Opinion: Joanne Hayes may have received apologies from the state and the gardaí, but there is still unfinished business in the Kerry Babies case

Joanne Hayes and the Kerry Babies case were back under the media spotlight last week. But it’s fair to say that Hayes, her baby, the Caherciveen baby John and the Hayes family have never been far from the public consciousness.

Last week, she was rightly vindicated by the gardaí and the state for being falsely accused of the murder of baby John in Caherciveen, a fact which many of her friends and community in north Kerry knew 34 years ago. It was a fact that had already been established by their differing blood groups.

A RTÉ Prime Time report from January 2018 on Joanne Hayes and the Kerry Babies case

In the past couple of days, some people have railed against Hayes and her family being put under the media spotlight again. Her family had suffered enough, they say, and there was no need to drag them back into the public domain again.

But in this instance, it was important that the wrongs levelled against her were acknowledged and that it was admitted that these were false and untrue. It was equally important that it be done in a public forum and reported on by the media because Hayes was the victim of a scurrilous campaign lead by the primary organs of the state.

Few photographs were printed of these men who perpetrated this crime against her

The media pride themselves on holding others to account and on shedding light on those darker periods in Irish history. In doing so on this occasion, they recalled the harrowing facts of the case, the unimaginable trauma and intimidation suffered by the Hayes family at the hands of the gardaí and the subsequent tribunal of inquiry which was set up in the aftermath. The public were provided with images of the grave of baby John and grainy black and white photos of Hayes and her family were peppered throughout newspapers and online media.

Little was said about those who levelled these charges against her and few photographs were printed of these men who perpetrated this crime against her. Few appear to have sought interviews and answers from them. Articles on the new Caherciveen investigation continue to be accompanied by pictures of Hayes, even though the state and gardaí have established she has no link to that baby. Where are the pictures of the guards, on whose behalf serving gardaí are now apologising, and those in the legal profession who cross-examined her so harshly at a public tribunal?

RTÉ News report on the Taoiseach's apology on behalf of State to Joanne Hayes

I grew up in North Kerry and worked as a journalist there. Our community was aware of the "blackguarding" that the family suffered. Last week’s reports served to inform those who were unaware of this travesty about what happened to Hayes, who has lived in Abbeydorney with her family to the present day.

Now that this apology has been served, the media must not rest on their laurels. They must continue to hold those who were and are in power in relation to this case to account. Whilst remuneration will most likely be forthcoming, it will not heal the years of torment which Hayes was subjected to.

Now that this apology has been served, the media must not rest on their laurels.

Whilst some of those responsible are now deceased, others can still be called to account and the media have a role to play here. Whilst the reopening of the investigation into the death of baby John is to be welcomed, powerful proponents signalled the death knell of privacy for Hayes 34 years ago. In order for moral justice to be served, the media must now hold a candle to the wrongs committed against Hayes and her family.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