In a bizarre rant on RTE’s Prime Time, Tanaiste Leo Varadkar endorsed unfounded conspiracy theories which claim that babies were buried in a septic tank at Tuam by nuns.
This conspiracy theory, which was given no merit by the findings of the exhaustive Mother and Baby Home Report regarding Tuam, is one which has now become the stuff of urban legend, with even seasoned politicians such as Varadkar blithely repeating the story as if it were fact.
During his Prime Time appearance, Varadkar was asked about what further actions needed to be taken with regards to these Mother and Baby Homes. The transcript of that particular piece is below:
Miriam O’Callaghan: In the news today, the Mother and Baby Homes Commission, in particular the winding down of it, given you and I know the survivors and the many unanswered questions they have…are you comfortable that that’s fair that it’s going to be wind down?
Leo Varadkar: That’s something I know that Minister O’Gorman is going to consider. I was surprised to hear that some of the recordings had been deleted. I suppose it’s for the commission to explain the reasons for that. The Commission is not a government agency, it was independent of government. I think the things we were very keen to press on with though were making sure that survivors had access to their birth records that’s really important and the redress scheme.
We want to put in place legislation to excavate Tuam and to give the babies buried in that tank the death and dignity that they didn’t have in life and allow them to be identified and memorialised.
This last sentence is incredible. Since Tuam has not been excavated, how can he know that there are babies ‘buried in that tank’? The Tuam report stated that there was an individual on site who made coffins for those who died young. The work of Brian Nugent has evidence that advertisements were regularly put out appealing for donations of coffins.
The work of Brian, Eugene Jordan and Rory O’Connor has gone a long way towards explaining how the urban legend of babies being dumped in a septic tank got out of hand, county council work over decades shifted the location of an existing underground burial chamber, as happens regularly in any other similar institution that has construction work carried out nearby. Someone stumbled on bones a number of decades ago and then fictional accounts pieced together a conspiracy involving a septic tank.
Varadkar also claims that the ‘babies in the tank’ were denied dignity. By whom? The report makes clear that the nuns who provided care for those children preserved their dignity and did so to the best that they could.
In one particularly sad statement, a survivor recalls that the outside world refused to visit them. Even their own families. Were Catholicism really the prime influence on society’s role in building these homes, then why did people not visit the sick, as is one of acts of mercy? That survivor’s account stated:
This woman said that the girls in the home were allowed visitors but no one ever came to visit. ‘No one wanted to know you while you were in there. I think about three girls had a visitor while I was there. I had none’.
In 2002, one resident wrote that the priests and nuns were amongst the only people who wanted anything to do with them.
‘I am shocked and appalled at the people who falsely accuse the Bon Secours nuns of abusing the children in their care’. She said that she was wellfed, clothed and kept warm in the winter by the Sisters. The children learned how to sing and step-dance with the nuns and staged plays at Christmas time. ‘We had a good instructor and entertained priests, nuns and high class people of Tuam. We lacked nothing’. She cried when she was boarded out, aged seven but soon grew to love her foster family. Sister Hortense sent a gift every Christmas to her and to other boarded out children. She described Sister Hortense as having ‘a heart of gold’.
Varadkar is right on the last part that they have not been identified, this has become the source of the whole conspiracy theory. Many amateur historians, in the most derogatory sense of the word, have concocted an entire fictional story involving nuns burying babies in a septic tank as a result. It is incredible that it has taken almost ten years to even suggest an excavation for such a pressing issue.
Once again, the Irish public have been subjected to hearsay and to lies rather than the truth, once again they have bought it because it exonerates them from the sad truth of the account by the mother who recalled that no one on the outside came to visit them.