Mother and Baby Homes: Statements

Three years ago this week, a brave local historian shared her research with a discerning and intuitive journalist. A brave survivor was also willing to tell her story. We all read, watched and listened as the shocking details unfolded of a mass grave in the grounds of the former mother and baby home in Tuam, County Galway. In the intervening three years, we have received confirmation that the remains in Tuam are human and that they date from the same time the mother and baby home was open. I warmly welcome to the debate those who are here and those watching from afar. There are people, including survivors, advocates, family and friends, who would like to be here but who cannot attend. I admire greatly the courage of those who have shared very personal and compelling accounts of their experiences. With former residents, their loved ones, supporters and campaigners, I add my voice to the collective determination to dispel the secrecy and shame so unjustly experienced by vulnerable mothers and their children. I offer a special welcome to Catherine Corless whose incredible research and persistence in seeking the truth for those with no voice has been rightly applauded. Many of those on the site in Tuam never got to speak during their short lives. Through Catherine, the survivors and their advocates, they have now been given a voice. On a personal level, I am grateful for her generosity to me and many others in giving of her time to explain, advise and guide.

As the tragic discovery of infant remains at the site of the former home in Tuam continues to be absorbed, I am mindful that there are many deeply personal issues which those directly affected rightly want the Government to address. The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes was set up as a direct response to the Tuam research. I record my sincere thanks to Judge Yvonne Murphy, Dr. William Duncan and Professor Mary Daly for their valuable contribution and commitment to the public interest in this sensitive work. They have my full support and that of the Government. I have visited the site in Tuam on a number of occasions and I am acutely aware that many people are experiencing a great deal of anxiety and anticipation about what might happen next at the site. Many of those in the Visitors Gallery and watching at home are the people who will be most impacted on by the decision on what we do next. Most importantly, I am determined that any action taken must respect the memory and dignity of the deceased children who lived their short lives in the home. I recognise the diversity of views on and concerns about how this might best be achieved.

My preference which I know is shared by most people is to encourage and support efforts to build towards a consensus on the next steps to be taken. We can only do this with full knowledge, or at least as much knowledge and information as we can garner. As I have said previously, we need expert technical guidance on international best practice in this highly specialised area. We need to know what is possible. If there is consensus to return the site to how it was before the commission undertook its test excavation and to erect an appropriate memorial, we will not require technical advice. If we decide to go for a full excavation, we will need advice on how to do it. If there is consensus that we should recover the infant remains and try to identify them, we will need to know if that is possible. We have made too many decisions in the dark in this country, but we are not going to do it again in Tuam. We need the experts to tell us what is possible. We need people who have done this type of very specialised work before. Therefore, I am very pleased to be able to say I have appointed Niamh McCullagh, forensic archaeologist, to lead the work. She will bring together a team of international experts in juvenile osteoarchaeology, forensic anthropology, DNA analysis and archaeology to provide us with the necessary advice. I am publishing the team's terms of reference today. Ms McCullagh is an Irish based expert with extensive national and international experience, including work with the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains in Ireland. Significantly, she already has a detailed understanding of the site as she led the commission team which located, identified and conducted the preliminary excavations in Tuam. The knowledge she already has of the site means that her work and that of her team will proceed quickly. Further details of the membership of the team are provided in the written text I have circulated to Members.

The expert team will consult additional experts, as it considers appropriate. It will arrange further geophysical surveys to examine the extent of potential burials on the site. We need to know, once and for all, if there are remains in the area outside that confirmed by the commission. I will receive an initial technical report by the end of June and a more detailed report on options for the future will be submitted to me by the end of September. The team will provide its technical advice in layperson's language in order that we can all understand the options for the site and what each such option would entail. Information is power and the expert reports will be available to everyone. When we are all speaking the same language, there will be a much better chance of reaching a consensus. There will be consultation and this will be a transparent process.

Improved communication is an area in which we need to do better. Survivors and their families have rightly been critical of hearing information in the media in advance of being alerted personally. I understand this and have tried to find a solution. Our proposed solution is to provide regular updates on the programme of work relating to mother and baby homes. This work raises issues which necessarily involve multiple Departments and agencies and we have asked them to co-operate with us. Our plan is to co-ordinate and centralise a number of communications initiatives to allow developments to be publicised in a timely manner. Starting from July, I will publish a monthly update which will be available on my Department's website on the first Friday of every month.

Following the publication of the second interim report of the mother and baby homes commission, I said I would hold detailed consultations with those who were resident as children without their mothers in mother and baby homes and county homes. I am pleased to announce that I have appointed an experienced qualified facilitator with an international reputation to help me with these consultations. He will help us to explore the nature of services and supports available in the area of health and well-being which may be of genuine and practical value. This series of consultations will provide a safe forum for former residents in which to raise their concerns directly with me and my officials.

Starting from tomorrow, my Department will issue an open invitation to former residents and those with personal connections to these institutions, seeking expressions of interest to participate in this process. The facilitator will hold meetings in Dublin and other parts of the country, depending on the level of expressions of interest from those involved. I have heard directly and indirectly of some ideas that people have, but this will be the forum to air these views and suggestions. The outcome of these meetings will inform my proposals to Government in order that we can have appropriate supports in place as quickly as possible. I want to start this process quickly and look forward to meeting stakeholders on 30 June.

I know that some people are trying to find out when they were in particular mother and baby homes. I have asked Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, to increase its capacity for the provision of this information to help former residents get access to it. We have put in place the necessary funding for Tusla to undertake this work. This new arrangement is separate to the ongoing legislative reforms that are before the Oireachtas to facilitate wider access to adoption records under the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016. I am working with colleagues on this Bill which will give people wider access to adoption records. I know that this is so important to so many people and hope my colleagues will support me in getting it through.

Recent months have taught me that we need to look beyond the legal questions surrounding mother and baby homes, important and all as they are. Finding the truth is crucial, but we need to deal with that truth when we find it. We need to process it and respond to it. I am very pleased that Dr. James Gallen of the school of law and government in Dublin City University is assisting me in this regard. We are working together on this and I will respond more comprehensively when we have Dr. Gallen’s final report which I hope will help us to find a new path forward. In the meantime, I am moving forward with one of Dr. Gallen’s excellent proposals. I am asking my Government colleagues to support me in inviting the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, reparation and guarantee of non-recurrence, Pablo de Greiff, to visit Ireland. Dr. de Greiff has extensive experience and insights which I believe will help me as a Minister and us as a Government to promote truth, justice and reparation, as he has done with a wide range of other governments. He could help ensure we are taking the right approach in terms of our response into the future.

I have said I am open to considering whether broader terms of reference for the commission would help to answer some of the questions which have been raised again in public debate. Over the summer months, I will undertake a scoping review on the possible extension of the terms of reference.

