The identities of some of the nearly 800 babies buried in a disused septic tank in one of Ireland’s worst scandals may finally be revealed after the government appointed a director of the agency which will excavate and exhume the remains.

Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman, whose department oversees Mother and Baby homes, received Cabinet approval on Tuesday, May 23 for the appointment of Daniel McSweeney who will oversee digging at the former mother and baby institution at Tuam, Co Galway. 

McSweeney worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross from 2007 to this year in various roles, and most recently as the ICRC envoy on missing persons in the Caucasus region, which focused on the work to clarify the fate of over 2,300 people unaccounted for after conflicts in the 1990s and 2008. 

The intervention at the Tuam site will involve the excavation, recovery, analysis, identification – if possible – and re-interment of the children’s remains. 

📣The Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, @rodericogorman, today announced the appointment of Mr Daniel Mac Sweeney as Director of Authorised Intervention, Tuam.

📍 Read the full press release here:

— Children, Equality, Disability, Integration, Youth (@dcediy) May 23, 2023

The move comes after repeated calls from the families of the children who died at a home run by the Bon Secours Order caring for unmarried pregnant women to exhume the remains from the septic tank where they were buried. 

Local historian Catherine Corless, who nine years ago discovered where 796 babies and young children were buried between 1925 and 1961, was overjoyed that steps to recover the remains were finally going to happen after “dragging on for so long."

She told RTÉ Radio on Tuesday, “It’s heartbreaking that it took so long to get the government to have a will to do something for them.

"It was an atrocity right from the start when I found out back in 2014 and I just couldn’t understand why something didn’t happen immediately.” 

She noted that archaeologists who discovered the bones told her that within six months the remains must be removed. 

She added, “So it’s five or six years later, and nothing has happened yet, but it’s good that it will happen and that was my focus all along, just to get those babies out and to give them a decent Christian burial.” 

Corless said that there are remarkable resources in DNA and “there’s no doubt remains can be identified, as we know, sometimes remains from over 100 years or more.” 

She said the survivors and families want the remains of the children back. 

“Just to place the child with their mother and this will bring relief to them and will bring closure, so it’s a good day that a director has been brought on the scene and that things will happen from here out. Finally, we’ll have closure,” she added. 

*This column first appeared in the May 24 edition of the weekly Irish Voice newspaper, sister publication to IrishCentral.