CONGREGATIONS involved in the mother and baby homes scandal should not be scapegoated for the mistreatment of the women and children in their care, according to the Catholic Primate of All Ireland.
In an appearance on the RTÉ's This Week programme, Archbishop Eamon Martin said: "They were commissioned by the State and local authorities, county councils and expected to intervene when the rest of society had basically banished these mothers.
"They found themselves in the frontline."
There is "clear evidence that the day-to-day running of these institutions was very harsh," Martin conceded, while also noting that they were inspected and overseen by state authorities.
"As soon as women and children went into these places, society didn't seem to want to know any more, be they living or dead.
"If it's just, proportionate and if it's in account of the findings of the commission, I do feel the church needs to do reparation for this. I accept that," he added.
Commenting on calls for a redress scheme, Mr Martin said: "I think we can show our apologies are sincere by being willing to contribute in any way we can.
"Minister O'Gorman [Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth] since has asked for the Church to make a contribution to whatever restorative scheme is put in place.
"I do think religious congregations will be willing to play their part generously."
The details - unearthed by a six-year-long investigation - of how the homes were run, as well as hearing the testimonies of survivors, has evoked a "very deep sadness" from many in the church, the Archbishop said.
"We are shamed, really, to realise and think of the number of vulnerable women and their unborn children and then their infants who were stigmatised and shamed and excluded from their homes and families.
"Essentially they were banished by society with all of their rights largely ignored by everyone," he continued.
When asked about the failure of individuals from religious orders to account for where babies were buried, the Archbishop said: "I think we are dealing with people who society did not care about and forgot.
"I do know the sisters said they commissioned researchers and historians to try to locate for definite with evidence where people were buried.
"I would ask anyone who knows anything about the burial of these dear children to come forward so their graves can be identified and appropriately marked."
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has offered assurances that the Adoption and Tracing Bill, helping survivors to access their birth records and trace their biological relatives, will be brought through at "full speed".
Mr Ryan also confirmed that survivors of the homes will be granted the broadest possible access to their personal information, and that the application of "good GDPR principles" will help the Government to bring the laws into effect.
"Everyone does have or should have to the greater extent possible access to their records," he continued, while adding that this shameful and tragic period can never be forgotten.
"We can in some way help by making sure all the records are available for everyone to the greatest extent possible."
It has emerged that some pharmaceutical companies conducted vaccine trials on babies born within the institutions. When asked whether these institutions should contribute toward a redress scheme, Mr Ryan said the matter will be considered by Government in due course.
The substance of the mother and baby homes report has been questioned by some, such as Fine Gael Senator and Leader of the Seanad Regina Doherty, who described it as "callous", and urged for an independent review into its findings and conclusions.
"It's not good enough to stand alone as the nation's response to generations of women who were mistreated at the hands of the church and the State", she said on RTÉ's Weekend on One.