How we respond to the past is about much more than the Tuam or other mother and baby homes. It is about all of us. It is about us as people and the choices we make. These are personal choices or they are choices we make through the people we have elected. It is about our humanity. It is about our empathy. I sometimes wonder, if I am around in 2027 or 2037, what will I see being said about 2017 on “Reeling in the Years". Will 2017 be the year that the international media descended on Tuam as we once again declared our outrage at past deeds? Will it be instead the year when we faced up, womaned up and manned up, and decided that we will do things better? This is a defining moment for us. As a member of the Government, and the only Independent woman Member in Government, I feel a huge sense of responsibility to begin to heal the fractured trust between citizens and the State. It is time that someone shouted "Stop". It is time that we all shouted "Stop". I believe a model of transitional justice will help us move forward.

I thank the Minister very much for her contribution and statement. From the opposite side of the House, all I can say is I welcome everything the Minister has given me and my colleagues. It is very welcome for those in the Visitors Gallery to hear the Minister speak with such passion and empathy. I hope that on "Reeling in the Years" the Minister's speech will be seen as a defining moment.

I am from the constituency of East Galway and know Tuam very well. From listening to her speech, I believe the Minister has a very good understanding of what the people in Tuam feel. This is also the case with regard to other mother and baby homes, but today we are speaking specifically about Tuam. The Minister has visited on more than three occasions, if my memory is correct, and she has an understanding of what the people are looking for. She has acknowledged the hard work done by Catherine Corless for many years. In the Minister's speech she recognised the various parties that need to come on board to help fill this out and see what is the right way forward. That is very welcome.

There is no one clear-cut answer to this or no one clear-cut direction that will give everyone the right answer, but if we can back it with the facts and give people the correct resources required to make the right decisions, that is more than welcome. We as a party at all times have supported the way the Minister has progressed the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes. We will continue to support her work in this regard. As an Independent woman Member in government, the Minister has empathy and understanding, and this is very clear. As long as the Minister keeps there, we will continue to support this particular commission.

We believe the terms of reference need to be expanded and broadened. What the Minister has committed to doing is a first step in expanding it and having an understanding of it. I was heartened to hear that the Minister will bring in an international rapporteur to give best guidance. What happened is a blackness in Irish society, which is very regrettable, but we must see how we can work through this fractured part of society and history. Bringing in someone very independent and with such critical expertise is very welcome.

A key point is access to records of the former mother and baby homes. I am glad to hear the Minister has brought Tusla on board and she will expand its capacity to support residents who have come forward. Fianna Fáil will support the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016 coming before the Dáil. I have met a number of former foster children who went through the mother and baby homes. Access to records is a requirement about which they keep speaking to me. It is very important and we will support the Minister in this regard. This is very positive and I welcome it. I appreciate the hard work the Minister and the Department have put into it. The people sitting in the Visitors Gallery will see a transcript of this afterwards and they have heard what the Minister has said. The Minister is right that communication is the key. The people who need to hear this first are the former residents of the mother and baby homes. They do not need to see it first on the front page of any of the newspapers. They need to be part of it. They know where they want to bring this, in co-operation with the Department, and we will be very supportive. I thank the Minister.

As a state, we must continue to hang our head in shame when we think about and contemplate the injustices faced by the many survivors of mother and baby homes, particularly as they reach their later years. It is imperative that justice and recognition be delivered to them as soon as possible. There must also be justice in how those who have left us are remembered and recognised in an appropriate way.

Our history shows us the State delegated many of its responsibilities to religious orders through the years. I am grateful to many in the religious orders who did so much for all of us. I certainly had great support and help from the Sisters of Mercy in Rathangan where I went to school. I have seen at first hand all the great help and support they have given the community. Many mistakes were made and we as a nation must learn from this failure to protect, monitor and supervise. It is a costly lesson and one that can never be measured in its entirety as it is the suffering and abuse of our most vulnerable citizens that quantifies it.

The State must now ensure any delegation to service providers is always of the highest standard and that those members of our society who are most vulnerable are not subject to abuse or mistreatment.

Fianna Fáil welcomes the publication of the report as an important step towards the final report and an important milestone for survivors. We have always supported the commission as a means to bring justice to the victims of the homes and remain supportive of the commission process.

I commend the Minister for the steps she has outlined. I have no doubt that she will work constructively and closely with the groups in the coming months to ensure the work of the commission is focused on the survivors. We agree that the current terms of reference are too narrow and support their expansion. As Deputy Anne Rabbitte said, our party will engage with survivors' groups to discuss the interim report and get their insights and feedback. That is vital. International best practice must dictate the way to find the best possible process for justice to be delivered to survivors. This process must always remain survivor focused and because of this, we welcome the Minister’s decision to seek public consultation on further action and investigate the possibility of expanding the scope of the inquiry. This is a defining moment in our history and for our society. It is a defining moment in how we, as a country, respond. There is fractured trust between citizens and the State and, collectively, we must heal it. The Minister will not find Fianna Fáil wanting in that regard.

I am sharing time with Deputy Louise O'Reilly.

I thank the Minister for agreeing to hold this debate which certainly is timely. It is important to reflect on the content of the interim report and the Minister's contribution, in which there were a number of additional points for us to consider. I will return to it.

Some weeks before the report was issued, the House debated and voted on a Sinn Féin proposal to establish a truth commission which would have a much broader scope than the commission of investigation and examine the institutionalising of women and children in mother and baby homes and various related institutions. That proposal was defeated, although most Members supported the principles behind a truth commission. The proposal and the view that the scope and structure of the commission of investigation were inadequate have been vindicated by the outcome of this report. I will also return to this point.

This is International Day for the Protection of Children in many countries. Few will deny that Ireland failed dreadfully to protect its children under the awful regime that was in place and victimised single mothers who were failed dreadfully by both the State and society. It is important to emphasise that both were responsible. There are those who will attempt to ignore the role of the State and those who will blame the State only, but both carry a portion of the guilt. People were deprived of a childhood, a family life and, in many instances, their children, an awful fate. I acknowledge the presence of survivors in the Visitors Gallery, as well as Catherine Corless who did excellent work. I also acknowledge all those who might be listening to the debate who were affected directly or whose family, relatives or loved ones were affected.

