LOOKING back on some of the coverage of the case in which Kerry woman Joanne Hayes was wrongly accused of being the mother of a newborn baby, who was found dead with multiple stab wounds on the White Strand opposite Cahersiveen back in April 1984, recalls a different era and a way of doing things that the country should be thoroughly ashamed of.
The moralistic small-mindedness that pervaded the investigation, much of which found its way into the tribunal of inquiry afterwards, was gut-wrenching and typified a culture lacking in objectivity that was eventually exposed, but those responsible for it were never properly taken to task or ever sanctioned for their roles in the sordid affair. Last week, in the wake of new DNA developments, Gardaí were able to confirm unequivocally that Joanne Hayes was not the mother of the baby on the beach and they – very belatedly – apologised to her for the wrongful accusations and for the mistakes made in the original investigation.
However, there was no apology forthcoming about how the Gardaí managed to get the rest of the Hayes family to sign false statements to the effect that the baby found on the beach was Joanne’s and that they had helped her to dump it there. This was just one part of the unforgiveable treatment that was meted out to the family and which has been a blight on their lives ever since.
The judicial tribunal, conducted by Mr Justice Kevin Lynch to inquire into the conduct of the Garda investigation of what became known as the Kerry Babies case, spent more time trying to discredit Joanne Hayes with salacious and aggressive questioning of her about her private life than the authorities who were meant to be the subject of the inquiry, which went on for 82 days in Tralee. The Justice added insult to injury by, bizarrely, exonerating the Gardaí who investigated the case and sought to have a murder charge brought against her, which the Director of Public Prosecutions dropped.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s apology from the State and his intimation that there would be some form of compensation forthcoming is poor recompense for almost three and half decades of suffering Joanne Hayes and her family endured since. Armed with a full DNA profile, the Gardaí in Cahersiveen have started a cold case review of the death of the baby, who was named John at the time by a local undertaker, but unless the protagonists have some remorse of conscience, the mystery of the killing may never be solved.
The time the baby’s body was found was just seven months after the referendum that passed the 8th Amendment of our Constitution. How curious that history has now begun to repeat itself almost simultaneously in both cases, which shows how little, in many ways, we have moved on since those dark days.