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Tuam babies discovery 'truly appalling', says Kenny

The home was demolished but a shrine was later erected on the site Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption The home was demolished but a shrine was later erected on the site

The discovery of human remains at the site of a former mother-and-baby home is "truly appalling", Irish PM Enda Kenny has said.

A state-appointed inquiry confirmed on Friday that "significant quantities of human remains" had been found during a dig in Tuam, County Galway..

The babies of mothers involved had been treated like "some kind of sub-species", said Mr Kenny.

He said the inquiry needed to proceed as quickly and sensitively as possible.

Mr Kenny said the local coroner and everyone else involved had to now see how best to progress the investigation relating to Tuam and possibly other locations.

He said the Irish Minister for Children Katherine Zappone was liaising with the commission.

The Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) said that questions remained as to what needed to be done to identify the remains and this was one of a number of issues that had been "left lying in the shadows for many years".

The discovery was also welcomed by the historian whose research uncovered the burials.

Catherine Corless said "finally the truth has come out" about burials of infants at the former mother and baby home in Tuam, County Galway.

'Underground chambers'

She found death certificates for 796 infants who died at the home from natural causes, but despite painstaking research, she has not been able to locate their burial records.

A statement from the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation said test excavations carried out over the last four months had uncovered a "long structure divided into 20 chambers".

It added that human remains were found in "at least 17 of the 20 underground chambers which were examined".

Tests confirmed that the bodies found ranged in age from premature babies to children age three.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption The land has been surveyed and excavated as part of a state-appointed inquiry into the missing graves

'Sad day'

Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster on Monday, the historian said: "I was adamant and I did believe all along that it was only a matter of time until we came across them, so it was a good day to know that finally the truth had come out.

"I was thinking of all the survivors of the Tuam home who have brothers and sisters buried there and I knew in my heart and soul that they would be delighted with this announcement because they want a grave to visit.

"They want to know where their loved ones are buried, so for them it was a wonderful day in that light - a sad day but a good day as well."

Ms Corless told BBC Radio Ulster it was a chance discovery, that happened unintentionally while she was writing a history of the Catholic-run home in Tuam.

"It was during my research that I came across the graveyard, and that's what really started me asking questions," she said.

"I never knew there was a graveyard there. There was no headstone, no crucifix, it wasn't marked on the local map and I just started asking questions."

'Horrified'

The home was run by the Bon Secours order of nuns from 1925 to 1961 and according to Ms Corless it was surrounded by 8ft (2.4m) high walls.

Radiocarbon tests carried out on the human remains suggest that they date from the period the home was operational.

The building has since been demolished and in the 1970s, a housing estate was built on the land.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Catherine Corless carried out research in a bid to find the graves of 796 infants who died at the home

Two young boys who were playing at the site in the 1970s discovered some skeletal remains, but the matter was not fully investigated at the time.

At the weekend, the Catholic Archbishop of Tuam, Michael Neary, said he was deeply shocked and horrified by the confirmation that more human remains had been found buried in the grounds of the home.

He said the church would work with relatives to ensure their loved ones were given "dignified re-interment" in consecrated graves.

'Discarded'

Housing Minister Simon Coveney told Irish broadcaster RTÉ that the Tuam burials may have to be investigated by An Garda Síochána (Irish police).

"When you look at the way in which children's bodies were discarded in the way that they were, 17 of the 20 chambers, had remains in them, it's hard to see that there wouldn't be garda involvement in this case," said the minister.

"People shouldn't only talk here about the Bon Secours Sisters, although obviously they have questions to answer, but this was a site that was owned by the state and it's a site that's still owned by Galway County Council, so there's a significant responsibility on the state here, as well as the Bon Secours Sisters."

A spokesman for An Garda Síochána (Irish police) told BBC News NI the force was currently liaising with the coroner on the issue.

As well as the discovery at Tuam, the commission is also investigating conditions at 17 other residential institutions across the Republic of Ireland.

The inquiry began in 2015 and was expected to take at least three years to complete its work.

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