The state has not yet ratified a key international instrument pertinent to the Tuam Babies case, according to the author of a government-commissioned report on the matter.
Solicitor and Special Rapporteur on Child Protection Dr Geoffrey Shannon has delivered his 104-page report on the Tuam babies case, which calls for the ratification of the 2006 UN International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
In his report, Dr Shannon says that the failure to provide relatives with credible information breaches constitutional rights, even when the deaths occurred before the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) came into force.
Under the ECHR, where inhuman or degrading treatment is alleged, the State has a duty to investigate.
There is a more limited duty in relation to historical incidents which occurred before the State in question signed the convention.
Relatives of the deceased should be involved in any probe to a significant degree to safeguard their legitimate interests, the report says.
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) has also called for ratification of the 2006 Convention, in light of the findings about Tuam.
“This is not just about the Tuam babies but also about the broader issue of forced family separation and the secrecy that prevails over it all,” said Liam Herrick of the ICCL this morning.
Solicitor Geoffrey Shannon’s report examines the right of an individual to a respectful and appropriate burial, in relation to the Mother and Child Home in Tuam, Co Galway.
The law at the time required the notification of all births and deaths to the Registrar and the report suggests an audit of the number of death certificates issued for the area, relative to the number of juvenile human remains found in the exhumation.
There was also a common law duty at the time on the operators of the institution to bury the children decently and with dignity. That clearly wasn’t done, says the report, since the remains were found in a sewer.
His report also weighs up the entitlement of living family members to know the fate of their relatives, including information surrounding their death and burial.
Dr Shannon points out that there are no unified mass-grave protection guidelines in place for States to follow when they are faced with their discovery.
The government has now decided to carry out a complete exhumation of the site following the 104-page report.
What the government has to take into account is the distress and anguish of family members and this must be balanced against the extreme delicacy of any exhumation process, the report says.
The report finds that there is a duty on the state to recover as far as reasonably possible the remains of those interred at Tuam.
The obligations on the state are twofold, the report says: to defend and vindicate the rights of the citizen as far as practicable and to promote or vindicate constitutional values such as dignity.
The report argues that human rights norms may not be directly relevant, as Ireland in the first part of twentieth century was slow to ratify the relevant international instruments.
The UN Convention against Torture
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women.