A woman has been cleared of murdering her own baby after 35 years in a case which raised serious questions about the culture of the Garda Síochána and the treatment of unmarried mothers in Irish society.
On 14 April 1984, a newborn baby boy was found dead of 28 stab wounds on White Strand beach at Cahersiveen, County Kerry.
Now aged in her sixties, Joanne Hayes, who lived 80km away in Abbeydorney, was arrested and forced into confessing that she murdered the baby.
The Minister for Justice and the Garda Commissioner on Friday expressed “deep and sincere regret” to Ms Hayes for the “truly appalling hurt and distress” caused to her and her family over the events which became known as the Kerry Babies case, and agreed to pay a settlement of €2.5m.
Along with other members of her family, Joanne Hayes was questioned by gardaí following the discovery of remains of a new born boy – called baby John on April 14, 1984.
Around the same time baby John was discovered, Ms Hayes, from Abbeydorney, 80kms away from Cahirsiveen, had given birth to a baby, Shane, who was still-born and was buried on the family farm.
Despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary, Ms Hayes, who was single, was accused of being baby John’s mother and of murdering him, while her family were accused of concealing his birth.
Gardaí slapped, threatened, and coerced Ms Hayes into making a false confession, while other family members were also harassed and subjected to physical intimidation to get false confessions.
The charges were ultimately dropped in October 1984. Neither the parents nor the killer of the baby have ever been identified.
Tests carried out in 2018 using DNA technology confirmed the baby found in Cahersiveen could not have been Ms Hayes’s. The family launched legal proceedings against the State last year.
Ms Justice Leonie Reynolds said it had been an ordeal for Joanne and her family which had spanned 35 years.
The judge also granted the Hayes family the declarations they had sought that all findings of wrongdoing made against them by a Tribunal of Inquiry during the 1980s – known as the Kerry Babies Tribunal – were unfounded and incorrect. The tribunal, under Justice Kevin Lynch, had claimed that Ms Hayes had indeed killed baby John.
Ms Justice Reynolds said what had happened to Joanne Hayes and her family could only be described as a travesty. She said she hoped it would bring closure to “a dark period in Irish history”.
In a statement Ms Hayes said she wanted to acknowledge all those who had supported the family over the last 36 years.
“I would particularly like to thank my friends who with their support and kindness gave us hope and strength through the darkest moments of this ordeal.”
She also thanked the people of Abbeydorney and “everyone throughout Ireland “who sent letters of support and prayers to the family.
“Throughout the years the kindness and sense of community we have experienced has helped us through the most challenging moments of the period.
“It is my sincere hope and belief that after 36 years the suffering and stress of this ordeal is now finally behind us.”
In the statement through her solicitor, she asked that the family’s privacy be respected and “that we can return to our lives within our local community in peace.”
Sinn Féin TD for Kerry, Pa Daly, welcomed the High Court ruling which he said had been a long time coming. “This was a grave miscarriage of justice and the compensation Joanne will receive is the least that can be done,” he said.