With regard to what the second interim report stated and proposed, I stated at the time that there was no excuse for the delay between receipt of the report and its publication, which was excessive. Much of what was contained in the report, to which the Minister's contributions and its proposals are perhaps ancillary, was a great disappointment. Many survivors to whom I spoke said the commission had made no findings to date regarding abuse or neglect. That was a source of pain and hurt for them. It is extraordinary to arrive at that outcome in the context of all that we have heard and the basis for the establishment of the commission of investigation. During the last debate we had on this subject I gave an account of what had happened at Bessborough Mother and Baby Home. For a period during the 1940s the primary cause of death in 20% of cases was marasmus or severe malnutrition. What can that be other than neglect? It is extraordinary. We have all heard countless stories of abuse. Undoubtedly, the people in the Visitors Gallery would also be able to tell us stories. It is not my intention to seek to question Judge Murphy's bona fides, but it seems extraordinary to arrive at such a conclusion. It raises questions about the structure of the commission and how fit for purpose it is.

The report also saw no grounds to expand the terms of reference of the commission of investigation. That is also quite extraordinary. I have spoken about this issue for some time. I have said it, as have survivors. I can also add the United Nations. Kitty Holland, in a report in The Irish Times, wrote:

In its "concluding observations" report - following examination of Ireland last month - the UN Committee on the elimination of discrimination against women (CEDAW) says Ireland has, "failed to establish an independent, thorough and effective investigation, in line with international standards, into all allegations of abuse, ill-treatment or neglect of women and children in the Magdalene laundries in order to establish the role of the State and church in the perpetration of alleged violations".

The terms of reference for the commission of investigation into the homes, "is narrow such that it does not cover all homes and analogous institutions [and] therefore may not address the whole spectrum of abuses perpetrated against women and girls".

That is consistent with the point I made during that debate. I welcome the Minister's remarks about the scoping exercise. That is welcome and important and I look forward to engaging with her on it. Where we should be focusing with regard to the terms of reference is on engaging with people on the basis of their experiences, not on a list of institutions. As that approach has failed, we must engage with people on the basis of their experiences to ensure all survivors and all those who had abuses perpetrated against them in the institutions can be included. That is a welcome step and I am glad that the Minister has stepped beyond the restrictive position stated by the commission.

One of the recommendations made by the commission was related to redress. While redress is far from the full picture, it is right and appropriate that it be considered. I was deeply disappointed when the Minister and the Government flatly rejected it. It was simply ruled out that the survivors could be included in the residential institutions redress scheme. That was wrong and it was a severe blow, particularly to the survivors who had been excluded from previous schemes such as those of Bethany Home, Westbank and various other institutions.

I note that the drawing of artificial distinctions between institutions is still being fought. This afternoon the High Court has ruled that the refusal of the Department of Justice and Equality to admit two residents from An Grianán to the Magdalen scheme was in breach of fair procedures. The Government is still fighting women on their right to redress because of artificial distinctions. The women in question were in the industrial school located on the grounds of a laundry. They had worked in the laundry but were denied access to the redress scheme. That is wrong and I congratulate the two courageous women who took the case and their legal team. It is a significant decision which will have ongoing implications for the administration of the scheme and, perhaps, future schemes. I hope it will inform the Government's policy and attitude.

I will comment briefly on the current position. There are a number of things which are welcome, for which I commend the Minister. They include the special rapporteur and the technical team under Dr. McCullagh. That is important, but there is no reference to the Garda which must be part of this process. It is a distinct possibility that the site in Tuam was the scene of a crime and that should not be discounted. The Garda should, therefore, be part of this process. In addition, the Minister has given a commitment to have a model of transitional justice. The European Union's policy framework for transitional justice, in a section entitled, Providing recognition and redress to victims, states:

Transitional justice includes an acknowledgment that victims have been harmed. To recognise the suffering alone is however not sufficient. Rather, it must be acknowledged that victims are holders of rights who are, inter alia, entitled to an effective remedy and adequate reparation. Post-conflict or post-transition processes need to ensure that victims are not re-victimised or re-traumatised.

Does the Minister believe the approach of the EU framework is correct and will she follow it? In that context, will she consider the question of redress?

There are a number of other points I would like to make, but I am running out of time. My last point, which was touched on in regard to the communications process, was that the Minister, at the time of publication, committed to meeting survivors and hearing their response, experience and views on how best to move this forward. In addition to engaging in this new process, she should meet a delegation. The next Taoiseach, whoever that may be, should also take the opportunity to meet survivors. That would be valuable and welcome.

I have outlined a number of criticisms I have regarding the report and some of the disappointments. There are aspects that are welcome but we have to go much further. Expanding the terms of reference should be the absolute minimum. We must do much more to satisfy the desire for truth and justice among the survivors.

I thank my colleague, Teachta Ó Laoghaire, for sharing his time.

I wish to ask the Minister about St. Clare's mother and baby home in Stamullen. It was excluded from the investigation. A man who came to my clinic in Balbriggan two or three weeks ago is still traumatised and has still not recovered. He was born in St. Clare's. It was the site of vaccine trials. There should be no hiding place. Every mother and baby home should be investigated. For far too long, we have hidden our dirty little secrets. We cannot continue to do that. The man was almost broken. The refusal by the State to acknowledge what happened to him and help him in any way is not acceptable. When the Minister meets the delegation, as she has indicated she will, I urge her to meet also people who have been excluded. She should try to bring them into the process. We have failed them to date. The Government has failed them to date, and the Department is failing them. We need to bring those people into the process. The children in St. Clare's in Stamullen were the subject of vaccination trials. That is not acceptable. That is awful. If it were any of our children, nieces or nephews, we would want some process to deal with it. I urge the Minister to meet the people and hear their story at first hand.

This is the third time in fairly recent times that we have had an opportunity to debate this issue. It is welcome that we are moving forward and that progress is being made. I welcome the Minister's speech today and the number of measures she has told us she is taking.

I, too, pay tribute to Catherine Corless and others in the Visitors Gallery who have been directly involved. It is particularly welcome that the Minister has said she has been to Tuam on a number of occasions and has met many of those who were born there or were former residents. The last time I spoke on this, I felt there was a need for that direct discussion to take place. The Minister had referred to the expertise of historians, etc., but talking to the people most directly involved was the most important thing to do in determining what the next step should be. I welcome that.

It is also welcome that there is a forensic archaeologist - I believe her name is Ms McCullagh - working specifically on the site in Tuam. From the information we have, we know the commission found that human remains were visible in 17 of the 20 chambers and that they dated from a period that coincided with when the home was in operation, between 1925 and 1961. We know a certain amount of information but we obviously do not know all the details on what exactly happened in Tuam.

The Minister said the initial report, on the analysis of the site, would be issued at the end of June and that the full report would be available in the autumn. I certainly hope she will share with us the information when it becomes available.

