The Government is giving “active consideration” to addressing the issue of children who died many years ago in mother and baby homes.
Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Charlie Flanagan said a number of departments are involved in the process of addressing the issues involved.
The revelations that 796 babies died in a mother and baby home in Tuam from 1925 to 1961 and were possibly buried in a septic tank has put renewed focus on such homes.
Mr Flanagan described the latest revelations as "deeply disturbing and a shocking reminder of a darker past in Ireland when our children were not cherished as they should have been."
He stopped short of saying what the initiative would involve but the opposition have been calling for an apology for those mothers and babies who were incarcerated in them, a public inquiry and in Sinn Féin’s case compensation through the redress scheme.
Mr Flanagan added: “I am particularly mindful of the relatives of those involved and of local communities. There are a number of Government Departments involved in this process. The cross-departmental initiative underway will examine these matters and report to Government on how they might be addressed.”
Fianna Fáil has called on Taoiseach Enda Kenny to apologise on behalf of the State. There have been calls this week for an inquiry, including a Garda investigation, into the circumstances surrounding the unexplained deaths of a large number of children at the Co Galway home.
Following research by a local Tuam historian Catherine Corless into the operation of the mother-and-baby home run by the Sisters of Bon Secours congregations there, it emerged that up to 796 children may have died at the home during the period of its operation from 1925 to 1961.
Records at Galway County Council list a very large number of deaths occurring at the home. Details are also emerging of the discovery in the 1970s of a large number of unidentified remains in a water tank close to the home, leading some to conclude that deceased children were disposed of in the tank without a proper burial or any records being kept on their interment.
Fianna Fáil Galway East TD Colm Keaveney said today: "These shocking revelations about the appalling treatment of hundreds of babies and their mothers must be dealt with by the highest levels in Government.
“We need to hear from the Taoiseach today about the Government’s plans to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of these children, the dumping of their remains, the treatment of their mothers and the State’s role in the activities at this home.
“I believe that this must begin with a fulsome apology from the Taoiseach on behalf of the State. Whatever the results of any investigation it’s now clear that at the very least, these infants and their mothers were grossly mistreated at the Tuam home and were subsequently neglected by the State.”
The Taoiseach is on a visit to the United States, but Mr Keaveney said this was "no excuse for silence on this issue".
Minister of State at the Department of Education, East Galway TD Ciarán Cannon said yesterday he had spoken to Minister for Justice Frances FitzGerald and Minister for Children Charlie Flanagan on the matter.
“They have both indicated that they will be meeting with their officials this week and have suggested that a cross-departmental approach will be required to determine what is the best way to move forward on this issue. Doing nothing is simply not an option for us in Government when presented with details of this nature,” he said.
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said the culture that arose out partition was partially responsible for the kind of Irish society that tolerated mother and baby homes.
“We have made the case many, many times and we could be accused of engaging in a doctrinal Republican issue, but there were two conservative, closed states established in this island and the small elites who used to rule us were replaced by a very conservative domestic elite, and the Church hierarchy wasn’t about the liberation of souls. It was about power.”
Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said Tuam was not an isolated incident “no matter how shocking it has been”.
She said the mother and baby homes have been excluded from the redress schemes, but that now needs to change.
Tonight the Archbishop of Tuam welcomed the plan for a cross-departmental examination of the burial arrangements for children in mother and baby homes.
In a statement, Michael Neary said he was “greatly shocked” to learn “of the magnitude of the numbers of children buried” at the Tuam site.
“I am horrified and saddened to hear of the large number of deceased children involved and this points to a time of great suffering and pain for the little ones and their mothers.”
Regardless of the time lapse involved this was a matter of great public concern which ought to be acted upon urgently, he stated.
“As the diocese did not have any involvement in the running of the home in Tuam, we do not have any material relating to it in our archives.”
He welcomed the announcement by Minister for Children Charlie Flanagan of the setting up of a cross-departmental examination of the burial arrangements for the children. “While the Archdiocese of Tuam will co-operate fully, nonetheless there exists a clear moral imperative on the Bon Secours Sisters in this case to act upon their responsibilities in the interest of the common good.”