The Dáil debate on the terms of reference saw a succession of opposition politicians add their voices to those of adoption campaigners who have expressed concern that the investigation will be limited to only the practices and procedures of institutions, adoption agencies, and individuals with a direct connection to a mother and baby home.
The Adoption Rights Alliance has pointed out that potentially tens of thousands of women gave birth in state and private maternity homes and suffered the same fate of forced and illegal adoptions but, if they did not have a link to a mother and baby home, would be excluded.
Sinn Féin spokesman on children Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said successive governments had failed to address the issue and called for the list of 14 institutions named in the terms of reference to be expanded to include the Magdalene Laundries, the Westbank orphanage, and all the activities of private adoption agencies.
“While I acknowledge and welcome that the number of institutions referenced in the terms of inquiry has been expanded, I am mindful of the fact that there are a significant number of people who will feel excluded and marginalised, even shunned by the Government’s refusal to include the institution or setting that dominates their childhood memory,” he said.
Fianna Fáil’s children’s spokesman Robert Troy said it was crucial that nobody was “left out in the cold” and stressed that the scale of forced and illegal adoptions was not just confined to mother and baby homes.
“This investigation begins and ends with the prescribed list of mother and baby homes. The Adoption Rights Alliance fears that this leaves in the region of 60% to 70% of all unmarried girls and women whose children were forcefully adopted beyond the scope of the investigation.
“We need to revisit this minister, we need to revisit the exclusion of private adoption agencies because it is well documented and there is evidence of abuse in the adoption system and it would be best to deal with this by way of the Commission.”
Independent TD Maureen O’Sullivan said that given the “grave concerns about the outstanding issues from the McAleese report” and the level of transfer of women between mother and baby homes and Magdalene Laundries, it was essential that they be included in the inquiry.
Children’s Minister Dr James Reilly said he believed that the terms of reference reflected the range of matters that the Government was asked to consider.
Responding to calls for widening the terms of reference, Dr Reilly said the commission could make any recommendations it considers appropriate in relation to matters that lie outside its specific remit.
Under terms of reference, the inquiry will investigate how unmarried mothers and their babies were treated between 1922 and 1998 at 14 State-linked religious institutions.