A DIRECTOR has been appointed to oversee the excavation and recovery of the remains of children buried at the site of a former mother and baby home in Tuam, Co. Galway.
Daniel Mac Sweeney, a solicitor and former International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) envoy, has been appointed Director of Authorised Intervention, Tuam.
Nearly 800 children are believed to be buried at the site, which was run by Bon Secours sisters from the mid 1920s to the 1960s.
Local amateur historian Catherine Corless made the devastating discovery when she began researching the history of the home in 2010 and uncovered burial records for 796 children born there.
She went on to discover that their bodies were disposed of in a disused sewage tank on the grounds of the site.
In 2014 her findings were revealed publicly, with the scandal hitting headlines across the globe.
They prompted the establishment of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation which undertook test excavations at the Tuam site that found “significant quantities of human remains” in underground chambers.
Following the Commission’s report in January 2021, which confirmed the horrific experience of women and children in Ireland’s mother and baby home system, then Taoiseach Micheál Martin issued a full apology on behalf of the state.
The government went on to agree legislation to excavate the site at Tuam and recover the children’s remains.
In a statement this week, Ireland’s Children’s Minister, Roderic O’Gorman confirmed Mr Mac Sweeney’s role in the excavation.
“I am very pleased to announce the appointment of Mr Daniel Mac Sweeney as the Director of Authorised Intervention, Tuam,” he said.
“Daniel will oversee the long-awaited intervention at the site of the former Mother and Baby institution in the town. “
He added: “He has extensive expertise and experience contributing to, leading and overseeing humanitarian programmes in the international arena, including in relation to missing persons and identification programmes involving the use of DNA, which will be invaluable in the Tuam Director role.”
Mr Mac Sweeney will now head up the independent office established under the Institutional Burials Act 2022 to oversee the recovery of the remains at the site and ensure that they are respectfully re-interred.
Funding of almost €7million has been made available for the 2023 costs related to the intervention, which is expected to run over a number of years.
A key priority for Mr Mac Sweeney will be to “engage with relatives, survivors and former residents of the Tuam institution in relation to the intervention there” Minister O’Gorman’s department confirmed.
“Work is ongoing to establish core staffing and administrative structures, and to appoint an Advisory Board to support Mr Mac Sweeney in his work”, they add.
Minister O’Gorman has also announced that Sheila Nunan will act on his behalf in planned negotiations with the religious bodies who were involved in mother and baby and county home institutions in Ireland.
“The purpose of the negotiator role is to undertake, on behalf of the Minister, the ongoing negotiations with the religious congregations, lay catholic organisations and church leaders who were involved with mother and baby and county home institutions, with a view to securing a financial contribution towards the cost of the Mother and Baby Institutions Payment Scheme,” the Minister’s department confirmed.
“Recognising the importance of these negotiations to survivors and to the public, the Minister believes that engaging this bespoke expertise is essential to advancing the process in the most advantageous manner,” they add.
Ms Nunan is a former teacher and school principal who was General Secretary of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) from 2009 to 2019.
She has also served as Deputy General Secretary and President of INTO and as President of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU).