The full scale of illegal adoptions and birth registrations in Ireland prior to the 1970s is unknown, the government has admitted.

Mother-and-baby homes, normally run by the church, facilitated the illegal adoption of children until 42 homes were closed in 1972, after the Health Care Act was enacted.

During parliamentary questions Socialist Party TD Clare Daly asked the current Health Minister James Reilly about the scale of the of illegal birth registrations and illegal adoptions facilitated by such homes.

Minister Reilly admitted the full extent was unknown.

“The issues raised by the deputy relate to practices that were private arrangements which involved the birth of a child being registered as the child of those persons or families that took the child, rather than of the birth mother," he said.

"The issuing of birth certificates is a matter for the Department of Social Protection, and suspected irregularities should be investigated by that department. The scale of such illegal birth registrations is unknown."

Speaking about the possibility of tracing the historical documentarion he said : "the nature and secretiveness of the process means that any correlation of data is extremely difficult".

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Prior to the 1970s severl religious institutions in Ireland ran mother-and-baby homes throughout the country. The homes, normally run by nuns, were paid a per-capita sum by the state dependant on the numbers they catered for.

Women who fell pregnant out of wedlock were sent to such homes and many forced to work in the laundries, kitchens and farms of these institutions. Once their child was born, they were more often than not forced to give it up for adoption.