Ireland will face another profound reckoning on its shameful past this week when the final report of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation is published.
he commission was established by the government in 2015 in the wake of claims that the bodies of up to 800 babies and children may have been interred in an unmarked mass grave in the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home, located in Tuam, Co Galway.
In 2014, a local amateur historian, Catherine Corless, published an article documenting the deaths of 796 babies and toddlers at the home during its decades of operation.
There were death certificates for 796 infants, but no burial records - which raised fears of a mass grave in Tuam, whose ancient name derives from a Latin term for "burial mound".
Following widespread reports on the work of Corless, there were calls nationally and internationally for an investigation of the site, and for an inquiry into all such Mother and Baby Homes.
The commission's terms of reference were eventually extended to include 14 other homes, as well as a representative sample of State-operated County Homes, selected as fulfilling a function similar to the Mother and Baby Homes, run by religious orders.
The commission was originally scheduled to submit its final report in February 2018, but, given the complexity of the task and for other reasons, sought and was granted extensions on three occasions.
The Cabinet is due to approve the commission's final report on Tuesday.
I am given to understand that, so harrowing are its findings, that counselling will be offered to former residents when they are shown the report before publication on Tuesday.
Then in the Dáil on Wednesday, the Taoiseach, Micheál Martin will issue a State apology to those affected by what is, by any standard, a shameful chapter in Ireland's social history.
In relation to the touchstone issues which have arisen in the five years since the commission was established, I am also given to understand that the Cabinet will discuss, "as an absolute priority", changing the Adoption and Tracing Bill to allow people access to information on their biological mothers.
In this regard, the commission report is said to note criticism of Tusla, the Child and Family Agency established in 2014, but states that the criticism was unfair and that it is the law that needs to be changed.
The Minister for Children and Equality, Roderic O'Gorman, will look to bring legalisation to the Dáil "within the first six months of this year" on the adoption and tracing issue. The Department of Children will also be asked to chair an inter-departmental group to look at the issues around a Restorative Recognition Scheme - or redress for survivors of the homes.
The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, has said that all victims/survivors must obtain an effective remedy including appropriate compensation, official apologies, restitution, satisfaction and rehabilitative services.
Leaving aside these key issues, the publication of the Mother and Baby Homes report will be the latest in a growing collection of official documents related to the complicated relationship between the church and State, and the deeply damaging effect that relationship has had on children and women, in particular.
Another was the Magdalene Commission report, which estimated that well over 10,000 girls and women spent time in laundries; that the State was involved in imprisoning more than a quarter of them, and funded and held laundry service contracts with institutions which they acknowledged, even at the time, relied on forced unpaid labour.
Then there was the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, commonly known as the Ryan Commission, the remit of which was to investigate all forms of child abuse in Irish institutions for children.
That commission published testimony which demonstrated beyond doubt that many such children were treated like prison inmates and slaves rather than people with legal rights and human potential; that some religious officials encouraged ritual beatings and consistently shielded their orders amid a "culture of self-serving secrecy"; and that government inspectors failed to stop these abuses.
Among the more extreme findings were of child abuse, beatings and rapes, children subjected to naked beatings in public, being forced into sex acts, and subjected to beatings after failed rape attempts.
The child abuse scandal has been described by some as Ireland's Holocaust.
The Mother and Baby Homes report will now take its place alongside these other official records of what really went on in Ireland.
While the Mother and Baby Homes Commission is said not to have found abuse on the same scale as the Ryan Report, I understand that it nonetheless provides shocking testimony from the survivors of such homes.
For one example, the report tells how women heard many reports of emotional abuse of women, who were the victims of belittling and disparaging remarks - even in childbirth.
However, it also finds that the State and church did not force women into the homes, noting that they were often brought by parents or family members who saw no alternative due to poverty or a misguided sense of shame.
This finding speaks to a somewhat controversial remark made by former taoiseach, Enda Kenny in the Dáil in 2017, when he said: "No nuns broke into our homes to kidnap our children. We gave them up to what we convinced ourselves was the nuns' care.
"We gave them up maybe to spare them the savagery of gossip, the wink and the elbow language of delight in which the holier than thous were particularly fluent. We gave them up because of our perverse, in fact, morbid relationship, with what is called respectability."
