Joanne Hayes, the woman wrongly accused of murdering a baby over 35 years ago, and her siblings have received an apology from the Garda Commissioner and the Minister for Justice.

They have also received declarations that all findings of wrongdoing made against them by the Kerry Babies Tribunal were unfounded and incorrect.

The apology forms part of a settlement of a case for damages brought by Ms Hayes, her sister Kathleen and brothers Michael and Edmund following their arrest by gardaí in May, 1984.  

Conleth Bradley SC for the State said he had been asked by Garda Commissioner Drew Harris and the Minister for Justice Helen McEntee to express "their deep and sincere regret for the truly appalling hurt and distress caused to Ms Hayes and family".

He said it was genuinely hoped that the full resolution of the proceedings brings them some long deserved comfort.
 
Their action for damages against the Garda Commissioner, the Minister for Justice, Ireland and the Attorney General, were struck out and no details of any financial settlement were aired in court.

As part of the settlement, the family also secured declarations from the court that all findings of wrongdoing made against them by the Kerry Babies Tribunal were unfounded and incorrect.

The court also made a declaration that their questioning, arrest, charge and prosecution on dates between April and October 1984 were unfounded and in breach of their constitutional rights.

In addition, a separate damages claim by Ms Hayes's daughter Yvonne McGuckin has also been settled, and was struck out. No details of that settlement were revealed in open court.

Ms Hayes, and her siblings Edmund, Kathleen and Michael Hayes had sought the formal declarations as part of legal action against the State to vindicate the family's good name.

Joanne Hayes was arrested during an investigation into the discovery of a baby's body on a beach in Co Kerry in 1984.

The 25-year-old lived in Abbeydorney almost 75km from where the baby was found. She had recently given birth to a baby who was stillborn or died soon after birth from natural causes and was buried on her farm. 

She and members of her family were arrested and the court was told today that Joanne Hayes had begged the gardaí to search her farm for the body of her own baby, Shane, but they refused.

On the day she was charged with murder, the body of Shane was found and blood tests proved she was his mother, as she had said.

While being interrogated by gardaí, Ms Hayes and her family had given statements which all implicated Ms Hayes in the murder of the baby found on the beach. Senior Counsel Liam Reidy told the court said they had all been subjected to "oppressive questioning and more". 

Even when her own baby's body was found, the murder charge was still not dropped, Mr Reidy said, until the then DPP wrote to gardaí saying they could not possibly run a prosecution on the evidence and all charges should be withdrawn. 

Mr Reidy said the Kerry Babies Tribunal was set up to answer a central question: "How could five people in five separate rooms make statements implicating someone in a murder which science said was not possible?"

Instead, he said, it diverted from its true purpose and allowed Ms Hayes to be subjected to cross examination about her private life, the details of which were raked over in the tribunal.

The tribunal report also made some disturbing findings of wrongdoing against Ms Hayes with regard to her own baby and this was contrary to the evidence from the then State pathologist.

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In asking for the declarations, Mr Reidy said they were not asking the court to set aside the Tribunal Report but if the court orders were to be appended to official copies it would do two things, he said.

The first was the vindication that Joanne Hayes desperately needs and the second would show the public how one 24-year-old woman can be oppressed by organs of the State.
 
He said Ms Hayes was upset by recent publicity surrounding the case and could not come to court. 

Outside the court, her solicitor, Pat Mann, read a statement in which Ms Hayes thanked all those who had supported her over the years in her community and beyond.

She said it was her "sincere hope and belief that after 36 years, the suffering and stress of this ordeal is now finally behind us. My only request is that our privacy is respected and that we can return to our lives within our local community in peace". 

Granting the declarations, Judge Leonie Reynolds described what happened to the Hayes family as "a harrowing ordeal".

She said one can only hope it will bring about some closure for the family in terms of the vindication of their good name and bring some comfort to them. She also asked the media to be sensitive in reporting the case, which she said had opened some very sensitive issues. 

The baby found on White Strand Beach near Cahersiveen was later named Baby John. He had been stabbed 28 times. No one has ever been charged with his murder.