The question of what should happen next has to be discussed with those who are directly affected. Obviously, it is a matter for historians, archivists, etc., but it must primarily be about the feelings of those whose lives were touched, or perhaps destroyed, as a result of what happened in Tuam and other places. I support what Deputy Louise O'Reilly just said about expanding the scope. I acknowledge that the Minister is going to carry out a scoping exercise on broadening the terms of reference but I understand that, when the interim report was published, the intention was not to broaden the scope to cover other institutions. We have all heard from people who were in institutions that are not on the particular lists. I hope the question of extending the scope to include other institutions will remain open. I acknowledge that, within the terms of reference, there is a possibility for follow-through where an individual was transferred to a mother and baby home or went somewhere else after coming out of a mother and baby home. I would prefer to see a more comprehensive investigation. As the Minister said very eloquently at the start, we want to ensure that what we do regarding the awful, shameful occurrences in the past will be a turning point. If we leave some matters out, there will have been an omission in that regard. I ask that this be taken into account.

With regard to what happened to babies, vaccine trials, the sending of children to America and illegal adoptions, on which matters the Minister touched, all these areas need to be examined. On the last occasion, I talked about the grey walls that surrounded the institutions so people outside did not have to concern themselves with what was inside. Society washed its hands and put young mothers or young pregnant women into the hands of what were very harsh and destructive institutions. As Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire just said, children died of malnutrition. Children were clearly not treated properly in the way children outside the walls of the institutions were treated. We have to ensure that we examine everything and that all the details are in the public arena so we can deal with them and build for the future without having dark secrets that have not been revealed.

I recently read a report by somebody who was doing some excavation on sites in other parts of the country. They uncovered underground pathways with little air grills at the top. They were actually so the pregnant women could go from one part of the site to another without being seen by others. This is because they were considered to be lesser human beings and unclean in some way. We had the churching of women until relatively recently. This was about making women pure again after having babies. This is the kind of historic background we are talking about. We are talking about an attitude and culture in which the women and their babies were treated as being beyond humanity. We do need to uncover everything that needs to be uncovered in this whole area. Only by doing so will we build a positive future.

Let me touch on a couple of other areas. With regard to access to information, the Minister said Tusla has been brought on board. Some of the women who are campaigning have sought the full disclosure of documents. There may well be criminal proceedings in court. Those concerned need access to all the data, including from the HSE and Tusla, and also the commission. There is a sense that full disclosure of all documents may be difficult. I ask that the Minister facilitate that in every way. It is quite possible that there will be criminal cases after this.

The Minister has said Dr. James Gallen from the school of law and government in Dublin City University is assisting her with regard to a possible model of transitional justice. I particularly welcome the fact that she is asking her Government colleagues to support her in inviting to Ireland the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, Dr. Pablo de Greiff. The guarantee of non-recurrence is an important element in the gentleman's title.

Apparently, he has a great deal of experience in other countries on these issues.

As the Minister said at the start, we need to get this right. That is one of the reasons we are having a third debate in this Chamber as representatives of the people. It is important that we are having this ongoing interaction, because clearly some of the points that were made by some of us in the Chamber have been taken on board by the Minister. The Minister has directly engaged with the people who are most important in all of this and has obviously been to Tuam. Again, there are other places besides Tuam that also need to be inclusively involved in all of this process. I believe we are all generally agreed on what we need to do. There will certainly be no division in terms of the approach to this issue. We have had debates before on the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse and others such as on the Magdalen laundries. This is yet another chapter in our relatively recent past that is now being uncovered. We have to uncover it all in order that we can build firm foundations for the children of the future.

I welcome to the Visitors Gallery people who are directly affected by this ongoing scandal of the so-called mother and baby homes. It is a term that we should start changing, because they were not homes and they were not centred around the mother and the baby. We really need to change the whole language around this issue. Everything about the way the State handles this issue is to avoid, suppress and cover up. It is not just in the past. We all know that for 90 years, the independent State outsourced to the Catholic Church massive power to control women, education and health. That was even the case in the recent past. The 2009 Ryan report, which led to the setting up of the Caranua scheme, set aside very little money and gave the church a massive out, as we know, much of which still has not been paid. That scheme is really like treating the victims as if they have been given a gift. They have to come with receipts and justify what they get. When I spoke during the last debate, I made the point that if somebody gets compensation for maltreatment or abuse, what the person does with it is completely up to him or her. If he or she wants to go to Las Vegas and spend it all on one night, that is entirely his or her business and nobody else's. Compare that to this idea of having to justify every couple of thousand euro that one gets.

I also want to deal with 2012, because that was only five years ago. It is a very recent period. It was when the McAleese inquiry into the Magdalen laundries was informed about disturbing death rates of more than 50% to 55%. We read in the Irish Examiner even in the last few days that Professor Jim Smith wrote to the chairman of that inquiry about these very allegations in Tuam before they had come to headline attention in the international media. He reported what he discovered relating to a 1948 Government survey that recorded the number of "illegitimate" children who were born and died in mother and baby homes and county homes in 1948. Basically, the number of deaths was more than half the number of births. That is an absolutely shocking statistic. That information never appeared in the final McAleese report. Questions need to be asked. The McAleese inquiry no longer exists, but the people who conducted it and Mr. McAleese should answer a few questions about it.

To bring us up to where we are today, the Minister has announced an expansion in the terms of reference, an appointment of an osteoarcheologist and a transitional justice scheme for the survivors. Those are all welcome, but we need a full truth commission, a full examination and a criminal investigation of this and other sites. These should be crime scenes at this stage with forensic investigation. Why is it just an international expert who visits? The documents should be seized in the interests of an investigation. Of course, we need full compensation and redress. The Minister apparently said recently that is not on the cards right now. There is a massive impact on people's lives because of what has been done to them and the nature of it is that survivors tend to come forward much later in life.

We also need a separation of church and State. This has marked a sea change in attitudes in this country. The State has been implicit in the entire regime with the church, yet still the politicians are beholden to the institutionalised Catholic Church and some of its orders, as we have seen with the national maternity hospital fiasco, which was backtracked due to a people-powered campaign.

I heard one of the previous Deputies thanking the nuns that she went to school with, which is fine. I just want to correct one myth. The Catholic Church did not step in to provide education and health because the State was not interested. It opposed at every hand's turn in the past 100 years the setting up of a national school system and State services. If Deputies want me to start documenting it, of course I do not have time, but the mother and baby scheme is a classic example. The church was never interested in that. It was interested in keeping denominational and sectarian education. We can lay that myth to rest.

We need much more than what the Minister has announced today and hopefully we will hear much more very soon.

