Minister for Children Roderic O'Gorman has said he intends to bring a Memo to Cabinet this month, to introduce legislation for the reburial of remains of babies at the former Tuam mother and baby home.
A dedicated agency would be set up for a limited period of time to undertake the “excavations, exhumations, identification, and reburial” of the bodies, Mr O’Gorman told the Oireachtas committee on children.
Legislation underpinning the work would allow for similar exhumations and reburials to take place at other sites, “if a range of determined factors were met,” he said. “This legislation will address any subsequent need beyond Tuam, to undertake this sort of work,” he said on Tuesday.
The reburial of the remains by the State was important “to give some dignity to those children and babies”, which they had not been afforded in life, he said.
Excavations of the Tuam site in 2017 by the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, found "significant quantities of human remains" had been buried in an underground structure, near a decommissioned sewage tank.
Campaigners such as historian Catherine Corless, who helped expose the scandal after compiling the death certificates of 796 infants from the Co Galway home, have long called for the bodies to be exhumed and reburied.
The final report of the mother and baby homes commission was submitted to the Government last week. The office of the Attorney General is currently reviewing the extensive 4,000 page report.
Mr O’Gorman said he could not commit to a timeframe on when the report would be published, but was working to do so “as quickly as possible.”
There was “no desire” to keep the report from the survivors of mother and baby homes, or county homes, for “one moment longer than is necessary,” he said.
Mr O’Gorman said legislation to give adopted people access to their birth records, which had faltered during the last Dáil, would be introduced next year.
Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore was critical of the "incredible confusion" that had been created around the status of the records of the commission.
Fianna Fáil Senator Mary Fitzpatrick said the recent Bill to transfer a database created by the commission to Tusla, the child and family agency, had been "ham-fisted."
The Minister told the committee he accepted there was a need for more transparency in the Government’s approach to the matter. He said he had begun meeting a number of individual mother and baby home survivors, and representative groups, to discuss their concerns.
Independent Senator Sharon Keogan questioned Mr O'Gorman on what she called "today's mother and baby homes that exist out there."
Ms Keogan told the committee “there are mother and baby units that exist in this country still for young girls.” She said she was aware the facilities were run by either Tusla, or private providers.
When asked by The Irish Times to clarify her comments, Ms Keogan said she was referring to small residential units for “pregnant girls in the care system, or the aftercare system”.
It is understood after the committee hearing Mr O’Gorman privately challenged Ms Keogan on her referring to the units as mother and baby homes.