Tuesday, 28 March 2017

'NO LIKELIHOOD' OF BABY BURIALS thumbnailARCHAEOLOGIST Toni Maguire pictured at Marian Vale, the former Mother and Babies home on the Armagh Road. NM1357

AN archaeological dig at five areas of land around the Marian Vale home on the Armagh Road has revealed that there are definitely no babies buried on four of the sites.
The focus is now turning to the remaining site, which is the grotto area at the former Mother and Baby home, which was run by the Good Shepherd nuns for decades before being sold to Cuan Mhuire in 1990 to be used as an addiction treatment centre.
The dig was commissioned by a company called Inter-region Research and Development Services Limited (IRDS)/Cuan Mhuire Limited. This company was engaged to manage the sale and/or development of the lands on behalf of the owners Cuan Mhuire.
The dig was prompted by an objection which was lodged to a planning application in relation to a site sold by Cuan Mhuire to Shelbourne Motors Limited.
The Portadown based company have applied for planning permission, which at present has been refused, to build a new showroom on the land.
The objection was lodged by a group called Birthmothers and their Children for Justice NI.
That group initially asked the archaeologist in charge of the dig, Toni Maguire to investigate the land, and she was subsequently employed by IRDS/Cuan Mhuire NI to carry out an extensive investigation.
Ms Maguire, speaking exclusively to the Democrat following the completion of her report into the first dig which is located across the Armagh road from the home, said: "I was looking specifically for marginalised burials. These are where you have burial on land and the burial is not marked, and quite often it's not recorded.
“The lands at phase one - they are so heavily impacted from back fill from when they were digging the road and it's far removed - there's nothing exceptional about the piece of land. They just wouldn't have used it.
“I've been doing this for 12 years and there are definite patterns that emerge of where, if you've got burials - where they will be established.
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“For the Shelbourne site, there's nothing there. There's no burial on that land that we can find any indication for and I see no reason to hold up the planning on that."
Ms Maguire also outlined that digs at sites two and three have now completed, and despite extensive tests on the land - nothing has been found.
"In fact, what has been found is that a shelf of rock sand seems to run right through the land, meaning it would not be possible to dig by hand.
“Phase four we are starting now, and I fully expect it to follow the same as everything else so far," said Ms Maguire.
“Section five we are going to treat slightly differently because that is the area of interest basically. We've dipped the ground quite a bit - we're not finding anything so far.
“But to double check - we will be bringing in a full team to do excavation work - to do test trenches really is what we would call them.
“We will bring in geophysics because it's a very large field and the most effective way to cover that is to bring in geophysics.
“Any anomalies that are highlighted - we will put a test trench over it to double check it."
Ms Maguire, referring back to her contact with the Birthmothers and their Children for Justice NI group, said she understood that the issue of baby burials is an emotive one, but insisted that mere speculation cannot be allowed to cloud the scientific evidence.
“They'll say to me: 'We know there are burials there', and I'll say: 'Well, that's ok - have you ever seen a burial take place when you were in the home, or do you know anybody who has had a baby buried there?'
“And they've said: 'No, we kind of just know'. And I said: 'But you don't know - you're assuming'.
“And I keep saying to them - you have to take a very big step back here, because you're allowing this to grow arms and legs and you shouldn't. Let me approach it from a scientific point of view.
“While I appreciate that there is a lot of emotion and anger attached to them for maybe what happened to them in the home - I can't be involved in that. I have got to be objective."
Commenting on the progress of the dig so far, a spokesperson for IRDS/Cuan Mhuire Limited stressed the importance of remembering that there has always been a firm denial by the Good Shepherds Order that any babies were buried at the former home.
“The Good Shepherds have made it clear - they issued a very definitive statement to say there are no babies at the Armagh Road," said the spokesperson.
“That was a definitive statement they issued and we accepted.
“Tuam [where a mass grave of babies remains has been found at a former Mother and Baby home] has been referred to.
“The big difference between Tuam and the north is that it's always been the practice in the north that the children were given birth to at the local hospital.
“They weren't birthed at the property, never. The home was for Mothers and babies after they had given birth.
“There are no babies on the Shelbourne site, and there's no likelihood of babies on the rest of the site. The survey is progressing and the evidence so far is that there are no burials there either." 
It is expected that the works on site five will begin in three weeks, that it will take a week to do the work and a couple of weeks after that for the results to be in.




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