ARA and JFMR call on State to ensure identification of all remains at institutional unmarked graves


Press Release, 3rd March 2017 – for immediate release

ARA and JFMR call on State to ensure identification of all remains at institutional unmarked graves

Adoption Rights Alliance (ARA) and Justice for Magdalenes Research (JFMR) are saddened by the news that ‘significant quantities’ of infant remains have been discovered following an examination by the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes of the site of the former Mother and Baby Home at Tuam.

We reiterate our concerns that the Commission’s Terms of Reference are not comprehensive enough, and stress that Tuam is but one institution in an ad hoc and almost entirely unregulated, State-funded system which had responsibility for the care of unmarried mothers and their children. Today’s disturbing statement from the Commission underscores that the State failed in its ‘duty of care towards these children and their mothers.

In the context of these revelations, and in the public interest, we also reiterate our call on Minister Zappone to publish the Commission’s second interim report without delay.

Irregular burials and unmarked graves
We have consistently maintained that irregular, unregistered and unmarked burials were a hallmark of the institutional care system in 20th century Ireland, and we stress that Tuam is not an isolated case. Thus far we are aware that there may be similar unmarked graves at the sites of institutions run by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary at Bessborough, Sean Ross Abbey and Castlepollard. Indeed, we are aware of over 180 institutions, agencies and individuals who were involved with Ireland’s unmarried mothers and their children. Little is known of the conditions and practices – including burial practices and grave locations – of these institutions, most of which are not on the Commission’s Terms of Reference.  In addition, Conall O’Fatharta of the Irish Examiner has reported that 353 infants died at the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home between 1938 and 1944, and that the official death registrations and nuns’ own records of deaths do not tally (with 80 fewer deaths recorded on the institution’s books). A report supplied by the HSE to the McAleese Committee in 2012 (originally published by Conall O’Fatharta) expressed concerns that death records may have been falsified at Bessborough in order to facilitate ‘clandestine adoption arrangements’.

JFMR has consistently publicised the fact that many women who died in Magdalene Laundries also remain unidentified and in unmarked graves. The headstones in Glasnevin Cemetery for the High Park and Sean McDermott Street Magdalene Laundry communal graves inscribe names of women who are not, according to the cemetery’s records, buried in the plots. There are similar discrepancies at Magdalene graves in Galway and Cork. In addition, the locations of the graves of Magdalene women who died in the Dun Laoghaire Magdalene Laundry are unknown.

We reiterate our call for an expansion of the Commission’s Terms of Reference to include all institutions, agencies and individuals that were involved with Ireland’s unmarried mothers and their children, and to include investigations of burial practices at all of these locations. It is well known that the systematic abuse of unmarried mothers and their children extended far beyond the 14 Mother and Baby Homes and 4 County Homes which the Commission is investigating – mistreatment and forced separation were experienced at the hands of adoption agencies, national maternity hospitals, Magdalene Laundries and many other institutions and individuals.

We welcome the Commission’s decision to notify the Coroner for North Galway of its findings in Tuam. We urge the Commission to notify the Coroners in all regions where institutional unmarked graves are known to exist.

We are very concerned that evidence given to the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation is not admissible in any criminal proceedings (s19 of the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004). We therefore urge An Garda Síochána to establish its own investigation, independent of the Commission of Investigation, into abuse, neglect and illegal separations of mothers and children in Mother and Baby Homes, County Homes, maternity hospitals, and through adoption agencies and similar entities.

We recognise that Minister Zappone’s primary concern is to ‘respect the dignity and the memory of the children’ who died in the Tuam Mother and Baby Home. This can only be achieved by identifying each of the children involved. We underscore that the dignity of the children is bound up with the dignity of their parents and siblings, who have a right to know of the circumstances of the child’s death and their whereabouts, and to be consulted regarding the fate of the remains. We draw attention to the fact that, alongside today’s notice, the Commission’s website states that ‘Our terms of reference do not allow us to assist any individual in resolving their identity or in tracing a birth relative’. We also highlight with great concern that section 39 of the 2004 Commissions of Investigation Act restricts entirely the s4 Data Protection Act 1988 right of access to personal data, where data has been provided to the Commission in the course of its investigation.

