wait far too long for exhumation to commence," he continued.
"The legislation we are publishing today will allow us to move forward, in partnership with Tuam families, survivors and their advocates, and finally reunite them with their loved one’s remains."
He said is committed to advancing the Bill as quickly as possible, and said if it is enacted he intends to establish an Office of the Tuam Director and start excavation later this year.
The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes was set up following claims that 796 babies were interred in an unmarked mass grave at the former institution in Tuam – following extensive research by local historian Catherine Corless.
Excavations carried out between November 2016 and February 2017 found a significant quantity of human remains interred in a vault on the site.