Anger grows over reported mass grave of children from Irish unwed mothers home

Anger grows over reported mass grave of children from Irish unwed mothers home
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POSTED: Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - 6:33pm

UPDATED: Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - 6:44pm

Outrage over the reported discovery of the bodies of almost 800 children at a former home for unmarried mothers run by nuns in Ireland prompted calls Wednesday for a full investigation.

The children whose remains have apparently been found in Tuam, in County Galway, are believed to have died between 1925 and 1961, according to local media reports.

The grim discovery was highlighted in a front-page report in the Irish Mail on Sunday, which cited the efforts of local historian Catherine Corless to research the burial sites of 796 children listed as having died at the home, which was run by the Sisters of Bon Secours.

According to the newspaper, Corless believes their remains are all buried in the unmarked mass grave next to the place where the home once stood. Local children stumbled upon the grave in the 1970s, local media reported, but the site was never examined afterward.

The revelation has sparked calls for an investigation and renewed questions about the treatment of unmarried mothers and their children by the Catholic Church and institutions associated with it.

Sgt. Brian Whelan, in the press office of Garda, Ireland's national police, told CNN there was nothing to suggest any impropriety and that police are not investigating the matter.

Whelan also disputed media reports that remains were found in a septic tank. The skeletal remains were found in a graveyard in the grounds of the home, he said.

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Charlie Flanagan said in a statement Wednesday that "active consideration" is being given to how to address the details that have emerged about the burial of children who died in homes for unmarried mothers.

"Many of the revelations are deeply disturbing and a shocking reminder of a darker past in Ireland when our children were not cherished as they should have been," he said.

Government departments are working together to establish the best course of action, Flanagan said.

Opposition parties Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail urged a government inquiry Wednesday into the matter.

"The news that the remains of some 800 babies were found on convent grounds in Tuam has shocked citizens," said party leader Gerry Adams in an online statement.

"This case warrants an immediate full public inquiry into the neglect and maltreatment which caused the deaths of these children.

"Unfortunately, this case is really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the treatment of women and children in mother and baby homes."

Colm Keaveney, a Fianna Fail lawmaker in Galway East, insisted that Ireland's Prime Minister -- or Taoiseach -- Enda Kenny, must take a lead in investigating the reports.

"These shocking revelations about the appalling treatment of hundreds of babies and their mothers must be dealt with by the highest levels in Government," he said.

"We need to hear from the Taoiseach today about the Government's plans to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of these children, the dumping of their remains, the treatment of their mothers and the State's role in the activities at this home."

A petition set up Tuesday on the activist website Avaaz.org calls for a judicial investigation into the circumstances of the children's deaths. More than 5,000 people had signed it as of Wednesday evening.

The petition, which is addressed to the Irish Minister for Justice and Equality, says, "We are concerned that evidence suggests that the mortality rate for these children was significantly higher than the national rate of infant mortality at the time.

"And we are shocked at reliable, contemporaneous accounts that the children were malnourished and seemingly uncared-for, when the Irish State was paying the Bon Secours to look after them."

Father Fintan Monahan, secretary of the Tuam Archdiocese, told Irish broadcaster RTE, "I suppose we can't really judge ... the past from our point of view, and from our lens. But all we can do is to mark it appropriately and make sure that there is a suitable place here where people can come and remember the babies that died here."

CNN reached out to Monahan for further comment, but had not heard back from him by late Wednesday afternoon.

The Tuam case is the latest high-profile episode in which the state and Catholic Church have been called to account over care of the most vulnerable in Irish society.

A government report last year into the so-called Magdalen Laundries, run by various Catholic orders, acknowledged that Ireland's government sent thousands of women and girls to "harsh and physically demanding" workhouses, where they worked and lived without pay, sometimes for years. The laundries operated from 1922 to 1996.

While some were sent there by courts, others were unmarried mothers, victims of sexual abuse, orphans considered a burden to relatives or the state, or were mentally or physically disabled.

And earlier this year, Philomena Lee -- whose decades-long search for the son she was forced to give up for adoption in the 1950s was the subject of an Oscar-nominated film -- launched the Philomena Project in hopes of compelling the governments of Ireland and the United States to open access to adoption records. 

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