The Mother and Baby Homes Commission's final report makes clear Ireland had a “stifling, oppressive and brutally misogynistic culture” towards unmarried mothers and their children, the Children’s Minister has said.
The lengthy and long-awaited report has been published this afternoon, highlighting the 'particularly harsh treatment' that women who gave birth outside marriage were subject to.
The commission says the harsh treatment was "supported by, contributed to, and condoned by, the institutions of the State and the Churches" - but that some of the institutions offered a 'harsh refuge' when many families provided 'no refuge at all'.
It reveals there were around 56,000 unmarried mothers and 57,000 children in the mother and baby homes and country homes investigated by the Commission, mostly in the 1960s and 70s.
However, it says it's likely there were another 25,000 unmarried mothers and even more children in other homes which were not investigated.
It finds that around 9,000 children died in the institutions under investigation - or around 15% of all the children in the institutions - and describes the mortality rate among children born in several of the homes as 'appalling'.
It shows there were seven vaccine trials in the homes between 1934 and 1973 involving a number of children, noting the trials were not in compliance "with the relevant regulatory and ethical standards of the time".
Around 1,638 children who were resident in the mother and baby homes and county homes were placed for foreign adoption - the 'vast majority' going to the US.
There was no statutory regulation for the adoptions, and only 'informal supervision' in terms of issuing passports.
The Commission says it's impossible to prove or disprove allegations that "large sums of money were given to the institutions and agencies in Ireland that arranged foreign adoptions".
It also explores the 'widespread discrimination' experienced by unmarried mothers and their children within Irish society into the 1980s.
The report comes following accounts from hundreds of witnesses and survivors, including those who were sent to the homes after being victims of rape.
In their recommendations, the Commission says adopted people "should have a right to their birth certificates", and says there should be a right for people to have access to their birth information - saying a referendum should be held if that's needed to change the law.
It recommends the Government should consider a redress scheme for many of the women impacted - including those who spent lengthy periods in the homes before 1974, and those who carried out unpaid work while in the institutions.
Children's Minister Roderic O’Gorman has pledged a ‘comprehensive’ and survivor-centred response to the findings of the report, including giving people access to personal information contained in the commission’s records (in line with GDPR) and creating a central repository of institutional records.
Financial, health and other supports will also be provided - including a ‘form of enhanced medical card’ for all former residents of the homes.
In a statement, Minister O’Gorman said: “The Commission’s investigation reveals the truth of what happened, within the walls of Mother an Baby Homes and beyond them, to many thousands of women and children.
“Importantly, it also inscribes for posterity, those journeys, those heartbreaks, those truths in the words of those who experienced them first-hand.
“The report makes clear that for decades, Ireland had a stifling, oppressive and brutally misogynistic culture, where a pervasive stigmatisation of unmarried mothers and their children robbed those individuals of their agency and sometimes their future.”
He said the Government will now carefully examine the report in the weeks and months ahead in order to implement the recommendations.
The Coalition of Mother And Baby Home Survivors, meanwhile, says the homes covered by the report do not offer the full picture of what happened.
They said: "Tens of thousands who were born outside the institutions investigated by this inquiry, have been excluded; particularly those who were illegally adopted.
"Every single day, illegally adopted people are giving medical professionals false, misleading and potentially lethal family medical histories.
"This Government and Commission has essentially thrown them under a bus and walked away. Equally the County Homes operated directly by the Government have been largely ignored."
The Taoiseach will issue a state apology tomorrow following the report's publication, and counselling services are being made available to survivors.