Dignified Burials Law Must Be Part of Transitional Justice for Mother and Baby Home Victims

Those affected need to be meaningfully involved in drafting new law on dignity in burials and commemoration

A new law focused on providing dignified burials for victims left in mass graves associated with Mother and Baby homes, needs to have meaningful participation in its drafting and operation from those women and families who have been affected, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has told Oireachtas Members.

The Commission has provided the Oireachtas Committee on Children, Disability, Equality and Integration with 25 specific recommendations on the General Scheme of the Certain Institutional Burials (Authorised Interventions) Bill.

The Commission warns that while international experience (mostly from war zones) shows significant difficulties in retrieving, identifying and returning remains to family members, this does not diminish the obligation on the State to make best efforts to do so, and to ensure meaningful engagement with affected people in developing this law.

The State is under a legal duty to investigate mass burials and to preserve and protect evidence at sites, the Commission makes clear, and any ongoing criminal investigations should not see any mass grave sites excluded from the remit of this burials law.

The Commission warns that any suggestion of sites being excluded from the inclusion under this law on the basis of an “informed family consent” of a burial, needs to be carefully considered. The Commission questions how this could be provided for in the situation where there is no definition of informed consent in the legislation, no detail of how this could be established given the decades which have passed, and no detail of who would decide on such a determination.

Other recommendations from the Commission include that:

  • A 70 year time limit in the legislation should be removed or reconsidered. This could exclude any sites prior to 1950 from exhumations, and is seriously out of line with the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes period starting from 1922.
  • The views of survivors and family members must play a central role in any decision to memorialise a manifestly inappropriate burial.
  • The Coroner needs to have a recognised jurisdiction over burial sites. It is unclear in an absence of a Coroner’s inquest on a cause of death how the State can ensure family members know the truth about the cause and circumstances of the death and the manner of the burial of their relative.
  • Any independent agency proposed to oversee must report to the Oireachtas to ensure transparency and accountability in its work.
  • Remains and any personal artefacts should be returned to families as soon as possible after identification.
  • Unclaimed or unidentified remains should also be traceable for possible future identification, and the cremation of these remains should be expressly prohibited.
  • Safeguards around the taking, retention, storage, sharing and destruction of DNA are vitally important.
  • A proposed “pilot programme” for identifying victims must not in any way interfere with the State’s obligation to make best efforts to identify and return those found in mass graves to families. Safeguards are needed here.

Speaking today, Chief Commissioner Sinéad Gibney stated:

“Transitional justice is based on five pillars – the right to truth, justice, reparation, non-recurrence and memory processes. Those buried in these mass graves, and those families who mourn them must be treated with dignity, with respect for their human rights, and agency for survivors in shaping how this law is made, and how it operates.

 “This burials law must be a part of delivering transitional justice to victims and survivors, for the systemic human rights abuses dealt out to them in these institutions.

 “We need to see a systemic change in the State’s attitude and responsibility towards anyone who is a victim or survivor of State wrongdoing from one of suspicion and opposition to one of trust and care.”


For further information, please contact:

Brian Dawson, IHREC Communications Manager,

01 8589601 / (087) 0697095


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 Editor’s Note

The full legislative observations submission from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is available at the following link:

IHREC Submission to the Joint Committee on Children, Disability, Equality and Integration on the General Scheme of a Certain Institutional Burials (Authorised Interventions) Bill FINAL

The Commission has published these legislative observations in line with its mandate to keep under review the adequacy and effectiveness of law and practice in the State relating to the protection of human rights and equality, and to make recommendations to the Government to strengthen and uphold human rights and equality in the State.

Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is an independent public body, appointed by the President and directly accountable to the Oireachtas. The Commission has a statutory remit set out under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act (2014) to protect and promote human rights and equality in Ireland, and build a culture of respect for human rights, equality and intercultural understanding in the State.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is Ireland’s national human rights institution and is recognised as such by the United Nations. The Commission is also Ireland’s national equality body for the purpose of a range of EU anti-discrimination measures.