01 Jun International team of experts appointed to Tuam Burial Site
Katherine Zappone T.D., Minister for Children & Youth Affairs today announced the appointment of a team of international experts to advise the Government on the burial site in Tuam. Announcing the appointments in Dáil Éireann the Minister said “Having visited the site at Tuam and met with former residents and their families, I am acutely aware that many people are experiencing a great deal of understandable anxiety and anticipation for what might happen next. While the Commission has concluded its excavations in Tuam, it has not yet reached any formal conclusions about the burials. I am pleased to announce that I have appointed Dr. Niamh McCullagh, Forensic Archaeologist, to bring together a team of international experts in DNA analysis and forensic anthropology to provide us with the necessary advices. I am publishing the team’s terms of reference today”.
Minister Zappone’s speech also dealt with a number of other significant issues in relation to the burial site in Tuam including, Transitional Justice Measures to explore why these events occurred. Improved Communication measures to provide regular updates on the programme of work relating to mother and baby homes to concerned parties. Health and well-being supports and improved Access to the records of former Mother and Baby Homes.
Speaking in Dáil Éireann Minister Zappone said “A central question is whether the approach in relation to the burial site at Tuam should focus on reinstating the site to the condition it was in prior to the recent works, with potentially further ground works to preserve the site and – perhaps – erect an appropriate memorial, or whether further excavation work should first take place in an attempt to recover, examine and identify the infant remains interred there.
I am determined that any action must respect the memory and dignity of the deceased children who lived their short lives in this home. However, I recognise the diversity of views and concerns on how this might best be achieved. My preference is to encourage and support efforts to build towards a consensus on how these sensitive issues would be addressed.
Deliberations on the approach to be adopted would benefit from expert technical guidance on international best practice in this highly specialised area in my view. Certainly, we need a fuller understanding of the various options for managing and preserving the site, the relevant technical considerations, and the potential to achieve specified outcomes such as the recovery and identification of remains.
Team of International Experts
Therefore, I am pleased to announce that I have appointed Niamh McCullagh, Forensic Archaeologist, to bring together a team of international experts in juvenile osteoarchaeology, forensic anthropology and DNA analysis and to provide us with the necessary advices. I am publishing the team’s terms of reference today.
Ms McCullagh is an Irish based expert with extensive national and international experience, including work with the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains in Northern Ireland and the Joint Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Command that aimed to locate the bodies of war dead.
Significantly, Ms. McCullagh already has a detailed understanding of the site as she led the Commission team which located, identified and conducted the preliminary excavations of the buried chambers in Tuam. I am delighted to appoint a person of Ms McCullagh’s calibre and experience to lead this work.
Her team of experts will include Dr. Hugh Tuller, a Forensic Anthropologist from the United States, and Dr. Tim Clayton, a Forensic Scientist from the United Kingdom who is world renowned in the field of DNA testing. The team will also consult with additional experts as it considers appropriate. In addition, the team will arrange further geophysical surveys to examine the extent of potential burials on the full site in the ownership of Galway County Council. I have asked the team to submit an initial Technical Report on the Tuam Site to me by the end of June, with more detailed work on options for the future and what these would involve from a practical perspective, by the end of September.
I have asked the expert team to provide its technical advice in easy to understand language, so that we can all appreciate the options for the site and what each option would entail. This information will help us have a much better-informed consultation on the future of the site.
Transitional Justice Measures
While the independent statutory investigation progresses its work, I believe there is also a need for us as a society to look beyond the important legal questions surrounding mother and baby homes by developing complementary comprehensive understanding into the truth of what happened in our country.
Dr. James Gallen of the School of Law and Government, Dublin City University, and is assisting me in this regard. Dr Gallen is mapping out a possible model of transitional justice with proposals for an interim strategy which would seek recognition for the experiences of former residents, promote civic trust and serve to re-assert the fundamental value of the rule of law in our democracy.
Dr. Gallen has prepared a draft strategy to outline a number of innovative proposals which have both national and international dimensions. I will be in a position to make further announcements after I receive Dr. Gallen’s final report.
In the meantime, I am asking my Government Colleagues to support me in inviting the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion of Truth, Reparation and Guarantee of Non-Repetition, Pablo de Greiff to visit Ireland.Dr de Greiff has extensive experience and insights which I believe will help me as a Minister and us as a Government to promote truth, justice and reparation as he has done with a wide range of other governments.
I have listened carefully to the concerns expressed by stakeholders about communication of information to them. I will introduce enhanced communication arrangements to provide regular updates on the programme of work relating to mother and baby homes and to engage with former residents and their advocates in relation to the issues of concern to them.
Although these issues necessarily involve multiple Departments and agencies I want to coordinate and centralise a number of communication initiatives to allow developments to be publicised in a timely manner. Starting from July, I plan to publish a monthly update which will be available on my Department’s website on the first Friday of every month.
Facilitated consultations on health and well-being supports
I also plan to hold detailed consultations, focusing on those who were resident as children without their mothers in Mother and Baby Homes and County Homes. I am pleased to announce that I have appointed an experienced qualified facilitator with an international reputation to assist in these consultations. He will help us explore the nature of services and supports in the area of health and well-being that former unaccompanied residents feel may be of genuine and practical value to them now. This series of consultations will provide a safe forum for former residents to raise their concerns directly with me and my officials.
Starting from tomorrow, my Department will issue an invitation to former residents and those with personal connections to these institutions, seeking expressions of interest in participating in this facilitated process. Details will be available on my Department’s website. The facilitator will hold meetings in Dublin and other parts of the country, depending on the level of expressions of interest from those involved.
I want to listen, learn and respond to the needs of former residents. The outcome of these meetings will inform my proposals to Government so that we can have appropriate supports in place as quickly as possible. I want to commence the process quickly and I look forward to meeting with stakeholders later this month.
Access to the records of former Mother and Baby Homes
In responding to the increased demand for access to records, I asked Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, to enhance its capacity for the provision of information to assist former residents who may wish to establish when they resided in a Mother and Baby Home. My Department has worked with Tusla to progress this matter as quickly as possible and I am pleased to confirm that the work will commence immediately.
My Department is also working with Tusla in relation to the resources required to enhance capacity and professional support within the Adoption Information and Tracing Services”.
In concluding comments Minister Zappone said she was open to broadening the terms of reference of the Commission of inquiry into the Mother and Baby Homes if required in the future.
Terms of Reference of the Commission
In conclusion Mr Zappone said “While the Commission has stated that it is not seeking an extension to its present remit I have indicated that I am open to considering whether broader terms of reference would help to answer some of the questions which have been raised again in public debate. I will consult with stakeholders as part of the scoping review I propose to undertake over the summer months.