The investigation was revealed in the High Court on Thursday where two women are challenging the department’s decision not to include them in the redress scheme.
The ombudsman, Peter Tyndall, notified the department of its intention to launch an investigation on December 20.
The Irish Examiner understands the investigation will consider whether the application process operated in an open and fair manner and whether the department relied on information that was irrelevant and/or incomplete, when deciding on a person’s eligibility under the scheme.
The probe will also look at how the department sourced, gathered, and evaluated information on the Magdalene laundries and other institutions covered under the redress scheme.
In a statement, the ombudsman said it had received 30 complaints from applicants to the redress scheme and that, following its intervention, the department reversed its decision to refuse redress in four of the cases.
“The investigation will cover the issues raised in nine of the complaints the ombudsman has received from women who were excluded from the scheme together with an investigation into the administration of the scheme generally,” read the statement.
The ombudsman said it is not possible to say how long the investigation will take but that it envisages it being concluded in a matter of months.
“The ombudsman can make findings and recommendations as part of his investigation. Recommendations are not binding on public bodies.
“However, in almost every case the ombudsman’s recommendation is implemented. The ombudsman will make public the outcome of the investigation at its conclusion,” read the statement.
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald is now facing calls to explain why she had not publicly revealed details of the investigation.
“It’s clear that the department is not behaving in a transparent manner in relation to this investigation,” said Fianna Fáil equality spokeswoman Fiona O’Loughlin.
The Justice For Magdalenes Research body, long-time critics of how the scheme had been administered, said the Department of Justice needs to write to all women who had been refused admission to the redress scheme to inform them of the investigation.