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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 3 March 2021

Ireland lays bare scandal of baby deaths at homes run by Catholic Church

Report exposes grim history of thousands of infant deaths at mother and baby homes across the country

At a protest in 2018, Matilda Kelly holds a tribute to a infant believed to have died at Tuam Mother and Baby Home, in County Galway, Ireland. Reuters
At a protest in 2018, Matilda Kelly holds a tribute to a infant believed to have died at Tuam Mother and Baby Home, in County Galway, Ireland. Reuters

An Irish inquiry into the alarming death rate of newborns at church-run homes for unmarried mothers handed down its final report on Tuesday, laying bare one of the Roman Catholic Church’s darkest chapters.

The report, which examined 18 institutions, said that about one in seven children, or 9,000, died in Church care. It said that nobody raised any alarm about the high death rates.

Prime minister Micheal Martin will make a formal apology to those affected by the scandal and will provide financial recognition and laws to support excavation, exhumation and, where possible, identification of remains, the government said in a statement.

"It's difficult to conceive of the scale of the tragedy and the heartbreak behind that figure of 9,000 children and babies," said Ireland's minister for children, Roderic O'Gorman.

"The report makes clear that for decades, Ireland had a stifling, oppressive and brutally misogynistic culture, where a pervasive stigmatisation of unmarried mothers and their children robbed those individuals of their agency and sometimes their future."

The remains of 802 children, from newborns to three year olds, were buried between 1925 and 1961 in one mother and baby home alone, a 2017 interim report found. The prime minister at the time, Enda Kenny, described the burial site at Tuam, in the western county of Galway, as a “chamber of horrors”.

An inquiry was launched six years ago after evidence of an unmarked mass graveyard at Tuam was uncovered by amateur historian Catherine Corless, who said she had been haunted by childhood memories of skinny children from the home. The babies were buried in 20 chambers inside a decommissioned sewage tank.

Relatives say they believe the babies were mistreated because they were born to unmarried girls and women who, like their children, were seen as a stain on Ireland’s image as a devout Roman Catholic nation.

The Church’s reputation in Ireland has been shattered by a series of scandals over paedophile priests, abuse at workhouses and forced adoptions of babies born outside marriage.

Pope Francis begged forgiveness for the scandals during the first papal visit to the country in almost four decades in 2018. Government records show that the mortality rate for children at the homes where tens of thousands of girls and women, including rape victims, were sent to give birth, was often more than five times that of those born to married parents.

The Church ran many of Ireland’s social services in the 20th century. While run by nuns, the homes received state funding and, as adoption agencies, were also regulated by the state.

While Irish voters have overwhelmingly approved abortion and gay marriage in referendums in recent years, the mother and baby home scandal has revived anguish over how women and children were treated in the not-too-distant past.

The 3,000-plus page report – which was leaked in a newspaper at the weekend – makes for difficult reading, deputy prime minister Leo Varadkar said on Monday.

“One of the things that hit me was the extent to which this was an enormous societal failure and an enormous societal shame that we have a stolen generation of children who did not get the upbringing they should have,” he told national broadcaster RTE.

Updated: January 12, 2021 08:23 PM

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