18 Jan 2018

Woman accused of 'Kerry Babies' murder gets long-overdue apology

Irish police finally issued an apology in a case that sparked a national debate about sexual morality and exposed ugly truths about the treatment of women in Irish society.

Ciara Kenny
Ciara Kenny The Irish Times, Ireland
Source: The Irish Times
Woman accused of 'Kerry Babies' murder gets long-overdue apology - NewsMavens

Why this story matters:

Thirty-three years ago, the body of a newborn baby was discovered on a beach in County Kerry. Earlier that month, 75 km away, Joanne Hayes, then 24, had secretly given birth in a barn on her family farm near Abbeydorney. The baby did not survive.

Even though the infant found near Cahersiveen had a different blood type than Hayes and the man believed to be the father, Hayes was charged with murder. The charges eventually were dropped, but the botched investigation led to the Kerry Babies Tribunal, which subjected Hayes to intrusive and intense questioning about her private life.  

This week, the Gardaí (Irish police) released DNA results from the Cahersiveen baby’s body, which conclusively proves that Ms Hayes was not the mother, and issued a long-overdue apology to her for the stress caused by their investigation.

As a woman born in the same country just seven months after those two baby boys died, it is remarkable to consider how much Ireland has changed in my lifetime. In 1984 - as Michael O'Regan writes in the article I am recommending today - Ireland was still a place where some unmarried mothers felt they had no choice but to give birth to babies in secret, where contraception was only available on prescription, there was no divorce, and the Catholic Church still reigned over most aspects of daily life, especially in rural communities.

While progress has been made, one great obstacle still remains for women in the battle for autonomy over their own bodies: the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution, which grants equal right to life to mother and unborn child.

But the people of Ireland will have a chance to repeal this amendment at the polls later this year.

women's issues, reproductive rights, human rights

Details from the story:

  • “Baby John” had been stabbed 28 times, including four times in the heart, before his remains were found washed up on White Strand near Cahersiveen on April 24th, 1984.
  • Joanne Hayes' baby was conceived in a relationship with a married man
  • Hayes' family members also were charged with helping her hide her child's body. Those charges were later dropped.
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