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Ireland to investigate deaths of children at homes for unwed mothers

Discovery of death records of hundreds of children decades ago at home run by nuns has rocked Ireland

An investigation of high mortality rates at homes for unwed mothers has been launched by Irish officials after reports that hundreds of children died at a home run by the Bon Secours nuns.

Charles Flanagan, the national minister for Children and Youth Affairs, this week announced that cabinet officials had approved his call to investigate the matter. The move comes weeks after the country was rocked by reports that nearly 800 children had died in a home for unwed mothers in Tuam, County Galway, between the 1920s and 1960s.

Catherine Corless, a local historian, was the first to uncover the morbid incidents, according to published reports.

"I have great admiration for Ms. Corless’ work and commitment in this regard, and I share her views in respect of the need for the dignity of deceased children to be respected," Flanagan said in a speech before Irish legislators. "Indeed ... I made the point that we must be careful in our use of language and mindful of the fact that while the figure of 796 children has been almost casually referred to in some quarters, the reality is that each of those 796 children was an individual, a citizen, a son or daughter."

A "commission of investigation" is being formed, and a probe could be underway by summer, Flanagan said. Flanagan said the scope of the investigation will go beyond the recent allegations in Tuam.

"Tuam brought to the fore the issues of infant and child mortality and burial arrangements. These are but two issues that I would like to see examined in the context of mother and baby homes," he said. "Questions remain unanswered about the nature of adoptions and vaccine trials."

Corless pieced together the reported fatalities by scouring through death certificates, and her findings were first published in the Journal of the Old Tuam Society in 2012, according to published reports. Her findings gained worldwide attention after they were published in the Irish Times this month. 

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