The Government has announced a twin-track approach to investigating the circumstances of the women and girls who resided in the Magdalene laundries.

It has said it is essential to 'fully establish the true facts and circumstances' relating to the laundries.

This evening's Cabinet meeting agreed to establish an inter-departmental committee, chaired by an independent person, to clarify the State's interaction with the laundries, which is to make an initial report within three months.

Separately, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter and Minister of State Kathleen Lynch are to meet with groups of residents to ensure all available information will be shared.

The Government has also pledged to find out how many people are still in the care of the religious, having started that care in the laundries.

It said a 'restorative and reconciliation process and the structure that might be utilised to facilitate such process' will also be put in place.

The Justice for Magdalene Group has welcomed the news.

It has pledged to participate with the inquiry and share the knowledge it has gathered over the years.

However, the Magdalene Survivors Together group has criticised the decision to hold another inquiry and said the Government is 'already aware of the facts'.

Sinn Féin Justice Spokesperson Jonathan O'Brien said he welcomed the Government's move, but said it should have used the statement to make an apology to the women and girls.

Last week, the UN Committee Against Torture said the Government should establish an independent statutory inquiry into allegations of abuse in the ten laundries where women and girls worked without pay.

Responding to the ruling, the four orders of nuns who ran the residential institutions said they would be willing to co-operate with any inquiry that would bring 'greater clarity, understanding, healing and justice in the interests of all the women involved.'

Minister Shatter welcomed the statement as 'an important step forward'.

Most of the laundries closed in the 1960s.

No change on Cloyne

The Department of Justice's spokesman also said there was no change in the situation regarding the Cloyne report.

Last week, Minister Shatter said an application to the High Court might be necessary if agreement could not be reached 'in the coming days' concerning 'redactions' that need to be made before the publication of the report.

The minister said discussions on finalising the redacted portion of the report were ongoing and that this process has taken considerable time.

Last April, the High Court cleared the way for the report's publication, with the exception of references to one individual against whom there are criminal proceedings.

The Cloyne report follows a two-year investigation by a commission headed by Circuit Court Judge Yvonne Murphy.

It looked into the handling by church and State authorities of clerical child sexual abuse allegations in the Catholic Diocese of Cloyne.