Inquiry into mother and baby homes to be set up

Terms of reference likely to include mortality rates, burial practices, adoption and clinical trials

A shrine set up at the site of what is believed to be the location of a mass grave of up to 800 children in the grounds of the former Mother and Baby home in Tuam, Co Galwy. Photograph: EPA

A shrine set up at the site of what is believed to be the location of a mass grave of up to 800 children in the grounds of the former Mother and Baby home in Tuam, Co Galwy. Photograph: EPA

Tue, Jun 10, 2014, 17:07

A statutory commission of investigation is to be set up by the Government into issues in religious-run mother and baby homes across the State.

The decision was taken at a Cabinet meeting this morning.

The special commission of investigation will examine the high mortality rates at Mother and Baby homes across several decades of the 20th century, the burial practices at these sites and also secret and illegal adoptions and vaccine trials on children, Minister for Children Charlie Flanagan said.

“My determination is to ensure all of the issues are dealt with in a way which is comprehensive,” said Mr Flanagan.

He added that it was essential the facts were established and a “light was shone on this dark period”.

Mr Flanagan said it was too early to say who will lead the commission, but added he had some names in mind.

Mr Flanagan said an interdepartmental review into some of the issues at the homes, including mortality rates, burial practices, forced adoptions and other issues was currently under way.

Mr Flanagan provided the Cabinet with an update on this review this morning and said he hoped the review would be completed by June 30th and for the Commission to be established before the Summer recess towards the end of July.

He said it would look at all mother and baby homes, those operated by the State, by Catholic religious orders and also by Church of Ireland religious orders. While he said that a lot of material was already in the possession of the State he called on the Catholic Church to cooperate fully and to transfer all relevant material.

He said the terms of reference and the identity of the chair would be decided during that time and also hinted that the chair may be a non-legal and non-judicial person. He also said that the Commission would have recourse to the expertise of historians, social historians and archivists.

“Now is an opportunity that has not been grasped by government before to deal with this matter in a comprehensive way,” he said.

“It’s not possible to detail the terms of reference of the Commission at this stage but the scope and the breadth of it will not be confined to Tuam and Galway and the west of Ireland,” he said.

Mr Flanagan was not in a position to say how long the duration would be but said he hoped much of its work would be conducted in public. He also said that he hoped there would be widespread political consensus for the manner in which it proceed.

A Garda scoping exercise is also under way.

It is thought about 35,000 unmarried mothers spent time in one of 10 homes run by religious orders in Ireland.

The inquiry has been ordered after massive national and international focus on the story of one home, run by the Sisters of the Bon Secours in Tuam, Co Galway, where the remains of 796 infants are believed to be buried.

Some lie in the remnants of what was once a concrete septic tank on the grounds of the home.

Pressure had been mounting on the Government to announce an independent inquiry since records uncovered by historian Catherine Corless in relation to the home became publicised.

Outside of Tuam three other mother and baby homes have little angels plots believed to hold the remains of another 3,200 babies and infants. They are Sean Ross Abbey, Tipperary - where the story of Philomena Lee began - Bessborough, Co Cork, and Castlepollard, Co Westmeath. Infant mortality rates ranged from 30-50 per cent in some of the homes in the 1930s and 1940s.

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