Mothers call for genocide trial over babies in pit | World | The Times & The Sunday Times

Mothers call for genocide trial over babies in pit

A shrine at the alleged mass grave in Tuam. Remains have been found in a septic tank thereCLODAGH KILCOYNE/GETTY IMAGES
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Women who were sent to homes for unmarried mothers in Ireland want genocide prosecutions to be brought after human remains were found at a centre where the bodies of almost 800 infants may have been dumped.

The 63 members of Irish First Mothers, who range in age from their early forties to their late seventies, have written to Ireland’s attorney-general alleging that the state-sanctioned and mostly religious-run homes violated genocide laws by causing them serious bodily and mental harm through mass internment and forcible removal of their children. They want the religious groups involved to face prosecution.

The letter follows the discovery of a “significant” number of infant remains in a septic tank on the site of a former home in Tuam, Co Galway. The discovery became public late last week. It follows claims made by a historian in 2014 that death certificates had been issued for 796 babies at the home but that they had been buried without record of ceremony. The home operated from 1925 to 1961.

None of the women in Irish First Mothers were residents at Tuam, but they believe that the development highlights widespread abuses at similar homes. Most of the women allege that they were pressured or forced into giving up their babies for adoption and three infants born to the women died while in the homes.

The Catholic Church ran many of Ireland’s social services in the 20th century, including mother and baby homes where tens of thousands of unmarried pregnant women, including rape victims, were sent to give birth. Infant mortality rates in the homes far exceeded the national average.

“It is the religious mindset of the perpetrator, not the victim, which is pertinent to genocide,” the letter from the group to Máire Whelan, the attorney-general, said. “We assert that their intent was to destroy us as a religious cohort by every and all social and quasi-legal available means. The perpetrators were motivated by their own Catholic ideological characterisation of us as a religiously defined caste of so-called fallen women.”

Kathy McMahon, founder of Irish First Mothers and a former resident of a home run by nuns, said that it was important that accountability was not delayed. “The dead are not going anywhere, but the mothers who are living with the trauma of what happened to them need to see justice done in their lifetime,” she said.

Ms McMahon claims that in 1974 her first baby was taken from her shortly after birth and she was later pressured into signing adoption papers.

“None of us will ever forget that time in our lives, but having answers will allow the elderly mothers to pass away with some clarity on what occurred in those homes,” she said.

Sharon McGuigan, another member of the group, gave birth to a girl while in the same home as Ms McMahon.

She has not been able to make contact with her daughter since, she claims, she was forced by her parents to sign adoption papers. “It shattered my confidence and caused me years of depression,” she said. “It even prevents you bonding properly with the children you might have later.”

If Ms Whelan refuses to support the women’s case or deems it inadmissable in an Irish court, the group will appeal to the United Nations Human Rights Commission to ask if prosecutions for genocide in the International Criminal Court are possible.

The discovery of the remains had brought the issue into the open “and there is going to be much more,” Ms McGuigan said. “We have to have accountability, whether it is elements of church or state which are responsible.”

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19 comments
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Many of these nuns came from middle class farming families. Most of the children were born to poor mothers. Some of the children were orphans. These nuns regarded such children as being socially worthless and from a religious perspective damned. It is a reflection of their backwardness and hypocrisy that these deaths were sanctioned by the Catholic Church. The children who did survive were treated as virtual slaves to work in their laundries. At 16 they were then abandoned and thrown out into the world with little education.

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A Church is not a church unless compassion and love prevail, and where conceiving a child should be greeted with hope, love, and every future assistance.

A so-called church which considers that everyone is born in "original sin" is missing the point entirely.

Too much dogma, theologising, and perverted misunderstanding over the years has twisted the meaning of Christianity into a horrible censorious cult, horribly far from the teachings of Jesus. 



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"Suffer the little children"


I put this in the same box as the Isis "fighter" who wanted a doctor to give his Yazidi sex slave a hysterectomy to stop her havng babies.  Yest the contraceptive pill was "haram" - forbidden.

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@Ian Wishart  Yet raping her was halal, 'permitted'. The evils of extreme religious mindsets appear to have no boundaries.


Yet perhaps we should remember that many of the Nuns running these 'homes' may well have themselves been pressured by family to enter religious orders, thereby sacrificing their own child-bearing in the cause of religious ideology. 'Those to whom evil is done, do evil in their turn'.