To back up what has been said already, I believe the investigation and the widening of the terms of reference have to take more of a turn of an investigation of criminal proportions. I previously read into the Dáil record and will read again what I believe illustrates in horrible terms the attitude of the church of the day to the mother and baby homes and to small children who were born out of wedlock and were considered, literally, bastards and illegitimate at the time. Thanks be to God, or not even to God but to the world around us, that we have moved on. I want to read this. It is from a journalist called Donal O'Keeffe. He wrote about John Desmond Dolan, born in 1946 and who died at the age of three months. His death cert read in the cruel language of the day that the child was "a congenital idiot". He was described on his death cert as being "a miserable, emaciated child with voracious appetite and no control over bodily functions, probably mentally defective". He was three months old.

The UN Commission on the Status of Women stated Ireland "has failed to establish an independent, thorough and effective investigation, in line with international standards, into all allegations of abuse, ill-treatment or neglect of women and children in the Magdalene Laundries". The committee urged the State "to conduct prompt, independent and thorough investigations, in line with international human rights standards, into all allegations of abuse in Magdalene laundries, children’s institutions, Mother and Baby homes, and symphysiotomy in order to prosecute and punish the perpetrators of those involved in violations of women’s rights". We many not find many people still alive to prosecute, but it is the case that this should be conducted as a criminal trial. The commission also stated "all victims/survivors of abuse should obtain an effective remedy including appropriate compensation, official apologies, restitution, satisfaction and rehabilitative services".

I know some of the women in the Visitors Gallery and they are very welcome. I am delighted to see them here. One of them recently told me that she is thinking of issuing the Minister an invoice for what she is owed for what she has suffered and for the losses she has suffered during her life. That invoice should be handed directly to the Catholic Church, which is a very wealthy organisation and has failed to pay its share of retribution for all of its crimes inflicted on children, boys, women and babies in this country.

Some 35,000 women and girls went through the mother and baby homes between 1904 and 1996. At least 6,000 babies died. The infant mortality rate at Tuam was five times that among the rest of the population. The infant mortality rate in all of the mother and baby homes was higher in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s than it was in the slums of our cities and towns.

That says it all. It was best described by Fintan O'Toole when he called it the "the moral-industrial complex – the vast archipelago of industrial schools, Magdalene laundries, mother and baby homes and mental hospitals". As the Minister is aware, the history of this is not just academic or historical because the church has fought tooth and nail and crozier to block any attempt by us to take control of the provision of health and education and continues to do so to this day. I caution this House that we probably need to set aside a discussion of the developments in St. Vincent's University Hospital because I do not think all is as healthy and clean as it appears.

My main point is to emphasise that although things are changing for the better in this country, it is time we began in a serious way the process of the separation of church and State. If there is to be a memorial to the suffering of the thousands, at this stage probably hundreds of thousands, of survivors and victims of the legacy of the church and its role in this country, it should be the beginning of the separation of church and State and putting the church into the dustbin of history where it belongs but to do so by giving back dignity and financial and other supports, including rehabilitative and moral supports, to those people. I am delighted that the Minister will meet them and take their testimonies. This should happen in a timely fashion and should not be dragged out for many years because time moves on and people pass away. It is very important that all of them have their day and have some sense of justice in this country.

The Minister will forgive me if I leave out praise as I have just three minutes and will use them appropriately. It is welcome that an expert team will be appointed, that a specific timeframe has been given and that terms of reference will be published today. I welcome the monthly reports and the scoping exercise but I am extremely disappointed that we still have no timeframe for it. The Minister received this report from the commission in September 2016. It is now May 2017. It is welcome that the Minister is dealing with the Tuam site.

I am very concerned about the distinction the Minister is drawing between children who were in the homes with their mothers and those who were in the homes without their mothers. I believe she is misinterpreting either deliberately or unintentionally the report that was produced by the commission. On page three of her speech today, the Minister said that she is going to set up consultations with those who were resident as children without their mothers. This is a shocking distinction. Perhaps I am misreading it and perhaps the Minister can explain it. I believe the Minister has taken this inappropriately from the mother and baby homes commission of investigation. I believe the motivation for the commission's interim report was to draw attention to the way this Government and previous Governments have dealt with the mother and baby homes and left them outside the redress scheme most unjustly. The commission made the point that children without mothers had a particular grievance. It did not state babies who were in the homes with their mothers should not be included. The Minister is drawing a false distinction and she should go back and read the commission's report.

The commission also stated the exclusion of the mother and baby homes from the redress board merited serious consideration by the Government. I believe the Government has simply dismissed that out of hand, which is appalling. In respect of the finding of no abuse, I do not believe that this interim report found that there was no abuse. The commission stated this was an interim report; therefore, reading the report in its generality, what the commission is stating is that it was carrying out an interim report to highlight the way the Government was treating the mother and baby homes unjustly.

In respect of the Minister's remark that too many decisions were taken in the dark, they were not actually taken in the dark. I speak as somebody with experience on both a personal level from an extended family and a professional level. None of these decisions was taken in the dark. They were taken in the open. That is the irony of this. They were taken openly not just by the nuns but also by the courts, solicitors, judges and gardaí. Many middle-class homes in Ireland benefitted from the mother and baby homes and the Magdalen laundries.

I welcome the Minister's speech today and the fact that she went to Tuam. However, it has come about not because of her initiative or that of the Government. I do not wish to personalise it. It has come about because of the sacrifice and effort made by the survivors and survivors' groups who are in the Visitors Gallery and who I welcome. They have forced this situation on to the agenda and have forced us to use our voices in this Chamber to get the Government to respond and to hold it to account. That is why we are here discussing this matter.

I agree that we have very limited time here and are, therefore, obligated to use it as best we can. It is a fact that the Minister has had the interim report for nine months and we are discussing again in some ways expressions of sympathy and disappointment. We are "ochoning" the things that happened in the past when we really should be focusing on what actions will be taken as a result of the content of the interim report and the needs that have been highlighted over the past period. While it is welcome that the Minister has said that tomorrow she will start seeking expressions of interest regarding the supports and consultation, I echo the points made by Deputy Catherine Connolly that it does seem to be in the context of what we are calling unaccompanied children rather than others and that this needs to be addressed. What is the timescale for that process? What access can people get in terms of support from dedicated staff? How long will that be? Do we know the level of detail or are we just seeking an opinion to see what we might do in terms of the supports because if we are, that is somewhat problematic in terms of the lack of detail?

The Minister suggested an amnesty in the Seanad in order to assist in the gathering of records. I agree that it is vital to get records. In fairness, it is an issue we have been raising for a very long time. However, an amnesty somehow gives an impression of a waiving of any criminal responsibility. There needs to be clarity around this. People do not need a history project or lesson. They need justice and the delivery of justice means that if we are getting access to files, the information from them can be used. When we talk about false birth certificates, forced and illegal adoptions and so on, it has been the norm to say that the Adoption Act 1952 dealt with those issues. That is not the case. We know that these criminal actions also took place after 1952 and we need to clarify that an amnesty does not exclude prosecution from the use of some of those materials, although the protection of records is vital.

