"As a society, we inherit a deep shame for what was done back then,” Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was speaking on Wednesday evening about the fifth interim report into the mother and baby homes and said society had to atone for what happened.
He spoke in the Dáil following the publication of the report by the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation, which found that more than 900 children died at the Bessborough home in Cork with investigators unable to determine where most of the babies were buried. The report, he said, made for "gruesome reading" and gives us "further insight into a very dark part of our history."
Related: Site of Tuam Mother and Baby Home to be fully exhumed
The Commission also found that many of the just over 800 children that died in the former institution at Tuam, Co Galway are buried in underground chambers built within a decommissioned sewage tank. The report rejects claims that the structure in which the remains were found was designed as a burial vault and then used as such. It states that this did "not provide for the dignified interment of human remains."
Varadkar said it was a time “when women and their babies were appallingly treated, often simply just for being unmarried, or even just for being poor.”
Related: Other Mother and Baby Homes sites could be exhumed after Tuam
He said they were badly treated by the State, by the Church, by their own families and also by wider society, adding that it “happened at a time when infant mortality was very high, few vaccines, no antibiotics, very poor public health and sanitation, huge numbers of people living at close quarters in congregated settings."
“However, none of that excuses the indignity in the way in which these babies were treated in death. We must now endeavour to learn, to atone and to put things right.”
The report also chillingly disclosed that the bodies of more than 950 children were sent to University College Dublin, Trinity College and the Royal College of Surgeons for anatomical research between 1920 and 1977. Most people, it said, would find this arrangement “distasteful at a minimum.”
The public inquiry said there "must be people in County Galway who know more" about residents' burial arrangements.
A final report, next year, will address the causes of death of children in the institutions under investigation.
Main photograph: @mynameisbridge