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9,000 dead till 1998, mass graves, malnutrition: Children tortured in Irish Church-run homes, investigation out soon

In 2017, state-appointed investigators found a mass grave containing the remains of babies and children at the site of Church-run homes for unmarried mothers and their children.

An Irish inquiry examining the deaths of babies and children at church-run homes for unwed mothers will submit its final report on Tuesday, revealing the grim details of the network of the religious institutions in Ireland that abused and shamed children conceived out of wedlock and their unfortunate mothers for the much of the 20th century.

Michéal Martin, the taoiseach, who has already read the 3,000-page report that is to be submitted on Tuesday said that the contents of it were shocking and difficult to read. He is to give a formal apology in the Dail on Wednesday.

It is reported that 9,000 children died in 18 institutions between 1922 and 1998 when the last such home closed, as per a leak published in the Sunday Independent. The infant mortality rate is said to have been double the national rate, underscoring the impact of neglect, malnutrition and callousness towards children born out of wedlock.

Relatives claimed that babies were mistreated because they were born to unmarried women who, like their children, were seen as a smudge on Ireland’s reputation as a devout Catholic nation.

Church-run homes were financed and regulated by the State

Another source of grievance for the survivors is the policy of the religious organisations and the state from tracing each other. Ireland has strict rules governing the adopted people which prohibits them the legal right to own their information and files. The report is believed to have recorded lies and obfuscations of priests, nuns and other church officials. The report comes even as Church’s standing in Ireland has already taken a severe beating over the numerous scandals of paedophile priests, workhouse abuses, forced adoption of illegitimate babies and several other issues.

It is also pertinent to note that the church presided over many of Ireland’s social services in the 20th century while the religious institutions and the homes run by them received state funding and, as adoption agencies, were also regulated by the state. The occurrence of a massive number of infant deaths despite the financial support and the administrative oversight over the church-run homes is a scathing indictment of the state’s negligence in holding religious institutions accountable.

Anne Harris, 70, who gave birth to a son in a church-run home in County Cork in 1970 opined that Irish society is quite rigid and judgmental about children who have not born out of legitimate wedding. She said these institutions were where women were condemned to live so as to keep them away out of sight.

Joan Burton, a former deputy prime minister who born into one such home in 1949, said the inquiry’s revelations were milestones in chronicling a system that risks being forgotten in a country which is no longer bounded by the Catholic Church precepts.

“The report will divulge gory details of what Ireland once did to the younger generation of people, what it did to women who had the temerity to love outside the marriage and give birth to children who had to be ‘given up’, Burton wrote in the Irish Independent. “It will allow us as a society to ask questions on why such kind of brutality was endured for so long.”

The Irish government on Monday apologised to the survivors for the media leak over the weekend, which undermined a promise to give them first access to the report before publication. The government is also mulling over providing compensation and legislation to help mother and their children trace each other, should they wish.

Irish government launches investigation after historian Catherine Corless uncovered evidence of mass grave

The inquiry into the inequities meted out to the babies and children came to the fore after a historian, Catherine Corless, found death certificates of 800 children who were residents of at Bon Secours mother and baby home in Tuam but burial records for only two. Corless claimed that she had been haunted by childhood memories of skinny children from the home.

The evidence uncovered by Corless prompted the administration to institute a judicial commission to investigate the shocking death rates and apathy in religious institutions that also acted as orphanages and adoption centres. In 2017, state-appointed investigators found a mass grave containing the remains of babies and children at the site of Church-run homes for unmarried mothers and their children. The excavations found an underground structure divided into 20 chambers containing “significant quantities of human remains”, the commission said in its interim report.

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