The issue of redress is in many ways the critical one. We know the Minister has rejected the commission's recommendations and decided not to act upon them until the final report. I think that is wrong and that Deputy Catherine Connolly is right. The commission is flagging it as a huge issue and burying our heads in respect of it now will not change the reality. We know that the commission has not made any findings to date regarding abuse or neglect but that does not mean that there was no abuse or neglect. In fact, we all know that there was abuse and neglect so burying our heads now will not change that. It will be part of the final report and we might as well tee it up now. We need action and concrete dates and timelines on when this is being delivered rather than nice words, which are important but not enough.

We have had so many inquiries, reports, debates, statements, investigations and commissions over a number of years and a number of Governments that one would think we would get it right at this stage when it comes to addressing the issues for those who had to reside in the institutions, regardless of whether they were laundries, industrial schools or mother and baby homes. When one listens to the men and women who had to live there, what is obvious is their pain and incomprehension that other human beings could do this to them and the way in which they could be treated leaving them without dignity and self-esteem and in the case of some of them, leaving them without their name and real identity. This was inflicted on very vulnerable people - children or mothers who had just given birth. I also refer to those of mixed race and the extra difficulties they had to face relating to racial abuse.

I do not know how so many survived, but I have met survivors. They have been so strong, resilient, articulate, feisty and determined to get justice. There are varying interpretations of justice for different groups and individuals. They can involve redress, voices being heard, public awareness, apology or punishment. Some have spoken about a national reconciliation process involving all parties. I acknowledge those I have met who just want to be left alone in their silence and pain. I will quote from one of my friends from the mixed race group who said, in an article he published recently, that "Presently, there seems to be a deep frustration with institutional Ireland who simply do not know how to deal with survivors and the trauma and legacy of institutional abuse and neglect".

He welcomes the transitional justice idea because he believes it means more than just giving victims a voice. It is not only about seeking truth and justice for the human rights abuses perpetrated but also about accountability, healing and reconciliation. I know that there are varying views and that there are objections to this, but he cites the Canadian commission and the recommendations it made regarding the aboriginal people in Canada whose identity was being erased. He makes other suggestions, including the establishment of an Irish museum of human rights that would reflect the stories of all those who lived in the institutions and also the work of the advocates and the campaigners, including Ms Catherine Corless and Justice for the Magdalenes. It would also tell the stories of other human rights struggles, perhaps for Travellers and LGBT people, as well as those with mental health issues and disabilities. It would also tell us about the role of those who ran the institutions and the State's involvement. It could also be a research centre and a learning centre, but it would always be sensitive.

There are many positives in what the Minister has said today. She mentioned a team of experts that could do its work without interference, the provision of regular updates, facilitating consultation and the possibility of expanding it work. She made reference to services and supports that would be of practical value. They need special care. We know from some of the people using the Caranua system that they have experienced grave difficulties which we had an opportunity recently to outline. I did so for people living in England. However, at the end of the day, it is not my opinion or what we think about the report but what the survivors think that matters. We have been talking about institutional abuse in the past, but this week we heard stories of abuse in the present, of children being abused in their own homes, being let down by their parents, communities, the State and social services. This is happening in Ireland where there is much generosity and concern shown by individuals and communities. I am always struck by a line from Yeats' poem. Maud Gonne told him a story. She said: "That changed some childish day to tragedy". No child's day should be changed to tragedy.

I also acknowledge the women in An Grianán who have fought to have their voice heard. That has happened today.

I, too, am delighted to be able to speak about this issue on behalf of the Rural Independent Group.

I welcome many aspects of the Minister's statement. I welcome her being new, impartial and independent. Somebody else referred to a member of the Cabinet. We have seen where the Minister has stood out and maintained her dignity and respect and decided to tell it as it is, as she sees it. She is a breath of fresh air. Her trademark is all over many aspects of this issue, which is welcome because we need proper justice and a recognition of what happened. I, too, welcome Ms Corless, the survivors and others who are present. We cannot imagine what it was like to live in their shoes. It is unbelievable. The Minister has been independent and followed through. That she visited Tuam is also welcome. I hope she will receive the resources that she needs from the Government and the Department of Finance. They have to be provided.

I am delighted to hear that the Minister is bringing in an international expert to head up the inquiry. That is vital because too many times in this country - even now - every time we have a problem or there is an issue, we opt for a retired judge or some such person. I have said several times that we will soon run out of retired judges and that we will have to include it on the CAO forms to enable students to become retired judges in order that all of the inquiries can be undertaken. It is farcical and I am not making light of it. We need someone who is qualified, has the required expertise and a track record and, above all, is truly and totally independent and cannot be got at by the system which is very good at covering up and ensuring limited information comes out. I welcome the aspects of the Minister's speech where she said full information must be given. That is very important. Everybody has to put the information together. That is vital, instead of there being leaks and a pre-release of information which is hurtful and damaging to the people about whom we are talking, the survivors and their families.

It is welcome that a Bill is to be brought forward to enable people to trace, find and mark graves and so on. That is very important and we look forward to debating the Bill.

The Minister has stated the initial report will be out by the end of June and the full report by the autumn. That is important because we need clarity, a conclusion and action. As I said, it is horrific to think body parts might have been used for medical research - what an unbelievable carry-on.

Somebody mentioned an amnesty for persons who provided information for the report. That would be good. I am not saying anyone should hold on to anything, but one never knows what inhibitions people might have. An amnesty would be good to encourage people to come forward with information, both those working in this area and others outside. If they did not believe they would be victimised, as has happened recently in the case of some whistleblowers, having an amnesty might be very good.

As I said in my remarks previously, our hearts have been touched by the thought that so many children ended their lives in an environment in which they may have been neglected or abandoned when they were most in need of help. There is no defending or excusing what is absolutely indefensible. It is a source of shame that so many of the nation's children died in this way and continue to die as a result of various forms of abuse. The State was complicit in the deaths and maltreatment of the children concerned and their families. It is not yesterday's problem either. It is not a problem we have left behind and it could not be more evident than in the damning report issued this week by Dr. Geoffrey Shannon on Tusla, an issue I had raised in the House. We continue to practise, with horrifying regularity, the betrayal of children and their families, in spite of holding the children's rights referendum and in spite of all of the information and knowledge we now possess. We are supposed to be outward-looking rather than inward-looking. It is only five years since a report reviewed the deaths of almost 200 children who had died either in the care of the State or who were known to have used the State's care services between 2002 and 2012. That is recent and it was a shocking indictment to receive the report from Dr. Geoffrey Shannon during the week. It is both mind-boggling and astonishing, to say the least. What happened in Tuam horrifies us and causes us dismay and bewilderment. How could there have been such practices? Where was the accountability? Where is it now, for that matter? Has anyone in the HSE or Tusla been held responsible for the neglect that led to 112 unnatural deaths of children between 2002 and 2012? How could that have happened? Has anybody been held accountable? The answer is no. That is only the most recent incident.

