Mother and baby home investigation to be given three years to finish work

Inquiry to examine Catholic and Protestant homes between 1922 and early 1990s

A commission of investigation into mother and baby homes is expected to be given three years to complete its work.

The move follows revelations last year about the deaths of almost 800 children at a Tuam mother and baby home.

The terms of reference for the investigation are due to be announced by the Government later Thursday after they were approved by the Cabinet yesterday.

The Irish Times understands the investigation will span a time-frame ranging from the foundation of the State in 1922 and up to the early 1990s.

The commission will be chaired by Ms Justice Yvonne Murphy.

As well as Catholic-run institutions, the terms of reference are likely to allow the commission to examine certain Protestant-run mother and baby homes, such as the Bethany Home in Dublin.

While the commission is expected to be given a three-year time frame to complete its work, there is likely to be scope for an interim report to be produced after a certain period of time.

Minister for Children Dr James Reilly has declined to comment on details of the proposed terms of reference until after survivors' groups are formally briefed this morning.

Speedier investigation

A commission of investigation – such as the banking inquiry, which recently got under way – provides a less expensive and speedier method of investigating matters of urgent public concern than a tribunal.

Commissions must seek and facilitate the voluntary cooperation of people whose evidence it requires.

A commission is, however, entitled to compel witnesses to give evidence and can also direct a person to provide it with any documents in the person’s possession or power relating to the matter under investigation.

If the person fails to comply, the commission can apply to the court to compel compliance, or it may impose a costs order against the individual for the costs incurred by all other parties arising from the delay.

A consultation phase saw 160 submissions from survivor groups and other representatives and was followed by months of interdepartmental group meetings and frequent meetings with the Attorney General.

In recent months, Dr Reilly said he was keen to ensure the terms of reference would be wide enough to address all the questions that needed to be answered.

At the same time, he stressed it was important that the inquiry was “efficient and timely so that it doesn’t take forever to come to a conclusion to the dismay of those who want answers”.

Specific institutions

Some survivors of Protestant mother and baby homes have been lobbying the Minister to include specific institutions, such as Westbank Orphanage, Co

Wicklow

, in the terms of reference.

The move to include at least some of these in the inquiry is likely to be welcomed by a number of campaign groups.

However, others are likely to be disappointed that the scope of the investigation does not go further and examine wider issues.

Following calls for the commission to investigate workhouses and mental hospitals, Dr Reilly last year signalled that at least some of the issues being raised in public debate were “beyond the intended central focus on mother-and-baby homes, as debated by the house”.