CHILDREN Minister Katherine Zappone has released the two-page letter that she gave to Pope Francis in which the scandal of the Tuam mother and the baby house is outlined.
Ms Zappone has asked the Vatican to contribute to the costs of either digging the bodies buried in a sewer system on the site or to make a memorial.
It is assumed that hundreds of children of unmarried mothers were buried in Tuam between 1925 and 1961.
During his speech at Dublin Castle on Saturday, Pope Francis went off-script to mention his earlier conversation with Ms. Zappone when she welcomed him to Áras an Uachtaráin in Ireland.
The minister has now revealed that she only spoke 30 seconds in Italian with the leader of the Catholic Church.
She said: "I am responsible for the Tuam mother and the baby house, where the remains of children were found in a sewer system.
"I hope that the Church will pay for its share in this shameful chapter, it is important and I will write you in detail."
The complete letter is as follows:
Dear Pope Francis,
As Minister of Children and Youth and an Independent Minister of the Government of Ireland, I am writing to you in the hope that the Church will accept its responsibilities and restore its part in a very shameful chapter in Irish history.
Mother and baby were brought to the attention of the public in Ireland in the summer of 2014 after a series of disturbing reports of high mortality rates and claims of possible funerals from children on the grounds of a former home in Tuam Co. Galway. The then government decided to have these cases investigated and a legal investigation committee was established in February 2015.
The Commission has examined a wide range of concerns in the period 1922-1998 with regard to the institutional care of unmarried mothers and their babies. The Commission is investigating 14 mother and baby homes and 4 County Homes. It will in time be a full report of what has happened to vulnerable women and children in these institutions; how they got there; and the paths they took when they left.
An early focus of the work of the Commission was to investigate the Tuam site to address questions about the alleged internment of human remains. As part of this process, the Commission carried out a series of investigations and test excavations, which began in October 2016. I visited the site myself and met former residents and family members shortly before these works began.
The statutory committee of inquiry confirmed the presence of human remains on the site of the former mother and baby house Bon Secours in Tuam. The Home was run by the Bon Secours Sisters from 1925-1961 in what used to be a workhouse dating back to the time of the famine. In the seventies, the former house was demolished to make room for a residential area in the municipality. A small memorial garden is maintained by locals and there is also a children's playground on site.
The Commission's excavations have shown that human remains are visible in a series of chambers that may have been part of sewage treatment plants for the home. The Commission considers that there is a significant number of children's remains there. It restored a number of young relics for detailed forensic analysis. This analysis showed that the remains are between 35 fetal weeks and 2 to 3 years old. From carbon dating, it correlated the age of these samples with the time period during which the house was in operation – between 1925 and 1961.
This news was answered with widespread disgust both in Ireland and abroad. There were some suspicions about such funerals in Tuam. However, it is reasonable to say that the confirmation of the Commission of Inquiry ensured that many people demanded that dignity and respect was given to the memory of the children who lived their short lives in this house. We are also obliged to the families of these children to do good now by their loved ones.
We have now set up a series of actions to ensure that we have an appropriate and respectful response to the discovery.
Since then, I have instructed a team of experts to continue working on the site to determine the options open to us to fulfill our duty to these children. The team has reported the provision of options, including a complete excavation of the site and DNA analysis of the hundreds of remnants that are present there.
A consultation was also held with survivors and local residents about what they would like to see happening on the site in Tuam.
There was little compassion shown to children and their mothers in this house.
We can not change what happened to them. For the little ones whose remains are in a sewerage system, we owe their dignity in death. For their mothers, brothers and sisters and families we have to give them some peace of mind.
It is my strong belief that given the role of the Church in this shameful chapter of recent Irish history, it must play a practical role in addressing the pain and damage. I believe that the church must make a substantial contribution to the costs of whichever option the government decides. This must be done voluntarily, unconditionally and quickly. Nothing less will show remorse.
I am looking forward to your response.
With every best wish, sincerely yours,
Dr. Katherine Zappone TD