To fast forward, in parts of her speech the Minister asked what would be shown on "Reeling in the Years" in 2040. What will be thought of us because of what happened from 2002 to 2012? What will be thought of the report we received this week? It is shocking.

On the specific requests made for a truth commission, I can certainly see merit in establishing such a commission. I read about the experts the Minister has appointed. It is welcome that they have expertise abroad because this is too small a country. I have said in the case of the banks and many other areas that the country is just too small, that everybody knows or can get to everybody else. I do not know what makes us do this, but it is crass and seems to be endemic. We cover up. Institutions become defensive and protecting the institution becomes more important than protecting defenceless little children. Protection of the institutions might become more important rather than justice for the people who are in the Visitors Gallery. I passionately believe this as we have become good at it, with PR companies, consultants and everybody else making it a big, defended, untouchable and unbreakable chain that we cannot unwind. We cannot get down and dirty to get to the real truth which people want.

I tabled a parliamentary question to the Minister only two months ago and thank her for her answer. I was shocked to find that, according to information provided by the Department, in 2013, 2014 and 2015 almost 20,000 children each year - that is 60,000 - had suffered from three forms of abuse - sexual, physical or malnutrition. I do not have the figures for 2016, but I do not expect them to be much different. In that wonderful year we celebrated and commemorated the centenary of the 1916 Rising. What is going on, despite all of the agencies we have established and the legislation we have passed? We cannot blame the church. I am not defending its role in all of the horrific things that happened, but I want an answer to that question. It happened under our noses.

Somebody else will be standing here in ten years' time looking for inquiries into 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 or this year because there is too much going unnoticed and there are too many resources being pumped into organisations, such as Tusla, which are not fit for purpose. Such quangos set up headquarters, appoint CEOs and appoint a plethora of senior officials and they forget the responsibility of us all must be to protect the innocent child. They seem to lose their way. There are many good staff there too, do not get me wrong. However, there is an epidemic in this country of creating quango after quango. They lose sight of why they were set up and of what they are meant to do. They talk about things and have reports but where are they? We need to unmask and deal with this.

I could not let the opportunity go without challenging Deputies Ruth Coppinger and Bríd Smith because they want to blame the Catholic Church every time. We all know of the wrongs in the Catholic Church but many of us would not have been educated without it. Deputy Bríd Smith said she was educated by the nuns. Few of us would have been educated if it were not for the brothers and the nuns. I did not get that education, but many of my colleagues and peers did. Tremendous good work was done also. We cannot just throw the baby out with the bath water. I agree we must deal with the horrific past and those legacy issues. However, one of the organisations I worked with is the Aislinn Adolescent Addiction Treatment Centre, with a wonderful sister, Sr. Veronica Mangan. What a leader to set up that centre. At one time, it was for adolescents from 12 to 16 years who had drug and alcohol problems. Now it is down to those aged seven and eight years. I commend the visionary work it and so many others, including Sr. Stan, have done. One could name so many. One cannot just constantly bash, kick and blame them. The furore about the hospital was the same - just bash the nuns and the media love it. They deserve credit for what they did as well. Certainly, the bad ones deserve to be criticised but the good people should not be criticised because they have been champions in many areas and they did not do it just to protect the Catholic Church. They did it out of goodness and they feed the hungry and clothed the poor. They still do it in this city on a daily basis and there is no talk of it. We must have balance.

I wish the Minister well in this and wish the panel she has appointed the very best. I hope we will get to the truth and get some solace for the people.

On the previous occasion we debated this mother and baby home it was with a specific focus on what one can describe as nothing more than the atrocities that had occurred in Tuam. At the time, the Taoiseach spoke about the culpability of the State and society, but I reiterate what I said that day that the State is not some anonymous set of officials. The reality is that in those mother and baby homes the State permitted the outsourcing of its responsibility - a constant theme in the failings of the State. The prevailing attitude towards the women and children who were consigned to these institutions was perpetrated by every arm of the State - the Garda, the medical profession, the political system - thus allowing this particular religious order to impose a very cruel regime.

There has been some talk about abuse or neglect. I visited the site a month or six weeks ago and saw the list of those where there were death certificates. I looked at the very young ages of the children who had died. Given the sheer numbers of them, it is difficult to conclude that it was anything other than cruelty and neglect at work there.

The legacy of these acts are current for some generations and they are at best one generation removed. The relatives of these women and children are still alive. In 1995, as I stated on the previous occasion, children playing on the site discovered human remains but it was not the gardaí who were called; it was a priest. He was called to bless the site. It seemed that everybody went about their business afterwards. The State, at that point, turned a blind eye. I simply do not understand it.

When there were human remains unearthed in the context of road works in Celbridge in the vicinity of the Famine graveyard there, the gardaí were called. It was identified that they were historical remains. These were brought to Collins Barrack. A year later, a respectful interment took place on the same general site. We knew the age of the deceased and what they died from. Even for such historic remains, that information could be discovered. I cannot understand why similar forensic work has not been undertaken on the remains discovered on this site. In 2014, when Ms Catherine Corless's work disclosed the extent of the problem, international attention was paid to it, and not unremarkably so. I asked on that day - I suppose it was an instinctive emotional feeling - why was this not declared a crime scene. I just could not understand why it was not declared a crime scene and why there would not be a Garda involvement, even in what is being proposed. I would have thought it was self-evident that such would be required.

It strikes me that one legacy issue with which we are familiar in relation to Northern Ireland is the disappeared. We all feel a sense of relief when another set of remains are found. For many, the disappeared were in Tuam and we have to give it the same kind of attention. We have to consider it in the same terms because they, equally, require closure. I think of how Mr. Peter Mulryan has been trying to find out about his sister and he realises that for him there is a time limit on this. I am concerned that we will do something that will be very protracted. Where there is understandable anxiety for people at what will happen in the site, that anxiety is heightened for many by virtue of the fact that there is nothing happening on the site now.

I cannot understand why we would not invite people to say what they know at this stage - it probably will happen in the context of this process - because in this country, whether one is religious or not, there is great respect for the ceremony when somebody dies. We see it as something that one must be respectful of. I am trying to figure out in my head what kind of ceremony or absence of a ceremony would have taken place for a three year old, a four year old or a six month old. What happened when they died? What happened immediately after that? How did they get to where they were found, I suppose, discarded more than buried? There were people who knew. They had to know. There is an obligation on people to come forward if they know anything.

