Campaigner Catherine Corless said there was a “wall of silence” in obtaining local knowledge while researching the Tuam mother and baby home as Carlow survivors search for answers.
Carlow TD Jennifer Murnane O’Connor posed a question to Ms Corless, whose research into Tuam Mother and Baby Home revealed that 796 babies and young children had died and been buried in a defunct sewage system, about the importance of local knowledge in her efforts.
The pair attended a joint Oireachtas committee on children and youth affairs which was scrutinising proposed legislation to enable an agency to be set up to oversee exhumations of remains at former mother and baby home institutions.
Deputy Murnane O’Connor said: “I am interested in seeing how local research can be given a place in this legislation. I am working with some survivors in Carlow and, for me and for them, it is so important to get the local knowledge. It is hugely important that this plays a role and Ms Corless might come back to me on it.”
Ms Corless said when she begun her research she had “absolutely nothing to go on”.
“It was as if it did not exist in paperwork. I did try for local knowledge at the time and I got very little. I found that people were very hesitant to speak about the home. I feel that a lot of people knew what was going on, had put it at the back of their minds, and they just wanted to forget about it.”
Ms Corless said when the then Minister, Katherine Zappone, had requested that local people come forward with evidence and knowledge that “absolutely nothing happened because it fell on deaf ears”.
She added: “I found out in the meantime that businesses in Tuam relied heavily on the Tuam home, supplying them with clothes, shoes and so on. There was a lot of input. It was even stated in one of the Galway County Council reports that they did not want to close the Tuam home in 1961 because one of the county councillors at the time said that the Tuam home was an economic plus to the town of Tuam.
“I think there are probably a lot of people with guilty consciences about what went on at the time. I found it quite impossible to get any information off the elderly people in Tuam who would have known stuff, especially people associated with the home. It was just a wall of silence. With regard to trying to get any information at this stage, I do not think it would work. That was my experience.”