I thank the Members who engaged on this issue as their contributions were very helpful. In particular, I thank all those involved who consulted me during the course of the setting of the terms of reference, many of whom were affected directly by the mother and baby homes.
I announced the proposed terms of reference for the commission of investigation into mother and baby homes and certain related matters on Friday, 9 January. Relevant details are available on the Department's website, www.dcya.gov.ie. Since the announcement there has been a general acknowledgement of the comprehensive scope of the proposed investigative framework which reflects the range of matters the Government was asked to consider by the House and is a fair and balanced response to the many requests for related issues to be included.
During the course of consultations with those most centrally affected by these issues, as well as political colleagues across the spectrum, a clear consensus emerged on the need to thoroughly examine the experience of those who had spent time in mother and baby homes. These institutions have not been the central focus of previous statutory investigations. The approach taken, therefore, places a deliberate emphasis on the experiences of women and children who spent time in mother and baby homes during the period 1922 to 1998, over three quarters of a century. Accordingly, the terms of reference focus on institutions that can be identified as having both the primary function of providing sheltered and supervised ante and post-natal facilities for single mothers and their children, as well as an ethos which those running the institutions considered as one promoting a regime of work, training or education as part of an overall approach to either rehabilitating single mothers before they left the institution or giving them training to live independently. The commission will also investigate a representative sample of those county homes which had a considerable focus on these services.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
On the basis of the information available I am satisfied that the institutions included in schedule 1 to the draft order meet these criteria, whereas the institutions referred to by the Deputy do not, as they did not provide this specific range of services. However, it is not accurate to describe these institutions as being excluded from the commission's work. The commission is tasked with examining the extent to which other institutions were part of the entry or exit pathways for single mothers and children into or leaving these mother and baby homes. It is certainly open to the commission to give consideration to the role of the institutions referred to by the Deputy as part of the pathways and, in particular, the practices and procedures for the placement of children outside mother and baby homes. This will be a significant strand of the investigations of the commission. The issues to be examined in the social history module also explicitly cite adoption societies, homes for infants or children and Magdalen laundries.
It is important to be clear and realistic about our expectations. The commission is not intended to investigate every type of institution where it is considered there might have been past deficits or failings, nor could it; rather, my objective is to establish a focused commission with all of the necessary powers capable of establishing effectively relevant facts in a reasonable time frame. This specificity is required under the enabling legislation. Moreover, other inquiries have examined concerns about a wide range of settings, including children's homes and Magdalen laundries.
The proposed arrangements, in particular, Article 6 of the terms of reference, ensure the commission will have sufficient opportunities to identify additional matters it considers may warrant investigation. It is specifically tasked with reporting to me recommendations necessary in this regard.
The commission will be critical in coming to terms with our history. Some of what we learn will be painful, but the commission will establish how we, as a society, responded to single women and their children who needed support and assistance, rather than judgment.