Ireland’s Junior Minister for Education and Skills Ciaran Cannon has called for an official inquiry following the discovery of a mass grave believed to hold the remains of almost 800 children on the grounds of a former home for unmarried mothers in Tuam. Mr Cannon told The Irish World: “We need an inquiry to determine what exactly happened, were there 796 children interned if that’s the word you want to use in that tank in the ground?
“It’s just horrible to think that small, frail, vulnerable children at a time when they needed protection and a loving arm put around them, they received the exact opposite. They were just taken away, somehow made pariahs from society.
“The researcher Miss (local historian and genealogist Catherine) Corless has determined through death records that nearly 800 children lost their lives while they were in the care of that institution at the time. We need to determine the truth: How exactly these deaths occurred, who was responsible for the care of these people at the time? What sort of state inspections were occurring and what the conclusions drawn from those inspections? Did those inspections raise any issues or concerns around the welfare of the children? And if so, why weren’t they acted upon?
“We just need to put some real factual evidence around the story that is emerging, a very very horrific story. We need to determine exactly what happened, who was responsible and move on as best we can from a very very difficult chapter in our country’s history. This isn’t something that happened in the 18th or 19th century, this happened in the mid 20th century.”
Speaking on Monday afternoon, the junior minister revealed he expected specific plans for an inquiry to be announced in the coming days: “I have been speaking today to the Minister for Children Charlie Flanagan. He is meeting with his officials tomorrow (Tuesday) morning and I suspect that there will be a cross-departmental group set up pretty quickly, probably spanning the Department of Health, the Department of Justice and the Department of Children, to determine how exactly we move forward and how we begin the process of determining what exactly happened in this institution.”
The junior minister is local to Tuam and spoke the effect of the grim discovery had had on the community: “I represent Tuam and people are shocked. This morning, I was at a funeral here locally and people were talking about it and the deep sense of shame that within our lifetime- This home was closed just forty years ago so my mother remembers it vividly- these were happening.
“Ireland was a tough place at the time in terms of children’s welfare in general. The infant mortality rate then was far higher than it is now but the mortality rate within this home was a multiple of what it was in general society. As far as I can determine at this very early stage, these homes were receiving subsistence from the state per capita so the more children they had, the more resources they had to take care of and feed those children. I’m trying to determine in my own mind: Where was the breakdown here? If there were resources being made available by the state, why weren’t the children benefitting from them? These are all the things we need to have answers for. A lot of the information emerging may not be accurate so we need to quickly determine what is the truth, what information we can trust and then put the issue behind us as best we can.”