What should be done with re­mains at Tuam?

The Buffalo News - - WORLD NEWS - By Dan Barry

A few years ago, an am­a­teur his­to­rian shook Ire­land to its core with a ghastly al­le­ga­tion: Hun­dreds of bod­ies of young chil­dren ap­peared to have been buried in an abandoned sep­tic sys­tem by Ro­man Catholic nuns who for decades had man­aged a home for un­wed moth­ers and their off­spring in the County Gal­way town of Tuam.

Then, early last year, in­ves­ti­ga­tors con­firmed that many com­min­gled hu­man re­mains have been found in just a sin­gle cor­ner of the 7-acre site, where a sub­si­dized hous­ing project had long since re­placed the old mother-and-baby home.

Amid the many emo­tional re­ac­tions that fol­lowed was one par­tic­u­larly painful ques­tion: What should be done with the ju­ve­nile re­mains in the ground?

Last month, a team of foren­sic ex­perts as­sem­bled by Kather­ine Zap­pone, Ire­land’s min­is­ter for chil­dren, is­sued a re­port that pre­sented sev­eral pos­si­ble an­swers, but not be­fore not­ing the “un­prece­dented” chal­lenges.

“The group has not iden­ti­fied any di­rectly com­pa­ra­ble cases, ei­ther na­tion­ally or in­ter­na­tion­ally, that in­volved the com­plex­i­ties of com­min­gled ju­ve­nile hu­man re­mains, in sig­nif­i­cant quan­ti­ties and in such a re­stricted phys­i­cal lo­ca­tion,” the re­port said.

Then, in tech­ni­cal lan­guage de­void of emo­tion, the re­port listed five op­tions, in­clud­ing the es­ti­mated cost. The least in­tru­sive choice would be to do lit­tle more than erect a me­mo­rial on the site and leave things as they are. The most am­bi­tious would be to con­duct a foren­sic exam of most of the site, in­clud­ing its car park and grassy play­ground; ex­hume all rel­e­vant hu­man re­mains; and do ex­haus­tive DNA test­ing for pos­si­ble iden­ti­fi­ca­tion.

Even in its no-non­sense prose, the re­port re­vealed the emo­tional com­plex­i­ties of the nearly pri­mal mat­ter that the Ir­ish govern­ment faces – a mat­ter touch­ing on the pro­found in­flu­ence of the Catholic Church on na­tional pol­icy, the sub­ju­ga­tion of women, re­spect for the dead and proper re­dress for hu­man rights abuses.

The re­port’s sug­ges­tions have of­fended the likes of Peter Mul­ryan, who spent the first few years of his life in the Tuam home and was even­tu­ally handed over to a fos­ter father who beat and ex­ploited him. He learned, only re­cently, that he had a half sis­ter who died at the home in 1950s and that her re­mains, pre­sum­ably, are com­min­gled in the site’s un­con­se­crated ground.

“Aw­ful, in­sult­ing,” Mul­ryan said in an in­ter­view last week. “How would any of those do­ing the re­port like it if one of their sib­lings was be­ing treated like that?”

The slog to­ward res­o­lu­tion con­tin­ues.

This in­cludes hav­ing the lo­cal govern­ment, the Gal­way County Coun­cil, meet with rel­a­tives and sur­vivors to hear their con­cerns.

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