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.