Call for coroner role in exhumation of babies at Bessborough and other Mother and Baby Homes

Call for coroner role in exhumation of babies at Bessborough and other Mother and Baby Homes

A SURVIVOR of the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home has told an Oireachtas committee this morning that proposed legislation allowing excavations and re-interment of remains at former mother-and-baby home institutions should be scrapped.

Mary Harney was one of a number of witnesses who addressed the Joint Committee on Children, Disability, Equality, and Integration in its first session this morning on the Institutional Burials Bill.

She told the committee that she believes there needs to be a roll for coroners in the re-interment of babies recovered from sites such as Bessborough, to provide answers on how they died.

She said: “I do believe the coroners must be involved. Scrap this bill and replace with a more stronger Coronors Bill.” 

The Bessborough institution was opened in Blackrock in 1922 and had 9,768 women admitted to it between then and 1998.

A report published in January by the Commission of Inquiry into Mother and Baby Homes found that an estimated 9,000 children died in 18 institutions between 1922 and 1998, when the last such home closed.

According to the report, 923 children born in or associated with Bessborough died in infancy or early childhood. Most of their burial places are not known.

The commission was set up after local historian Catherine Corless discovered that 796 infants had been buried in an unmarked mass grave in the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home, in Tuam, Co Galway.

Ms Corless also addressed this morning’s session and suggested that test excavations could be carried out on the grounds of Bessborough to discover the burial places of the missing remains of babies.

Susan Lohan of Adoption Rights Alliance told this morning’s session: “The ‘how’ the children died has to be addressed.” And she said: “It is deeply worrying that the cause of death and who was responsible is not catered for in the bill.” 

Professor Emeritus at Queen’s University Belfast, Phil Scraton, told the committee that coronial enquiries into how the children died would be expensive for the State. 

But he said: “Justice does not come cheap.” 

He continued: “It will be unprecedented in its cost, organisation and structure but it is a price that will have to be paid.”

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