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Tribunals and witch-hunts

On the Edge

On The Edge
Áine Ryan

FOR those of us who have been lucky enough to have children we know how traumatic and how difficult childbirth can be. Giving birth at home without the aid of a midwife seems barbaric in these times when every step of a pregnancy is medicalised and monitored. One can only imagine the pain Joanne Hayes endured on that night of April 12, 1984 when she gave birth or miscarried her baby – conceived through an affair with a married man – at her Aunt Bridie’s farm in the north Kerry village of Abbeydorney.
She had bled so much she attended her GP the next day who referred her to Tralee hospital. Instead, she deferred going to the hospital and went home to put her baby’s body in a plastic bag and hide it on the farm.
Joanne Hayes then went to Tralee hospital the following day, April 14, which bizarrely was the day the second ‘Kerry baby’ (Baby John) was discovered stabbed to death on White Strand, near Cahersiveen, some 80 kilometres away from Hayes’s home. During the following days news quickly reached gardaí, sent from Dublin to investigate the discovery of Baby John, that Joanne Hayes had been in Tralee hospital, was no longer pregnant but there was no sign of the baby.
By May 1, the Hayes family was asked to go to Tralee Garda Station where dramatic descriptions emerged of how Joanne had killed the baby with a kitchen knife and bashed in its head with a bath bush. (None of this was true, of course.) When Joanne’s own baby was found exactly where she said it was on the farm, the gardaí trumped up the idea that she’d had twins. As we all know by now, when blood tests proved that Baby John couldn’t be hers, gardaí conveniently came up with the theory of ‘superfecundation’ – sex with two different men leading to babies with two different fathers and two different blood groups.

‘Indifference to our feelings’
ISN’T it ironic that this dark tale about Irish society and the murky role members of An Garda Síochána had in the affairs of a family was brought back into the public spotlight last week while the behaviour of senior members of the force is before the Charleton Tribunal? Was it merely a coincidence that the former Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan was due – but then delayed to this week – to be before the tribunal in Dublin Castle last week?
Joanne Hayes, and her family, were eviscerated at the Kerry Babies Tribunal held in 1985. It was like a witch-hunt. She spent five days in the stand, collapsed on occasions, became sick and had to be sedated. She was asked over 2,000 questions – many of them intrusive questions about her sex life.
When the tribunal report was published later that year, Hayes said ‘it was made public with the same indifference to our feelings that we experienced in all our relations with the law’.
Significantly, the tribunal never answered a key question: who compiled the totally false statements attributed to the Hayes family during their interviews in Tralee Garda Station? What pressure was put on this entirely innocent family to make them concede to such a bizarre litany of lies, implicating them in a murder they knew nothing about?

Cruelty and corruption
THIRTY two years later, it is no harm to be reminded of how easily cruelty and corruption can rear its ugly head right at the centre of our society. One can only imagine how distressing it is for the Hayes family to be exposed to this media storm once again. One assumes though that they became inured to the vitriolic campaign waged against them by members of official Ireland back in the 1980s.
Both the gardaí and the State issued apologies to Ms Hayes last week. However, the official record of the tribunal still stands: it concluded Joanne Hayes killed her baby on the family farm in April 1984 and largely rejected allegations of wrongdoing against the investigating gardaí. Isn’t it past time to correct that record?
While the narrative of the witch-hunt waged against Sergeant Maurice McCabe’s are far less dramatic, there are serious questions about how his character was impugned. They are being played out in Dublin Castle today (Monday) as I write. Let’s hope An Garda Síochána have learned some lessons about the ultimate reputational cost of closing ranks.

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