Church and state probe won't go ahead until garda remit is clarified
Published 10/06/2014 | 02:30
A GOVERNMENT and church-backed independent commission of inquiry into the mother and baby homes scandal won't be launched until it is clear it will not interfere with garda investigations.
Privately, senior cabinet ministers acknowledged such an investigation would be set up within months though there is increasing concern over the scale of its inquiry remit.
Mother and baby homes operated across Ireland for 40 years but were also intrinsically linked to industrial schools and orphanages.
The facilities are also at the centre of secret vaccine trial and clandestine foreign adoption controversies.
The Coalition is open to the inquiry being led by domestic or overseas judicial official once its precise remit is agreed.
That is despite the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin, saying the highly respected head of the National Board for Safeguarding Children (NBSC), Ian Elliott, would be an ideal inquiry chairman.
However, campaigners have demanded that the independent inquiry be led by an overseas judge.
Senior Fine Gael and Labour ministers support such an inquiry which has already been publicly backed by Education Minister Ruairi Quinn and Dr Martin.
Mr Quinn has criticised the "sensationalism" in some headlines that had gone around the world, which has included misleading information, including that 800 infant skeletons were found in a grave in Tuam while that is not in fact the case. It is not known how many skeletons are in the grave.
The cross-agency investigation launched by Children's Minister Charlie Flanagan was described by a senior government source last night as "the first step towards an independent inquiry".
Dr Martin said such an inquiry must have full judicial powers and be independent of both church and State.
However, the Government is concerned over the remit to be provided to the independent inquiry.
Meanwhile the chief executive of child and family agency Tusla, Gordon Jeyes, has confirmed records for the mother-and-baby homes in Tuam, Bessborough in Cork, and St Patrick's in Dublin have been transferred to the agency.
He said these would be made available to the cross-departmental investigation, which is due to be established.
The mother and baby homes are central not only to widespread allegations of cruelty but also to controversies including secret vaccine trials and clandestine adoptions of Irish children by wealthy US Catholics.
The vaccine trials took place from the 1930s right up to the 1960s and a forensic investigation of such trials could take years to complete.
The adoptions issue – at least 98 'secret' adoptions took place from Bessborough alone – is also hugely sensitive and involves other jurisdictions.
Two senior gardai are already examining the Tuam mass child grave revelations and it is expected that exhumations are likely to be ordered.