We call on the government, and if necessary the Oireachtas, to ensure that all children who died in Tuam, and all children and adults who died in institutional care or custody, are identified, and that their family members are notified of their whereabouts and the circumstances of their deaths. We are conscious that many adopted persons have siblings who were born in Mother and Baby Homes, County Homes and similar institutions. We urge Minister Zappone to amend the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016 to provide adopted persons with unfettered access to their birth certificates and adoption files.

Commission of Investigation process
We repeat our criticism that a wholly private inquiry is not an appropriate way of investigating allegations of systematic human rights abuse of mothers and the children born to them outside of marriage. We are deeply concerned that the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation has chosen not to hold any public hearings to date. The Commission must use the discretion given to it in the 2004 Commissions of Investigation Act to hold public hearings. It should call individuals involved in operating Mother and Baby Homes and County Homes to give evidence in public. It should also allow those who allege abuse to speak in public if they wish. Those affected should have access to the evidence that is being provided by the State, representatives of the religious orders and other individuals, and they should be enabled to put questions to witnesses.

We call on the Oireachtas to amend certain aspects of the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004, which are highly inappropriate for the current investigation into the systematic abuse of women and children born to them outside of marriage. We are calling for the amendment of Section 11 of the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004, which makes it a criminal offence for any person to publish evidence given to the Commission in private. We also call for the amendment of section 40 of the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004, which imposes a blanket restriction on the application of the Freedom of Information Acts to records of the Commission’s investigation. Crucially, too, we urge the Oireachtas to amend section 19, which provides that ‘statements, admissions and documents given to the Commission in the course of its investigations are not admissible as evidence against a person in any criminal or other proceedings. We also call for the amendment of section 39, which prevents access to personal data where it has been provided to the Commission in the course of its investigation.

We urge the Commission of Investigation to analyse the treatment of mothers and children from the perspective of Constitutional rights, and not to confine itself to the narrow question of what legislation and common practice permitted at the time of the institutions’ operation. It is our view that many accepted practices were unconstitutional, and that better regulation and legislation were required to comply with the Constitutional rights of women and children. With regard to Tuam, Minister Zappone notes that the Commission will examine ‘whether the burial arrangements were in line with the laws or practices of that time’, asserting that these laws and practices ‘would of course be very different today’. We highlight the Irish Human Rights Commission’s view in 2013, when commenting on the exhumation and cremation of unidentified remains of Magdalene women at High Park, Drumcondra in 1993, that current legislation in Ireland regarding burials still fails to comply with the right to respect for one’s private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (also a right protected by the Irish Constitution).[1]

Clann Project
Although the closing date for applications to meet the Commission’s Confidential Committee was 1st March, JFMR and ARA remind those who wish to give evidence to the Commission that they can still do so by simply sending in a written statement which can be verified by affidavit. Those who wish to avail of free witness statement drafting assistance can do so through the Clann project, which is a joint initiative of JFMR and ARA, in association with global law firm Hogan Lovells. For further information visit or write to Rod Baker, Hogan Lovells International LLP, Atlantic House, Holborn Viaduct, London EC1A 2FG.


Maeve O’Rourke:                   +353-83-8453070,
Katherine O’Donnell:               +353-87-9612163,
Claire McGettrick:                   +353-86-3659516,
Susan Lohan:                          +353-86-8163024,
Mari Steed:                              +1-215-589-9329,

Notes to editors:

Clann Contact Details:

Clann Information Pack:

Clann Short Films:

About the Project & How to Participate:

Philomena Lee and Jane Libberton:     

Mari Steed:                                            

Maeve O’Rourke, Clann Legal Advisor:–rs

Rod Baker, Hogan Lovells:                   

Minister Zappone’s statement:

Commission of Investigation statement:

[1] Irish Human Rights Commission, Follow-Up Report on State Involvement with Magdalen Laundries, June 2013.