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Tuam excavation head promises – no shying away from uncomfortable truths

Daniel Mac Sweeney was working with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Lebanon when the Tuam babies’ scandal broke in 2014.

The University of Galway graduate was involved in research and identification of missing persons, of which there were around 3,000 associated with the Middle Eastern country’s civil war from 1975-95.

Almost a decade later, he’s now Director of Authorised Intervention, Tuam and will oversee the Mother and Baby Home excavation – a job that involves the recovery of up to 180,000 bones.

These belong to 796 infants with death certificates but no burial records, who were buried over many decades of the 20th Century including in disused sewage chambers at the County Council-owned, Catholic-run institution that was home to unmarried mothers and their children for 36 years.

“I’d been following the Tuam tragedy for a long time. It struck me that there were parallels between Tuam and the work I was doing in Lebanon, and with the way the Tuam tragedy may evolve, and it has evolved that way,” he said.

In post-conflict Lebanon, and the Caucuses where he worked up until recently, often the location of graves is not known, and the political environment was different to Ireland, but Mr Mac Sweeney said there were “huge parallels in terms of process”.

The goals of the office, established in Galway City before his appointment six weeks ago, are similar too.

“The objectives are to recover remains from the Tuam site. It’s analysis of those remains. Then if possible, it’s identification of those remains. If possible, it’s individualisation of those remains, meaning you gather all of the remains from each individual together, to see if we can work out the causes and circumstances of death,” he said.

Read the full and frank interview in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now, or you can download the digital edition from You can also download our Connacht Tribune App from Apple’s App Store or get the Android Version from Google Play.

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