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The Archbishop of Dublin has called for a “full-bodied investigation” into all of Ireland’s mother and baby homes after details emerged of 796 children and babies who had died at a convent-run home in County Galway for whom no burial records could be found.
Locals discovered children’s skulls in a septic tank beside the home in Tuam run by the Sisters of Bon Secours in 1975. Ten days ago research by local woman Catherine Corless was published on the children who died at the home between 1925 and 1961, when the home was closed.
Using the Galway Births and Deaths Registry she discovered 796 children aged between one to ten years old died during that time, many from sickness or malnutrition, but no burial records were available.
Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin told RTE radio he feared the discovery at Tuam may not be unique.
"The indications are that if something happened in Tuam, it probably happened in other mother and baby homes around the country," Dr Martin told RTÉ radio.
"That's why I believe we need a full-bodied investigation." He said it was important that any commission investigating the graves be given "full judicial powers" and be separate from the Church, the state, and any other organisation that was involved in the home.
He added: "There's no point investigating just what happened in Tuam and then next year finding out more.
"We have to look at the whole culture of mother and baby homes; they're talking about medical experiments there."
Last week Michael Dwyer, a PhD student at Cork University, found medical records from the 1930s that showed that 2,051 children and babies in Irish care homes were given a one-shot diphtheria vaccine before its introduction in Britain, but no evidence that consent was sought or that side-effects were recorded.
Bon Secours said in a statement that it had handed its records to the state after it closed its doors.
The Tuam home was one of 10 institutions to which about 35,000 unmarried pregnant women are thought to have been sent.
The diocese denied media reports that the Church refused to baptise the babies of unmarried women and barred those who died from burial in consecrated ground.
Fr Fintan Monaghan, spokesman and archivist for the diocese of Tuam said the diocese's baptismal register showed that 2,005 children from St Mary’s mother and baby home had been baptised from 1937 to 1961.
The Irish Government has set up an inter-departmental group to look at the case.