Published Tuesday, 10 June 2014
A special commission of investigation will examine the high mortality rates at the so-called mother and baby homes for much of the 20th century, the burial practices at these sites and also secret and illegal adoptions and vaccine trials on children.
It is thought about 35,000 unmarried mothers spent time in 10 homes run by religious orders.
The inquiry has been ordered after massive national and international focus on the home run by the Sisters of the Bon Secours in Tuam, Co Galway, where the remains of 796 infants are believed to be buried.
Some lie in the remnants of what was once a concrete septic tank in the grounds of the home.
This inquiry is essentially about the kind of country Ireland was, the kind of country where women in particular were the focus of shame and suppression.
Mr Kenny said the inquiry will probe the "shameful" past of Irish society rather than apportion blame to any particular quarter.
He said: "This was Ireland of the 20s to the 60s - an Ireland that might be portrayed as a glorious and brilliant past, but in its shadows contained all of these personal cases, where people felt ashamed, felt different, were suppressed, dominated and obviously the question of the treatment in the mother and babies homes is a central part of that."
Mr Kenny said babies born out of wedlock "were deemed to be an inferior sub-species".
Infant mortality rates ranged from 30-50% in some of the homes in the 1930s and 1940s.
As part of the inquiry the Catholic and Protestant churches that had any involvement with the homes, or links to religious orders which ran them, are to be asked to open all their records.
Health authorities were given files from many orders after the institutes closed.
It is hoped the inquiry will be carried out in public.
We need to find out more about what this period in our social history was really like and to consider the legacy it has left us as a people.
Catholic Bishops in Ireland
In a statement, Catholic bishops in Ireland apologised for the Church's part in the harrowing conditions that are "continuing to emerge" of life and death in mother and baby homes.
It said: "It is disturbing that the residents of these homes suffered disproportionately high levels of mortality and malnutrition, disease and destitution.
"Sadly we are being reminded of a time when unmarried mothers were often judged, stigmatised and rejected by society, including the Church."
Welcoming the inquiry, the bishops added: "It is important that the commission, and all of us, approach these matters with with compassion, determination and objectivity.
"The Investigation should inquire into how these homes were funded and, crucially, how adoptions were organised, processed and followed up."
The bishops called on anyone involved in setting up, running or overseeing the homes or adoption agencies to gather evidence that could help the probe.
"We will continue to work at a local level to ensure that burial sites are appropriately marked so that the deceased and their families will be recognised with dignity and never be forgotten," they said.
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