I am aware of the comments made by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Sale and Sexual Exploitation of Children. When I met the Special Rapporteur in the course of her visit to Ireland in May 2018 I set out the rationale and context to the Government's approach in establishing the Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and certain related Matters).
The Commission's terms of reference provide the necessary balance of inclusivity, specificity and focus, so as to ensure that the Commission can deliver on public expectations. In framing the terms of reference there was a deliberate emphasis on investigating the experiences of women and children who spent time in this type of institution but the terms of reference actually reflect a much wider agenda of related public concerns. Both Houses of the Oireachtas were required to approve the draft Order and Statement of Reasons for the establishment of this Commission.
The relationships of Mother and Baby Homes with other institutions, organisations and individuals involved in the entry and exit of children and mothers from these institutions will be explored by the Commission as required by Article 1(VII) and in the academic social history module as required by Article 11 of the terms of reference. The Commission will investigate evidence of patterns of referral, relationships and co-operation with other entities and intermediary organisations.
The Terms of Reference require the Commission to identify the extent to which children’s welfare and best interests were considered in making arrangements for placements, whether through ‘boarding out’, fostering or adoption, both in Ireland and abroad. They further ask the Commission to identify the extent of mothers’ participation in such decisions, including procedures around mothers’ consent, and the extent to which these procedures were sufficient to ensure that consent was full, free and informed.
This allows the Commission sufficient scope to examine both the issue of placing children for adoption abroad, as well as to examine situations in which the child’s parentage was concealed, either by omission or sometimes, by illegal means.
In recognising that new information could be uncovered in the course of the investigation, the independent statutory Commission has a wide remit to examine a broad range of public concerns, to decide on their importance to the Commission's work, and to make recommendations on them as it sees fit. Under its terms of reference, the Commission is required to report on any specific matters outside its scope which it considers may warrant further investigation in the public interest as part of the Commission’s work. The Government is on record as stating that it will consider any recommendations made by the Commission in this regard.
The Commission will report on how Irish society responded to single women and their children at a time when they most needed our support and assistance. It is due to deliver its final report in February 2020.