Kerry babies: ‘Knock on the door’ was when arrested couple first heard of Garda interest, says solicitor

Man and woman released without charge, with file to be sent to the DPP, as nation gets to grips with revival of 40-year-old case

The first a couple arrested in relation to murder heard of any suspicion in connection with the death of “Baby John” was “a knock on the door” to find gardaí with a warrant for their arrest, their solicitor has said.

The man and woman were released without charge after their arrest on Thursday in connection with the case of a baby found dead on a beach in Cahersiveen, Co Kerry, in April 1984. A file will now be prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions, gardaí said.

Solicitor Padraig O’Connell, who is representing the man and woman, said his clients were never questioned during the extensive Garda investigation into the case.

He said they had never encountered gardaí who were making door-to-door enquiries in south Kerry.


Mr O’Connell indicated they had not been approached previously or been the subject of any visit from gardaí.

“The first they ever heard about this was a knock on the door.”

He also described “serious concerns” about aspects of media coverage related to the arrests, including attempts to photograph “someone who has not been charged with an offence” upon release.

Meanwhile, feminist campaigner Ailbhe Smyth has said that the Ireland of 1984, when the Kerry babies case came to the fore, was a “bleak, cold, lonely and judgemental place”.

In an interview on Saturday with Brendan O’Connor on RTÉ Radio 1, Ms Smyth said that many of her contemporaries decided to move to London as they “weren’t free in Ireland” and “couldn’t stand it”.

“You were restricted. If you did anything at all you were subjected to judgment. My daughter was born in the late 1970s. We weren’t married because I had been married previously early in the ‘70.

“I remember people, and when my beautiful daughter was quite small, and to the 1980s, saying, ‘And oh you kept the baby.’ And I would say: ‘I decided to have a child.’

“The notion that you as a woman would decide about whether or not you would have a child, and if so, have many and so on – that in itself seemed to deeply shock people.”

Ms Smyth said that it was no surprise that those “terrible, terrible things” that happened to women began to come to the surface in the 1980s.

“Because we had had the women’s movement in the ‘70s. There was a whole layer of women there that knew that that repression and punishment of women was quite wrong. I think in the 1980s that actually began to come to the surface.

“We didn’t have the right to abortion. That had been copper-fastened by the Eighth Amendment [of the Constitution] in 1983. I think the legislation for contraception for ‘bona fide’ purposes only came in in the mid-1980s. You couldn’t basically get condoms.

“You couldn’t get contraception except in a kind of lying or hypocritical type of scenario. I remember going to my GP and saying I had an upset menstrual cycle and could I have the pill, please?

“Except you wouldn’t have used ‘menstrual cycle’. That would have been too explicit. Nothing was talked about. Everything was under the carpet. Everything to do with sex and women and sexuality and reproduction and our bodies and our physical lives… all of that was taboo.”

Much sensitivity still surrounds the Kerry babies case and in particular the trauma inflicted on Joanne Hayes, who in May 1984 was wrongfully arrested in connection with the death of “Baby John”.

Kerry Babies: 'There's no good end to this'

Listen | 24:45

The native of Abbeydorney in Co Kerry was singled out as she was known to have been pregnant but there was no sign of a baby. When questioned, Ms Hayes informed gardaí that she had given birth to a boy, Shane, who was stillborn or died shortly after birth. The body of Shane had been buried on the family farm and was later located.

Ms Hayes found herself at the centre of the Kerry Babies Tribunal in 1985 and was subjected to five days of cross-examination.

Gardaí involved in the cold case review have been mindful of the pain endured by Ms Hayes, who was a completely innocent person.

Memories live long in Cahersiveen of the Garda investigation in 1984 when questionnaires were circulated to households as gardaí searched for a woman who had been noticeably pregnant but didn’t have a baby.

In launching the review in 2018, gardaí expressed the hope that people would come to them with information. They were wary of causing upset to a community which was hugely affected by the death of Baby John.

The sadness in relation to the wrongdoing inflicted on Hayes, who was wrongfully accused of the murder of Baby John, is still palpable in Kerry.

On Friday afternoon on Talkabout with Deirdre Walsh, on Radio Kerry, the presenter said that they had received a message from a listener who expressed the opinion that references made to Joanne Hayes in the national media were “out of order”.

Ms Walsh said on air that the handling of the issue was a “tricky one” for her as she didn’t know whether she should or shouldn’t have spoken about the Kerry Babies development.

“It was a hard one to call. As it happens we haven’t planned to speak about it. Treasa [Murphy] covered it very comprehensively on the Kerry Today programme.

“I see where you [the listener] are coming from if you feel that it is unfair on Joanne Hayes that there has been so much coverage of it. But it is very difficult to talk about that whole period in Irish history, that whole sad and regrettable period without bringing Joanne in to it.

“Because we all remember that she was wrongly accused of having any involvement in the death of the Cahersiveen baby. By way of background it is impossible to keep Joanne out of the conversation but I do know where you are coming from.

“The only good thing is that it means right now we are getting closer to getting justice for that poor little baby, and that can only be a good thing.”

During a visit to Charleville, Co Cork on Friday, Tánaiste Micheál Martin said that his thoughts were with Ms Hayes and he hoped that some finalisation in relation to the case would lead to “closure for everybody”.

“I can remember as a young person when the case emerged first. It has been quite a shocking experience, particularly for Joanne Hayes. I am not going to comment on the Garda investigation but we await the outcome of that.

“It is a case that has been there, in the background, for almost 40 years now. [There is] huge sadness around it all. Certainly justice is required and has been required for a long time.”