The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes will not be asked to examine illegal adoptions that took place outside such institutions.
Minister for Children Katherine Zappone said the plight of the decreasing number of survivors was one reason she had asked the commission to advise on whether the investigation’s scope should be widened.
The commission was set up in January 2015 following allegations about the deaths of 800 babies at a former Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, Co Galway.
Allegations of widespread malnutrition in this and other Catholic Church-run homes also prompted the last government to establish the commission.
Over 400 potential witnesses have come forward following a public call-out by commission.
Because of this the commission has been granted an extension to the time frame for the publication of two of the three reports it is preparing which the cabinet signed off on yesterday.
The commission said it remains committed to completing its investigations within the three year time-frame provided in the terms of reference. All reports are now due to be completed by February 2018.
Minister Zappone said the extension will not delay the government’s response to the commission’s findings.
In a statement, she said:
“The extension is to accommodate the large number of witnesses coming forward and to ensure that all new information discovered is accurately recorded to give a full understanding of the social history involved.
“The case put forward for the extension was convincing. The commission points out that the number of confidential hearings with witnesses is expected to reach 500, with 150 witnesses already meeting with the confidential committee to date.
“I accept that the extension will cause disappointment, and I have asked that representative groups are fully informed not just about the decision but the background on which it was made. I will make arrangements to meet representative groups in September.”
During the last century many single mothers, who never lived in mother and baby homes, gave birth in hospital only to have their babies taken from them by church-based adoption societies, which arranged for the children to be sent to families, frequently abroad.