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Minister Reilly publishes the Terms of Reference for the Commission of Investigation into
Mother and Baby Homes and Certain Related Matters


Friday 9th January 2015

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr James Reilly, has today (9th January 2015) published the Terms of Reference for the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and Certain Related Matters. Yesterday the Cabinet approved the publication of the draft order, which will formally establish the Commission, once it has been considered by the Oireachtas.

Today’s publication comes following months of preparation which followed the passing by the Dáil on June 11th 2014 of a motion calling for the establishment of a commission to investigate mother and baby homes.

The legislation under which the commission will be established – the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004 – requires considerable precision in the setting of the Terms of Reference. While the commission has independence in the manner in which it conducts its investigation, the legislation requires that the Government determine clearly the matter of significant public concern to be investigated. The legislation also requires that the Terms of Reference be specific in terms of the events, activities, circumstances, systems, practices or procedures to be investigated.

As part of the intensive process to ensure the setting of Terms of Reference which will provide for an effective commission, Minister Reilly and his immediate predecessor met with a wide range of groups and representative bodies to consult on the relevant issues.

Speaking today Minister Reilly said “Last May, people in Ireland and around the world were shocked at media reports about what was described as a mass grave in the mother and baby home in Tuam in Galway. The sense of indignation we all felt about this was palpable. The work of a crusading historian combined with the media reports confronted us with an uncomfortable truth that we had seen fit to largely ignore. While some academics had examined these matters, as a State we had failed to come to terms with a harrowing reality in our past; the manner in which single women and their children were treated in mother and baby homes, how they came to be there in the first place and the circumstances of their departure from the homes.

As the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs I am pleased to be in a position today to publish the Terms of Reference for a Commission whose work should have enormous impact on our understanding of who we are as a people. By setting up the Commission, with all the necessary powers to get to the information required, we will come to a greater understanding of how it was that we as a society failed in our treatment of women and children in these homes. The Ireland of 2015 is unrecognisable in terms of our advancement in our understanding of human rights compared to the early part of the last century. It is unrecognisable too in terms of the increased determination and practical steps to ensure the protection of children and respect for women. But with the work of this commission, investigating mother and baby homes in an unflinching manner, with the powers afforded under legislation, those advances will be underpinned by a greater knowledge of how we fell short in the past.”

The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and Certain Related Matters will involve three commissioners led by the chair, Judge Yvonne Murphy, who agreed to take the position last July. She will be assisted by international legal expert on child protection and adoption Dr. William Duncan  and historian Professor Mary Daly. Minister Reilly has thanked the commissioners. “On my behalf and on behalf of the Government I wish to thank Judge Yvonne Murphy, Professor Daly and Dr. Duncan for taking on this enormous job of work, investigating over three quarters of a century of practices in mother and baby homes. Ireland may have fallen short in our treatment of one another in times gone by. But in recent years we have had the courage to face those facts. The Report of this commission will take its place alongside other vital commission reports that have forced us to face our past failings and to copper fasten our set of enhanced values for the future. We are fortunate to have such distinguished people to take on such a task.”

The Minister said that his aim has been to achieve the correct balance of inclusivity and focus, so as to ensure that the work of the Commission can be completed in a thorough and timely manner. He said  “ At this stage, it is important that we commence the work and, as quickly as possible, gain a fuller understanding of the circumstances and arrangements which pertained to the operation of Mother and Baby Homes in the State including the entry and exit pathways for both mothers and babies. The Minister also noted that he believed that the Terms of Reference have sufficient breadth to allow the Commission to investigate and assess the many, many issues which were raised with him and his predecessor in submissions and meetings.  He expressed confidence that the Commissioners have sufficient opportunity to revert to Government if they believe that there are matters outside of their scope which warrant further investigation in the public interest.

Concluding, the Minister said “I believe that this Commission will be critically important in coming to terms with our own history. Some of what we learn will be painful but the Commission will finally allow the experience of individuals to be understood, not only as stories, but as part of a social, cultural system of how we, as a society, organised our response to single women and their children who needed support and assistance and not judgement.”