The Tuam Home Survivors Network has called for the proposed bill governing potential exhumation of remains from the Tuam Mother and Baby Home to be thrown out, as it cannot provide justice for those who died there, or comfort for families.
Kevin Higgins, spokesperson for the Tuam Home Survivors Network, and Peter Mulryan, chairperson of the same, appeared before the Dáil Committee on Children, Disability, Equality, and Integration on Wednesday.
The Committee was meeting to discuss the General Scheme of a Certain Institutional Burials (Authorised Interventions) Bill, which would establish an agency with specific authority to consider exhumation and identification of remains at mass graves such as the Tuam Mother and Baby Home.
A large number of witnesses, including human rights and law experts and those with a personal investment such as Mr Higgins and Mr Mulryan, appeared before the committee, and levelled heavy criticism at the bill.
Kevin Higgins said that this bill would remove the only existing mechanism under Irish law for establishing a legal finding of cause of death, an inquest.
The bill stipulates that where the agency it proposes to create to handle burials at “certain sites” undertakes action, including exhumations, the coroner shall not have any jurisdiction over remains exhumed at those sites.
“The result is that there will be no finding of blame or responsibility in law for their deaths,” Kevin Higgins said. “The rationale seems to be that, as these children clearly had no rights while alive, why embarrass ourselves by giving them any rights in death?”
“As in all such grotesque events, truth is the first casualty. Compared with grim events over the past 80 years such as Katyn, Srebrenica, Kosovo, Sierra Leone and so on, the mass grave at Tuam, in terms of recovery, identification and determination of causes of death, is a relatively simple task and we are happy to meet any assertion to the contrary with hard evidence.”
He described the death certificates for the 978 children who died at the Tuam Mother and Baby Home as a “fantasy”, adding that there are no medical certificates for cause of death for any of these children.
“According to the death certificates, 25% of these children died from something as nebulous as debility. We are all familiar with deaths through premature births of children. The medical attendants certified that a child of three-and-a half who had never shown any symptoms or illness had actually died from prematurity.”
Mr Peter Mulryan said that he has spent the last three years trying to find records of what happened to his sister, but that information has been extremely scant.
“It is unbelievable that they would do this to a human being who was recorded as having been born a healthy baby, but who died nine months later.”
“What did she die from? Was it from malnutrition or neglect? Was she drowned? We do not know. I want to know where my sibling is now.”
He also said that he wants to know definitively if what records are available are true, if his sister really is buried at the former Tuam Home, or if she was illegally ‘adopted’ to the United States, and could still be alive.
“That is what I hope will happen rather than her being down in that sump of a septic tank decaying away in such a situation, not even put into a coffin, with just a bit of cloth left on a shelf under the darkness of night.”
“Somebody knows, but there are no records whatsoever. It is scary stuff,” he said.
Mr Higgins said that this bill should be “returned from whence it came”, and that nothing of “worth, humanity or integrity” could be retrieved from it.