The Irish government has announced a statutory inquiry into the State sanctioned, Catholic Church-run institutions used as homes for pregnant, unmarried mothers and their children. The investigation has sparked by the alleged mass grave of 796 children buried at the home run by the Sisters of the Bon Secours, in Tuam, County Galway.

The investigation will examine the high mortality rate across several decades of the 20thcentury, burial practices, illegal adoptions, and vaccine trials on young children.

Ireland’s Minister for Children Charlie Flanagan said it was time to shed light on a dark period of Ireland’s history. He said the inquiry would be carried out in public, however many documents which are private and personal will need to be examined.

He said “I’m seeking national consensus and I’m asking people to buy into this process so we at last get to the truth.”

He emphasized that the Tuam mass grave should not be “looked at in isolation”.

“I believe that Tuam should not be looked at in isolation because over the last century we have had mother and baby homes right up and down the country,” he said.

“It’s absolutely essential that we establish the facts and in this regard it’s a time for sensitivity rather than sensationalism, a time for seeking the truth rather than indulging in speculation.”

Flanagan said “Now is an opportunity that has not been grasped by government before to deal with this matter in a comprehensive way.”

The investigation will be established after a cross departmental review of files in relation to mother and baby homes. This is expected by the end of the June.  The commission will be established before the summer recess towards the end of July.

It is believed that 35,000 unmarried mothers spent time in the ten homes run by religious homes in Ireland.

At the Tuam Bon Secours institution, known as “The Home” it is believed that 796 babies remain buried in unmarked graves some in what was once a septic tank. It was uncovered by a local in 1975.

Apart from the Tuam mass grave there are “Little Angel Plots” at three other homes believed to hold the remains of 3,200 babies. These mass graves are at Sean Ross Abbey, Tipperary, Bessborough, Co Cork, and Castlepollard, Co Westmeath.

As part of the inquiry the Catholic and Protestant churches with links to religious orders which ran the homes, are to be asked to open all their records. Health authorities were given files from many orders after the institutes closed.

Irish police are also investigating the claims.

The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC) said these recent revelations remind Ireland of its appalling treatment of children and how the Irish State let down their most innocent children.

ISPCC Chief Executive, Ashley Balbirnie said “It is a sad, shameful discovery that almost 800 children have been failed so terribly, and we fear these revelations are just the tip of the iceberg.

“We as a society are judged by how we treat children. We need to learn from the past and treat our children with the respect and dignity that is their right.”