Tuam: Nothing to see here, move along now please.

Yesterday the Gardai told me the remains in Tuam were famine era and they were not conducting an investigation.

So this morning I sent them this helpful map of the site.


It shows that, yes indeed, 48 famine era bodies were discovered in 2012 on the site of the old workhouse. But that archaeological dig was about 50 or more metres away from the septic tank where the 796 children’s bodies are believed to be buried.

If it sounds confusing I promise it’s not if you’re there. The rawest recruit on his or her first day out of Templemore would grasp it straight away if they visited the site.

I also asked the Gardai should the modern era grave not be examined to conclude all deaths were of natural causes before making public declarations that “no impropriety” occurred here? I threw in a few other obvious questions which I won’t bore you with because I have no answers to them. There has been complete silence from Garda HQ today.

This episode is going to be an interesting test of Acting Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan’s mettle. There are no legacy issues involving her predecessor, this cock up has happened on her watch and it is entirely up to her to resolve it. Which she must do for fear the Gardaí earn the reputation of being the kind of police force that cherry pick what they do and don’t want to investigate.

The silence from Gardai was matched by lack of specifics from government about its inter-departmental scoping excercise. Normally chatty handlers and pols weren’t returning my calls and when Minister for Children Charlie Flannagan took the Topical Issues debate in the Dail this afternoon it was easy to see why. He had nothing concrete to add to the sum of human knowledge whatsoever. There’ll be scoping … which will inform a review for government … which will help cabinet decide on the next step … which will come in a month.

My attempts too to track down who might now have the Bon Secours documents from The Home were passed from agency to agency inconclusively. Which was much more successful than my fruitless ringing around members of the religious order.

I will use today in the future when talking to journalism students as a pretty good illustration of Stonewalling.

But things are moving within the Catholic Church beyond the prying eyes of the Fourth estate. A newly retained PR called me to say he had just been hired by the Bon Secours nuns but had nothing to say and didn’t envisage having anything to say on behalf of his clients any time soon. Roughly an hour later Archbishop Diarmuid Martin called on the nuns to do the right thing. Within a half an hour of that the public relations man had become gainfully employed and this statement popped into my inbox.


The nuns are being a bit Jesuitical I couldn’t help but notice. There’s no denial of knowledge of the burials. Why not? Can we infer some knowledge of the practice from this? If there is some awareness of what was going on that then makes the absence of any promise to cooperate with the government inquiry even more notable.

The promise to engage with the local committee is potentially problematic too. All that the majority of them I have met and spoken to want to achieve is erecting a plaque with all the names of the 796 children on it and then leave the site undisturbed. They are uncomfortable with the thought of their community becoming the locus of a major exhumation and forensic investigation and can you blame them. If the Bon Secours order wanted a veil quietly drawn over the past the very people who brought this to public attention may be their best allies.

Meanwhile the world wants to know what we are doing about the Tuam babies. I have tried to answer the same question in the last 24 hours on Australian, French, British and Dutch radio and to journalists calling from Brazillian, Indian, American and Swedish newspapers. I know nobody listening can have been impressed.


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19 responses to “Tuam: Nothing to see here, move along now please.

  1. Here we go again! What an awful place this ‘island of saints and scholars’ was, especially for women! Well done Philip for running with this story. I can’t help but wonder why the media in general mention a ‘mass grave’ when in fact these children were put into a septic tank. The airbrushing is still happening today.

  2. Keep digging, your work, and that of others trying to get to the bottom of this is helping right the wrongs and past. Our country needs to grow up and face the facts of its history, which has not always been saintly or scholarly.

  3. Your piece mentions “the septic tank where the 796 bodies are BELIEVED to be buried”. Is that area now sealed off? Has it not been irrefutably confirmed that the children are interred there? If it is not yet confirmed, what is the source of the now numerous headlines stating that bodies of 796 infants and children were dumped in a septic tank?

    • Sean

      There is a deafening silence here …

    • D S Kelly

      They have the death certs for all th babies and chidlren , and no to this date no one will take account and start an investigation into this horrible crime , and the amount of ordinary people who are justifying and trying to side swipe people from the facts is disgusting

  4. Orla

    I am so glad I left the Isle of “saints” and scholars. I chose to have a wonderful child out of wedlock, knowingly and willingly. She graduated from university this past May knowing nothing of the hypocrisy and criminality of the church or government of that sad and pathetic island. As she now faces her adult life I am filled joy that she will not have to suffer as a second class citizen as so many of us did growing up under Hee-Haw and the church.

  5. Pingback: “Decent people trying to do decent things” | Daly Stew

  6. Elizabeth McMonagle

    Time and again we are reminded of this country’s cruel contempt and disposal of the most vulnerable  


  7. Natasha Phillips

    Dear Philip

    Having first read about this very disturbing story in The Guardian, I signed up to your blog in order to keep up with developments. Thanks for the excellent journalism – even in the face of such stonewalling.

    Best wishes

  8. Pingback: Our Legacy of Institutional Abuse & The Inadequacy of Outrage | Dime Store Injun

  9. Jane McNulty

    We’re listening here in the UK as well, Philip. BBC Radio 4 interview this morning has raised the issue on this side too. Good wishes with your campaign.

  10. daithi mac gowan

    Another shocking story thsts going to be brushed under the carpet

  11. Dermot McCabe

    Good work, Philip. Keeping this shameful crime at the top of of everyone’s agenda, whether they like it or not, is the very least we can do for those little ones who have been discarded like offal.

  12. Philip.. Thanks for pursuing such an important story with such diligence … Can’t let the stonewalling, obfuscation, misdirection and plain lies win! Regards.. Thom

  13. Phillip, was it ever legal in Ireland to put bodies into septic tanks?
    Was it a crime for The Government of 1975 not to order a criminal investigation?
    If the current Government does not order a criminal investigation will that be a crime?
    In short.. is the septic tank in Tuam a crime scene or not, in that no matter how these children died, it was never legal to put bodies in septic tanks.
    Can this tank be dated?

  14. And a Vatican spokesman said?…..

  15. Claire Lichter

    Keep up the good work. YOU are doing God’s work. Get to the bottom of it. We were a terrible excuse for a Christian nation at that time.

  16. This is extremely good- I must admit, If your site was viewed as a person; You could
    go longer with no shower when compared with most people!
    Thanks a ton as well as keep up the great creativity…

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