15 April 2021
By Elaine Murphy
“The very least we owe these children, and their families, is to investigate how they died.” – says the West Cork TD
Holly Cairns TD is calling on the Minister for Justice to ensure that inquests are held into all deaths that occurred in mother and baby homes and similar institutional settings.
During a debate on the Institutional Burial Bill, at the Joint Oireachtas Committee for Children, Disability, Equality, and Integration this week, survivor groups and expert witnesses highlighted the fact that while the Bill allows for the exhumation and re-internment of remains at former mother and baby homes, it expressly debars a coroner’s inquest into the deaths.
“The coroner has a duty to hold an inquest where a body is found in their district and where a person dies in state custody or detention. We have had no clarity as to why the coroner has not acted in relation to the mass graves of infants and children in mother and baby Institutions.
“Instead of doing this, the Institutional Burial Bill allows for the Coroners Act – which mandates an inquest – to be disapplied while an agency is set up to oversee the exhumation and re-internment of the remains of infants and children at these sites. This is a disgraceful dereliction of duty.
“If this element of the bill is not taken out, then the Minister for Justice and the Attorney General should use their powers to direct the coroner to act. Taking this action will also require the proper resourcing of coroners to enable effective and efficient inquests.
“Survivors and their families have endured decades of injustice and disgraceful delays. The very least we owe these children, and their families, is to investigate how they died. The State has apologised to the victims of these brutal institutions. How can that apology be deemed genuine if it is unwilling to investigate what happened to those who died?
“I raised this matter with the Taoiseach in January. Given that the Mother and Baby Homes commission has already reported on children’s remains in unmarked graves, there is a legal – and moral – obligation for inquests to be carried out for all of the deceased.