The point that has been made on improved communication is critical. The people can be called a lot of things, for instance, stakeholders, but actually they are family. In the main, we need to call them family. We need to treat them as one would treat those who have a member of their family missing. I am pleased to see that communication piece in this. It is critically important that people are treated with that humanity and respect.

Speed is important. It needs to be done right, but something that is very lengthy will add to the stress. I accept there is probably a range of different views, but doing nothing or promising something will happen in the future will add to the torture that people are feeling.

I thank all of the Deputies for their comments, reflections and questions. As Deputy O'Sullivan and others indicated, we have discussed this issue many times in this Chamber. It is really important for me to listen to the issues that Deputies raise as we all try to identify the best way and what kinds of actions we need to do in order to move forward when we think about and try to uncover the meaning of the past. I am grateful for that. I will address some of the common themes that I have heard. If I do not answer all of the questions posed, I will be happy to do that in another forum.

One of the main themes coming through, on which we are all agreed, is that the people who have been most impacted by the issues that we are debating and discussing ought to be at the centre of everything that we do. That is why I am so grateful that so many of them have come to be with us today. I was struck by Deputy Catherine Murphy's comments about how we name the people who are at the centre. I know that lots of different language has been used, including victims, survivors, family, advocates of family and so forth. I hope that as we move forward - and that is what I have tried to indicate in terms of the actions that I have identified that we will be doing on the basis of a lot of work in the past few months to take these actions - that there will be more and more engagement with survivors and family in order that what it is that we decide to do as we move forward to the best of our ability will be as a result of bringing together as best we can a consensus in relation to whatever the issues are.

In terms of Tuam, the decision that we are taking as a Government to move forward, particularly in relation to the site, is a very big one. It is important to get technical advice on what it is that they are going to do. I met Ms McCullagh before coming into the Chamber. She explained that this type of technical work has not been done anywhere else in the world. She described to me a lot of the technical, scientific and engineering complexities that are going to be engaged in this regard. That is why it was important to pull together a number of international experts in order to try to get as much information as we can in order to offer the information that comes in the most understandable language for all of us, so that we know what it is that these scientists are suggesting to us in terms of what is possible. Ms McCullagh spoke about what is possible from the least intrusive option, which is to do nothing and indeed there are some people who want that, to the most intrusive option, namely a fuller excavation and exhumation, with attempts to identify the remains. We need to know what is actually involved in that in order to understand what is possible. I asked for that initial report outlining some of the basics of those options by the end of June, which is pretty quick given the context, in order that we can have an outline of the options which can feed into the consultations that will go on in relation to the process in Tuam with the people and particularly the families and survivors, as well as the residents. Galway County Council will also be involved. That is relatively quick but it is important that the information is part of it as we move forward. I hope that even that kind of process is finally more respectful of dealing with the people who are at the centre of this.

Many Deputies spoke about the fact that I would like to invite the UN Special Rapporteur on transitional justice, reparation and truth to visit. I have indicated explicitly that I am going to ask my Cabinet colleagues to support that invitation. We have not yet issued the invitation but I am heartened to hear that Deputies agree that we should do so. I believe international expertise could be extremely helpful to us in terms of the wider responses to issues raised by the mother and baby homes and the commission of investigation itself. Dr. de Greiff, prior to becoming Special Rapporteur was director of research at the International Center for Transitional Justice. He has extensive experience on these issues in lots of countries. I believe such a visit would reflect the commitment of this Government to our people, both at home and abroad and will demonstrate that we are willing to work with the United Nations on our own territory in relation to issues of potential human rights abuses and also the ways in which we can respond to this. We do have some transitional justice measures already in place but more may be required in terms of moving forward, particularly in relation to a truth commission, which we debated in the context of a very helpful motion put forward by Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire previously. It is my personal wish that we could have something like that established. It would be very helpful for us to have some expertise to draw on in terms of the best possible way to do that, given the fact that we have a commission of investigation that is still ongoing. I hope that if we invite Dr. de Greiff he will help us to look at how we can move forward in relation to responding. While we are not exactly at the beginning, when the commission of investigation reports in February of 2018 that will be a big milestone. However, it is still perhaps an earlier period and there may be many more things that we need to do in order to truly respond to the issues that are being raised.

Many Deputies identified the issue of redress in the context of the second interim report. Let me be clear that what the commission was recommending was the opening up of the residential institutions redress scheme to children who were resident in the main mother and baby homes without their mothers, that is, to unaccompanied children. That is the language that was used. It was said that those children should have had access to the redress scheme, using the same logic as for other institutions that were included in that. As I have said before, I personally agreed with that analysis. However, I ultimately decided, with my Cabinet colleagues, that the redress scheme was not the best option for those unaccompanied children or children who were without their mothers in mother and baby homes and county homes. I outlined the reasons for that decision earlier. According to the residential institutions redress scheme, they would have to demonstrate a certain level of abuse and they would have to have been much younger - between the ages of zero and three years. Furthermore, there has not been any definite declaration by the commission of investigation of findings of abuse. That is not to say the commission will not do that. What I want to stress is that I was not at all ruling out redress. The commission of investigation will submit its report in February 2018. It may recommend redress in that report but equally, it may not. It is at that stage that we look at that issue more fully and learn from the ways in which the State has offered or attempted to offer redress in the past in various schemes. That is why, having said "No" for that particular group, we asked what we could do and whether there was a way to offer any other form of support, including health and well being support. We are beginning a consultation process with former residents to try to identify the most helpful forms of health and well-being supports.

I heard also that it would be useful to open that to a wider group of people. We will be taking a look at that. Deputy Clare Daly asked about the timeframe in that regard. We are beginning on 30 June. I hope to bring proposals to the Cabinet in the fall. We have not set an exact timeframe yet because we are not certain how many people want to be consulted. Where that is the case, we want to be as inclusive as possible.

As I think I am out of time, I cannot address all the other issues that have been raised. I have tried to identify a number of actions to move forward with the Government's ongoing response to the mother and baby homes issue. I will say in conclusion that I believe issues relating to the separation of church and State are critical. I acknowledge the great deal of work that has been done by Deputy Bríd Smith and her colleagues in that regard. We do not necessarily need to put down the church as we attempt to separate it from the State. However, this separation is necessary. I hope that will be part of this process as we move forward with it.

I thank the Minister and her officials. Sin deireadh leis na ráitis maidir le hárais máithreacha agus naíonán. I thank everyone who participated in the debate. On behalf of all elected Members, I wish all of those present in the Visitors Gallery for this debate the very best for the future in their lives.