THE Irish Government announced on Tuesday that it was launching
a full commission of inquiry into all mother-and-baby homes that
existed across the country from the foundation of the State.
Leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland had already
called on the government to establish an independent commission of
inquiry into the allegations that 796 babies and young children
were buried in a field behind a mother-and-baby home at Tuam, Co.
Galway, between 1925 and 1961.
St Mary's, the home at Tuam run by the Bon Secours Sisters, was
one of many that housed unmarried mothers. Many of them were in
their teens, and were sent there by their parents, owing to the
stigma attached to children born out of wedlock, which existed in
Ireland until well into the 1970s. They have been compared to the
The Minister for Children, Charlie Flanagan, said that the remit
of the investigation would cover high mortality rates at the homes,
burial practices, and secret and illegal adoptions, and would
include the Bethany Home, which operated in Dublin between 1921 and
1972, but which was excluded from a government compensation scheme
for survivors (News, 21 March 2013).
It was the findings of a local historian, Catherine Corless, who
researched the home at Tuam, which drew attention to the existence
of the unofficial graveyard. At her own expense, she paid to obtain
the children's death certificates, and thus established their
Many children died from diseases such as measles, fits, and
oedema, exacerbated by the conditions in which they were living. In
an official inspection carried out in 1947, it was found that there
was overcrowding: 271 children and 61 mothers were living there at
the same time.
It is thought that other such institutions may reveal similar
histories, including one at Bessborough, Co. Cork, run by the
Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, where one former
inmate alleges that up to 3000 infants were buried in a similar
The RC Archbishop of Tuam, Dr Michael Neary, has welcomed the
government announcement of a cross-departmental investigation into
the burials, but said that the order of sisters responsible for the
running of the home in Tuam had a clear moral imperative to act on
their responsibilities in the interest of the common good.
"I can only begin to imagine the huge emotional wrench which the
mothers suffered in giving up their babies for adoption, or by
witnessing their death. The pain and brokenness which they endured
is beyond our capacity to understand. It is simply too difficult to
comprehend their helplessness and suffering, as they watched their
beloved child die," he said.
On national radio on Sunday, the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr
Diarmuid Martin, had requested a fully independent commission of
inquiry. He emphasised the importance of separating such an inquiry
from Church, State, or any other organisation involved. "There is
an entanglement there that goes right through a period of Irish
history. It is only an independent person who would be able to do
that," he said.
The home at Tuam had its origins as a workhouse for the poor,
erected in 1840 on the Dublin Road. After the foundation of the
Irish Free State, in 1922, it became the norm for those pregnant
outside wedlock, and usually without means, to be housed in
"mother-and-baby homes", thus distinguishing these institutions
from those that catered for "the respectable poor".
A group of Evangelical Protestants set up the Bethany Home, in
Rathgar, an affluent suburb of Dublin. It had an input from clergy
of different Reformed Church denominations.
The State has refused to recognise the part it played in the
Bethany Home, even though it was inspected regularly by officials;
and the complainants are still seeking compensation under the
redress scheme afforded to Roman Catholics.
Taoiseach speaks of Church-State relationship.
The Taoiseach (Prime Minister), Enda Kenny, this week spoke of a
"disturbing symbiosis between Church and State" on the baby-home
"This is about the kind of country Ireland was, where women, in
particular, were the focus of shame and suppression," he told the
Dáil (Parliament). He said that the current controversy remained an
issue for Ireland "because, if this is not handled properly, then
Ireland's soul, in many ways, will lie, like the babies of so many
of these mothers, in an unmarked grave".
The Irish Roman Catholic Bishops' Conference publicly apologised
on Tuesday for the part played by the Church in the culture of
isolation and social ostracisation of unmarried mothers, which the
Bishops acknowledged was harsh.
They said in a statement: "We need to find out more about what
this period in our social history was really like, and to consider
the legacy it has left us as a people. Above all, we need to enable
those who were directly affected to receive recognition and