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Poor babies. Poor desperate mothers. I hope that there will be a full investigation and the perpetrators will be prosecuted.

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If any of those who committed these crimes are still alive, then they should be prosecuted.     But this is Catholic Ireland, and the Catholic church has been getting away with murder and other sins for years.

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@Joanne Fisher Just so; institutional hypocrisy leading to what might be termed genocide; but the individual perpetrators should be sought out named and prosecuted. The churches involved should at least be excluded from having anything further to do with children

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I guess that other devout Catholics such as Hitler would have been proud to hear of what these nuns have done because of their faith 

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@Gary Burgess Hitler might have been a devout Catholic in a parallel universe, but not in this one. He was not exactly hostile towards Christianity, but a devout practitioner? Not even close.

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The Catholics were not the only religious group to force pregnant girls to give up their babies. In 1965, my friend was sent to stay in a Salvation Army home for the duration of her pregnancy, and forced to part with her son.

She came from a large family where one more baby could easily have stayed, but it was believed to be in the best interest of mother and son to be treated in this way.

The “shame” of being an unmarried mother was well known, and upheld by families.

With this as a background, no doubt the people responsible for the murder of babies considered they were working in the name of their God, through their skewed view on life/or death.

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It seems to have been systematic.  

It seems to have been widespread.

It was aimed at a particular group - children - catholic children.

There appears to have been powerful entities who endorsed the practice, probably stopped investigations and did not correct clear failings leading to extremely high child mortality rates.

It was probably Genocide.


The evidence seems to be abundant in terms of childrens bodies, hidden in unmarked graves and in septic tanks - why?  Especially in a religion where Jesus declared "let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them...."  Doctrinally these children were innocents.  So hiding the evidence seems to indicate that what had been done was to be hidden.


The children were in the care and custody of an organisation authorised to do so by the Irish State.  Therefore, the Irish State appears to be the legal authority ultimately responsible whilst the legal custodian was the Catholic Church.


I hope the people seeking justice get the very best advice, especially from renowned experts on Genocide (such as William Schabas), and that they find those responsible and, where possible,  bring them to account and unearth the truth.  The mothers and the children (living and dead) who went through such atrocious treatment deserve this, and to ensure this happens "Never Again!"

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My great-aunt was a novice nun. She left when she found the graves of the babies strangled at birth. The convent didn't return her dowry. Pre-war Poland.

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We blame "the Church/nuns" but it seems most of the pressure to give up the children comes from the parents of the girls' (for many of them were that at the time) to sign for adoption to avoid scandal. The church were also looking after the children as part of the government's social services programme.

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@Text good for you mr/mrs/ms text. But maybe it is about the prevailing pressures of society at the time on the parents as well as on the young mothers. 

Yes, the 'church' looked after orphans and the needy (though it is debated just how this was done). And obviously there were a lot of good people in the 'church' and in the lay clergy. But the point remains that these terrible things have happened and not just in Ireland, and that they have been sanctioned, tolerated, or even worse, encouraged, by the heirarchy of the catholic church (and of other churches elsewhere). 

Do you think really nuns in the holy orders would have been disposing of bodies of children into a septic tank without some level of higher authority being involved and justifying this, by some perverse interpretation of the scriptures?

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@Text

You are so wrong. The Church/Nuns pressured the parents. The Church decided sex before marriage and illegitimate babies were "sins".


The Church's idea of "looking after" a child covered everything from death at birth to child labour, forced separation from their families and a deep sense of lifelong shame.


There is no redemption for the Nuns and the Catholic Church. Sinners all of them.

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@Text The church was 'looking after the children' and abusing and raping hundreds of them. Now we find mass unmarked graves and 800 infant bodies dumped in septic tanks. Its all so very depressing and sad.

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Prosecutions should definitely happen and other homes should be investigated for this same crime.


Is the Irish government still so frightened of the Catholic Church?  

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Usually those who rant most  about evil, do the most evil things. It is quite evident that many of those running these homes were sadistic and used religion to sanction their appalling behaviour. Why has it taken such a long time for people to speak out? I lived in Ireland for  seven years in the early 90s and remember many of these types of cases coming to the fore on Irish television. What struck me most was the absolute lack of any kind of remorse from some of the nuns  and priests who treated these vulnerable women so cruelly.

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