Hundreds of babies buried in a mass grave in a former religious-run mother and babies home in Tuam can be identified due to advances in DNA testing, a team of scientists have said.
A team of four from University College Dublin and Trinity College have challenged the findings on an expert group set up by Minister for Children Katherine Zappone, which previously concluded that identification of the remains would be difficult.
The Government-commissioned report by the expert technical group (ETG) said the exhumation and identification of the remains held in the underground chamber and adjoining septic tank would be difficult because remains are ‘commingled’.
However, Dr Stephen Donoghue of the UCD-TCD team, who are all experts in genomics, told RTE’s Morning Ireland that advances in genomic technology ‘should allow for the identification of the remains at Tuam’.
Donoghue said: ‘There were a number of problems identified by the Expert Technical report…including the quality of the DNA and the commingling of skeletal remains and the cost associated with carrying out DNA analysis.’
Donoghue said the team felt the expert technical group report was ‘overly pessimistic and quite circumspect’, he explained: ‘We felt that report was viewed through the prism of a technology that is around 20 years old, called short tandem repeat DNA profiling
The team, which consists of Professor David MacHugh, Dr Jens Carlsson and Dr Stephen Donoghue — from UCD, and Trinity College’s Professor Dan Bradley, feel that a more advanced technology will allow for better identification of ‘poor quality DNA’.
Donoghue continued: ‘And these essentially allow for whole genome analysis of poor quality DNA and so really we’re saying that the remains should be identifiable at Tuam.’
In March 2017, the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation confirmed the discovery of juvenile human remains in ‘significant quantities’ in the chambers at the former home run by Bon Secours nuns.
Between 1925 and 1960, 796 children died at the Tuam mother and baby home.