Headed by Judge Yvonne Murphy, the inquiry will examine how 14 mother and baby homes operated between 1922 and 1998.
However, it may reduce the “relevant period” in respect of any component part or institution if it considers it appropriate to do so.
The 14 mother and baby homes to be examined are: Ard Mhuire, Dunboyne, Meath; Belmont Flatlets, Belmont Ave, Dublin 4; Bessborough House, Cork; Bethany Home, Dublin 7; Bon Secours mother and baby home, Tuam, Galway; Denny House (originally Magdalene Home), Eglington Rd, Dublin 4; Kilrush, Cooraclare Rd, Clare; Manor House, Castlepollard, Westmeath; Ms Carr’s Flatlets, 16 Northbrook Rd, Dublin 6; Regina Coeli Hostel, North Brunswick St, Dublin 7; Sean Ross Abbey, Roscrea; St Gerard’s, 39 Mountjoy Sq, Dublin; St Patrick’s (originally Pelletstown), Navan Rd, Dublin; and The Castle, Newtowncunningham, Donegal.
A “representative sample” of county homes, for women who had a number of crisis pregnancies, will also be examined.
The inquiry will examine the circumstances and arrangements for the entry of single women into these institutions and the exit pathways and whether the women had any choice in these decisions.
It will also examine the living conditions in the institutions and the mortality rates at the 14 homes.
Postmortem practices and procedures in respect of children or mothers who died will also be investigated. This will include the reporting of deaths, burial arrangements, and transfer of remains to educational institutions for the purpose of anatomical examination.
The commission is also tasked with investigating vaccine trials carried out on children in some mother and baby homes and establishing the extent of compliance with relevant regulatory and ethical standards of the time.
How children were placed for adoption will also be examined in terms of whether the child’s welfare was considered and the extent to which the consent of the mother was full, free, and informed.
This will also include adoptions where there was co-operation with other individuals or intermediary organisations.
The extent to which any group of residents may have systematically been treated differently on any grounds, including religion, race, Traveller identity, or disability, will also be examined.
However, while the terms of reference seem suitably wide at first glance, they have come in for criticism from campaigners who say they will not examine the full extent of illegal adoptions contracted in Ireland over a period of decades.
As it stands, the only adoption arrangements that will be examined are those with a direct connection to one of the 14 named institutions. However, many adoptions were contracted by individual adoptions agencies which are excluded from the inquiry’s remit.
As a result, groups have argued that the terms of reference should include the approximately 180-plus institutions and individuals that provided services to unmarried mothers.
A further criticism is that evidence given to the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation is not admissible in any criminal proceedings under section 19 of the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004.