Zappone lashed over claims on ‘who knew what’ in Tuam

Catherine Corless on the site of the former Tuam Mother and Baby Home.

There have been calls for the Minister for Children Katherine Zappone to retract comments she made about the people of Tuam following further revelations about the Mother and Baby Home.

Following the publication of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes two weeks ago, Minister Zappone claimed that the people of Tuam knew more about burial practices at the home than had been revealed to the Commission.

However, these claims were strongly refuted at a meeting of Galway County Council where Tuam-based councillor Donagh Killilea (FF) sharply criticised the Minister’s actions.

“I totally disagree with the Minister – I felt she cast an aspersion on the people of Tuam,” said Cllr Killilea, as he called for an end to the “drip-feeding” of information from the Commission.

He said the revelations about the home in Tuam had caused a “media frenzy” in the town, with claims that children were sold to the US and dead babies had been put in sceptic tanks – both of which he said there was no evidence to support.

“Where were the Sky News vans and the CNN vans in Tuam two weeks ago when they were told that there were never babies sold,” said the Fianna Fáil councillor.

He criticised the Council for not handing over engineers reports he claimed must have been completed when houses were built around the “unofficial burial ground” in the 1970s.

“It is this local authority that had responsibility for that site,” said Cllr Killilea.

Galway County Council moved to defend its cooperation with the Commission of Investigation following claims that it had not been as helpful as it might have been.

Director of Services Michael Owens, told councillors that the Council Executive had done, and would continue to do its best to cooperate with the Commission.

“We have made available all files, all records and all the necessary material.

“All records in relation to the construction of houses have been made available to the Commission,” said Mr Owens.

“It is for the commission to breakdown records and information that we provide and to make their findings,” he added.

Cllr James Charity (Ind) called for the Minister to withdraw her comments about the people of Tuam.

“The investigation process is happening too slowly, but I cannot understand why there isn’t a formal inquest which would produce a final report of what actually happened,” added Cllr Charity.

Clllr Martina Kinane (FF) said that the discussion should not be about Tuam or any particular town, but rather the mothers and children who suffered at the home.

“As a mark of respect, something we can do is have a minute’s silence to remember the babies, the families and the mothers,” she said.

Councillors observed a minute’s silence for the former residents of the Tuam Mother and Baby home at the conclusion of their meeting.  Included in the fifth report are the shocking details of what was found in the underground culverts at the home which was recognised as an unofficial burial ground.

While the Commission stated it couldn’t establish if these culverts had ever been used as sceptic tanks, it has confirmed that the remains of children and babies have been found within – alongside a glass baby’s bottle and a mug with a nursery rhyme on it. The spotlight of the world shone on Tuam in 2014 when the details of burial practices at the mother and baby home were highlighted by local historian, Catherine Corless.

In its report, the Commission said that Galway County Council “had a responsibility to keep a record of burials” at the Tuam Home – and that Council members and staff “must have known something about the manner of burial when the home was in operation”.