Key appointment is welcome – but timing of announcement raises questions for the Government

The appointment of a person to lead State negotiations with religious bodies in relation to requests for financial contributions to the mother and baby homes redress scheme raises questions for the Government, according to Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns.

“While today’s confirmation of Sheila Nunan’s appointment is welcome, the timing of the announcement is curious. Despite the Minister giving the impression that discussions with religious orders have been ongoing, why is it the case that a chief negotiator is only taking up this position now?

“It is only right that church authorities should make significant contributions to the redress scheme in recognition of the abuse their members perpetrated against innocent women and children. However, any talks with religious bodies should have happened long before now.

“The Minister must now provide details of the level of engagement his department has had with religious groups and explain why a person to lead the negotiations on behalf of the Government has been appointed so late in the day.

“Separately, the Government must also consult with the newly appointed director of the Tuam excavation and exhumation scheme so that an approximate timeline for the work can be set out.

“This day has been a long time coming. The appointment of Daniel Mac Sweeney to this very sensitive position is a welcome step in the right direction for survivors of mother and baby homes, as well as their families, supporters and campaigners.

“In what will go down as one of the most shameful chapters of Irish history, hundreds of children who died at the former institution were denied the basic human right of a dignified burial. It is long past time for the State to make amends for this injustice and bring closure for those affected.

“It is therefore crucial that work gets underway as soon as possible to establish the identity of these children and ensure that their remains are reinterred in a respectful way.

“While I acknowledge that the excavation of the Tuam site and exhumation of the remains will be complex, it is disappointing that Minister O’Gorman is not yet in a position to give a definite date for when work is expected to start and how long it will take.

“Now that a director for the Tuam scheme has been approved, there is no reason why the process – which will include consultation with survivors and relatives – cannot get underway as soon as possible. I am urging the Minister to engage with Mr Mac Sweeney so that a starting date and timeline for the work can be established.

“There is also a clear need to extend excavations to mass graves at other institutions. Anyone who wants to establish if the remains of a family member is in an unmarked grave should have the right to know.”

May 23, 2023

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