In response, the Independent TD for Galway West, Catherine Connolly, directly addressed Mr Kenny, and said: "What is shocking to the survivors, and to me, is the carefully crafted words that you've come into the chamber with.
"And, in particular, that you say 'no nuns broke into our homes to kidnap our children', 'we gave them up to what we convinced ourselves was the nuns' care' and so on. I don't doubt your bona fides, but I certainly doubt your judgment in reading that out, a carefully crafted speech with a sentence like that in these circumstances."
Mother and Baby Homes have existed in Ireland since the foundation of the State in 1922 and continued in operation up to 1998, that is, for a longer period than anywhere else such homes existed around the world. The use of homes peaked in Ireland the 1960s and early 1970s, at a time when the Catholic Church exerted enormous influence.
The commission finds that the women who ended up in these homes were often victims of physical abuse, domestic abuse and rape, and once in the homes, were expected to scrub floors and stairs, often as a form of punishment.
What many will find deeply shocking is the very high infant mortality rate in the institutions: I understand the commission finds that 9,000 or one in seven of all Mother and Baby Home children died; and that up to 60,000 single mothers and a similar number of children went through the homes investigated.
There have been credible claims that many such homes were used as sources for illegal domestic and foreign adoptions, with children trafficked to the United States. However, I understand that the commission report finds allegations that institutions were paid to arrange foreign adoptions impossible to prove, or disprove, a finding which may come as a disappointment to some.
As part of its investigations, the commission ordered excavations of the suspected burial site in Tuam to be carried out.
In March 2017, it was announced that multiple human remains had been found during excavations carried out between November 2016 and February 2017 at the site.
Tests conducted on some of the remains indicated they had been aged between 35 foetal weeks and two to three years.
The announcement confirmed that the deceased died during the period of time that the property was used by the Mother and Baby Home, not from an earlier period - as most of the bodies dated from the 1920s to the 1950s.
The remains were found in an "underground structure divided into 20 chambers". At the time, the commission said "it had not yet determined what the purpose of this structure was but it appeared to be a sewage tank".
The commission had also not yet determined if the chambers were ever used for this purpose, but stated that it was continuing its investigation into who was responsible for the disposal of human remains in this way, and that it had notified the coroner.
I have been unable to establish what, if anything, the commission final report finds on this issue. However, I understand that the Minister for Children is bringing a memorandum to Cabinet on Tuesday on a bill to allow for dignified reburial at the Tuam site.
What will be undoubtedly clear from publication of the 3,000-page report is that the work of Catherine Corless and the advocacy of others, not least the former children's minister, Katherine Zappone, has shed a great light on an extended and shameful period in Ireland's social history, up to relatively recent times. Whether these people will be satisfied with the report will be known this week.
An apology by the State will be welcomed, however.
The Mother and Baby Homes specified in the Commission of Investigation terms of reference
- Árd Mhuire, Dunboyne, Co Meath
- Belmont (flatlets), Belmont Avenue, Dublin 4
- Bessboro House, Blackrock, Cork
- Bethany Home, originally Blackhall Place, Dublin 7 and from 1934, Orwell Road, Rathgar, Dublin 6
- Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home, Tuam, Co Galway
- Denny House, Eglinton Road, Dublin 4 (originally Magdalen Home, 8 Lower Leeson St, Dublin 2)
- Kilrush, Cooraclare Road, Co Clare
- Manor House, Castlepollard, Co Westmeath
- Ms Carr's (flatlets), 16 Northbrook Road, Dublin 6
- Regina Coeli Hostel, North Brunswick Street, Dublin 7
- Sean Ross Abbey, Roscrea, Co Tipperary
- St Gerard's, originally 39 Mountjoy Square, Dublin 1
- St Patrick's Mother and Baby Home, Navan Road, Dublin 7 (originally known as Pelletstown, subsequent transfer to Eglinton House, Dublin 4)
- The Castle, Newtowncunningham, Co Donegal
State-operated County Homes:
- St Kevin's Institution (Dublin Union)
- Stranorlar County Home, Co Donegal (St Joseph's)
- Cork City County Home (St Finbarr's)
- Thomastown County Home, Co Kilkenny (St Columba's)