Ireland has been rocked this week as another horrific scandal linked to the Catholic church emerges in Galway, where a mass grave with the bodies of 800 children was uncovered.
In 1975 two young boys broke open a concrete slab while playing in Tuam, county Galway and uncovered an old septic tank filled with hundreds of small skeletons – a priest said prayers at the site and it was resealed.
This week it was revealed that the site contained the remains of hundreds of children who died in the care of Bon Secours nuns between 1925 and 1961 and was not a famine grave as originally claims in the 70s.
The babies are believed to have been secretly buried at the home for unwed mothers, dubbed “fallen women”, which had an extraordinarily high infant mortality rates – with children dying of TB, pneumonia, measles and gastorenteritis.
There was just one child who was buried in a family plot in the graveyard in Tuam. That’s how I am certain there are 796 children in the mass grave
A report from the institution in 1944 revealed emaciated childen, mothers suffering with mental health issues and overcrowding.
The Bon Secours sisters, a Roman Catholic organisation, began providing healthcare in Ireland in the 19th century and is now the country’s largest private healthcare provider.
The sisters said they were shocked and saddened by the reports, they ran 10 similar homes across Ireland and three of the others are believed to have plots with the remains of 3,200 babies and infants.
The story was revealed by the Irish Daily Mail, who were alerted by local historian Catherine Corless that her research had revealed 796 children were in the mass grave.
She told the paper; “There was just one child who was buried in a family plot in the graveyard in Tuam. That’s how I am certain there are 796 children in the mass grave.
“These girls were run out of their family home and never taken back, so why would they take the babies back to bury them, either?”
Irish authorities have been slow to react, despite the scandal spreading across social media under the hashtag #800babies and the story being picked up across the globe.
Police say there is no criminal investigation at present as there is no evidence of a crime taking place, but speaking from a US trade mission Taoiseach (PM) Enda Kenny said he will loko into whether it was an isolated incident.
Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin called for religious orders to release all details they might hold on the people taken in.
The case follows a series of scandals over abuse at institutions entrusted to the Catholic church in Ireland.
The Artane Industrial school case revealed how Christian brothers systematically neglected and abused orphans and boys from single parent families put into “state care” for decades.
Magdalen asylums, known as Magdalene laundries, ran in Ireland until 1996 with as many as 30,000 “fallen women” incarcerated, stripped of their identities and forced to carry out forced labour.
Women were locked up in abusive laundries for being sexually active outside marriage, having “illegitimate children” and some simply to safeguard their “moral purity”.
The Irish authorities must look into possible allegations of ill-treatment of women and children in other so-called ‘mother and baby homes’.
John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International
A 2009 Child Abuse Commission drew testimony from 2000 people who attended Catholic-run school in Ireland from the 1930s until the 1990s.
It found the entire system had treated children as prisoners and slaves, ignoring their rights and noted that some religious officials had encouraged ritual beatings – while protecting their own with a culture of secrecy.
Amnesty International joined calls for an urgent investigation with John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Director, warning; “”The Irish Government must not view this and other cases as merely historic and beyond its human rights obligations”.
“The Irish authorities must look into possible allegations of ill-treatment of women and children in other so-called ‘mother and baby homes’ and other institutions run by the state or religious authorities”.
Funds are being raised for an official memorial to be erected and calls have been made for a judicial investigation into the deaths.