Ireland confronted one of the darkest chapters of its past yesterday with the publication of a report detailing how 9000 children died in state-run homes for youngsters born out of wedlock.
The 3000-page report was the result of an inquiry into "appalling" levels of mortality at Ireland's "mother and baby" homes between the 1920s and 1990s.
The Taoiseach, Mícheál Martin, is expected to make a formal apology to survivors of the homes today. Roughly 15 per cent of the 57,000 children who passed through the homes over the decades died, a figure far higher than wider norms.
Critics say the high death rate was symptomatic of institutional abuse and neglect towards the unmarried mothers, in what was then still a staunchly Catholic nation.
"The report makes clear that for decades, Ireland had a stifling, oppressive and brutally misogynistic culture," said Ireland's Children's Minister, Roderic O'Gorman.
"A pervasive stigmatisation of unmarried mothers and their children robbed those individuals of their agency and sometimes their future."
The inquiry was launched after the remains of nearly 800 children were found buried in an unofficial graveyard in the grounds of the St Mary's mother and baby home in Tuam in County Galway in 2014. The home operated between 1925 and 1961.
Official records showed the children as dying from illnesses including tuberculosis, convulsions, measles, whooping cough, and influenza.
Government records show that the mortality rate for children at the homes - which housed rape victims and mothers as young as 12 - were more than five times that of those born to married parents.
The homes, which were run mainly by nuns, were the subject of the 2013 Oscar-nominated film Philomena, starring Dame Judi Dench. It charted the failed efforts of Philomena Lee to find a son she was forced to give up as an unwed teenager.
Martin said the report had shed light on a "a dark, difficult and shameful chapter of very recent Irish history."
The government is expected to compensate some survivors of the homes, and also support work to exhume and identify remains of other children who died in them. The inquiry is the latest in a series of official probes that have tarnished the standing of the Catholic Church in Ireland, once seen as all-powerful.
Other scandals have included paedophile priests, abuse at workhouses, and forced adoptions of babies, prompting Pope Francis to begged forgiveness during his visit to Ireland in 2018.
The report also criticised the Irish state for being historically reluctant to legalise adoption, because of fears that children might end up in non-Catholic families.
It said: "Concerns, however far-fetched, that State-regulated adoption would result in Catholic children being adopted by parents of a different religion were a factor in delaying the introduction of legal adoption in Ireland until 1952."
Anna Corrigan, whose two brothers John and William Dolan are recorded as having died at the home for unmarried mothers in Tuam, said: "My heart is breaking for every survivor."