It’s difficult to know how to react constructively to the story of the bodies of children in Tuam.
Philip Boucher-Hayes has quoted the response of Gardaí as to whether there was an inquiry ongoing into hundreds of of children’s remains being found.
…there is no suggestion of any impropriety and there is no Garda investigation.
A lawyer’s instinct is to look to law. I thought it might be helpful to look at the legislation around the registration of deaths. Perhaps ironically, the Irish Government has already paid for and published quite a good short essay on the historical laws regarding burial and registration of deaths.
You can find it in Chapter 16 of the McAleese Report, “Death Registration, Burial and Exhumation”.
During the period the Tuam institution was open the relevant acts were The Births and Deaths Registration (Ireland) Act 1863 and The Births and Deaths Registration Acts 1880-1996.
Section 36 of the 1863 Act says
Some person present at the death or in attendance during the last illness of any person dying in Ireland after the said 31 December 1863 or the occupier of the house or tenement in which such death took place, or if the occupier be the person who shall have died, then some one or more of the persons residing in the house in which such death took place shall, within 7 days next after the day of such death, give notice of such death to the registrar of the district in which such death occurred; and such persons as aforesaid, or if such death shall not have taken place within a house, then any person present at such death or having a knowledge of the circumstances attending the same shall, whether they have given such notice of not, upon being required personally or upon written requisition of the Registrar, within 14 days after the date of such death attend personally at some dispensary district, or vaccination station within the Registrar’s district , or otherwise at the place of residence of such person, and give information to the registrar of the district in which such death occurred, according to the best of his or her knowledge and belief of the several particulars required by the said form to be registered touching such death and shall sign the registry in the presence of the registrar”.
Section 3 of the Act specifically said that ‘occupier’ included;
“the Governor, Keeper, Master, Superintendent, or other chief Resident Officer of every Gaol, Prison, or House of Correction, and of every School, Reformatory, Workhouse, Hospital, Lunatic Asylum, or other Public or Charitable Institution”
Sections 10 and 11 of The Births and Deaths Registration (Ireland) Act 1880 set a limit of 5 days from the date of death for that duty to be complied with.
So, a requirement to register each death and a time limit. Is there a penalty for failing to comply?
Section 60 says:
Any person required by this act who shall, within the period specified by this act, fail to give notice of any birth or death to the registrar of the district within which such birth or death shall have occurred shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding 20 shillings
20 shillings per unregistered death.