The Oireachtas has passed without objection revised terms of reference for the commission of investigation into the case of a woman known as 'Grace' and 46 others at a foster home in the southeast.

Minister of State with special responsibility for Disabilities Finian McGrath, who removed the original motion following a debate on Tuesday, introduced the revised terms of reference to the Dáil and Seanad this afternoon.

It paves the way for the commission of inquiry to begin its work under Senior Council Marjorie Farrelly.

An interim report is expected to be completed in six months and a final report in 12 months.

The commission will carry out its work in two phases; the first will focus on 'Grace', who was left in a foster home for 13 years after allegations of sexual abuse emerged.

The second will deal with the other 46 individuals who passed through the home and the treatment of the whistleblowers.

In the Dáil, Minister McGrath said the revised terms will now ensure that the 46 cases of others identified as having stayed with the family in the southeast will be looked into, which he said was always his intention.

The terms take account of concerns raised at the Public Accounts Committee this morning over inclusion of previous appearances by HSE representatives, he added.

Fianna Fáil TD Margaret Murphy O'Mahony said she and her colleague John McGuinness, who had pushed for wider terms of reference, welcomed the new terms of reference, describing them as clear and said they avoid doubt.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Mr McGuinness said there had to be transparency and accountability, and an end to the protection of the State at the expense of individuals.

Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin also welcomed the terms, however he said one false start was one too many.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin said it was clear that the original terms of reference were not comprehensive; he welcomed the changes and commended Minister McGrath.

Other abuse cases 'out there'

Addressing the Seanad this afternoon, the minister said there are other abuse cases "out there".

There is a dark part of Irish society, he said, but added that there is a need to look at it in a broader context of the State, institutions and broader society.

Mr McGrath said he did not want to have a commission of inquiry get the results and have no accountability. He said there had to be accountability.

The minister told senators that the estimated cost of the commission is €5 million.

Responding to Fine Gael Senator Colm Burke, the minister said he had rather spend the €5m on respite services in Galway, Cork or Dublin. He said it was frustrating from his point of view, but "we have to get to the truth".

Fianna Fáil Senator Aidan Davitt expressed concern over the six-month target for phase one, saying he felt it was too long for the interim report.

Minister McGrath said he did not think it was too long and that it was an achievable target. 

He added that the commission will be entitled to compel witnesses.

Mr McGrath put on the record of the house that there are wonderful foster parents throughout the State who do a fantastic job. "Without those foster parents, we'd have a major crisis in childcare services," he said.

He reiterated an apology to 'Grace' and her family for "what was done to her". The minister said it was always his intention that there would be a second phase in the investigation, but the first focus would be on 'Grace'.

He said he made no apologies for getting answers for 'Grace' first and for others after that.

Mr McGrath said he listened to the concerns raised and points of view "argued passionately" by members of the Oireachtas over the past few days and revised the terms of reference so they would be more specific.

However, a solicitor who has been approached by a significant number of wider families affected by the 'Grace' foster home scandal says they remain disappointed with the new terms of reference.

Sinéad Carroll of Cantillons Solicitors says the families feel their loved ones are being treated as "second class" cases and want to know why their family members are any different or any less important than 'Grace'.

Ms Carroll said the families do not want to take away from the importance of the 'Grace' case but some families still do not have basic answers to questions, such as were their loved ones abused and now they are being asked to wait another 12 months to get answers specific to their cases.

Whistleblowers concerned terms do not go far enough

Meanwhile, the two whistleblowers at the centre of the 'Grace' case have expressed concerns that they still do not go far enough.

The whistleblowers have questioned how 'Grace's' case can be investigated in isolation and without a parallel investigation of what was known in relation to other people who spent time at the foster home.

These remaining 46 cases are due to be investigated as part of phase two of the commission's work.

However, the whistleblowers have said they do not understand how a thorough investigation can be completed without a wider context and expect that from a practical point of view at least some of the other 46 cases will have to be included in phase one.

They added they understand why the other families are aggrieved and share their concerns, saying many of these families have never had a proper review of their cases and so have no findings to date.

The whistleblowers added that while the revised terms state that phase two will undertake an investigation of the recommendations in the report of Conor Dignam SC, the terms omit Mr Dignam's recommendation to look at "allegations of cover up". This, they say, is of serious concern.

Concerns have also been expressed that the revised terms will only examine interactions by the South Eastern Health Board and the HSE with 'Grace's' birth mother up until 17 July 2009.

This period will exclude the HSE's mishandling of an apology to 'Grace' and her mother as emerged at a hearing of the Public Accounts Committee early last year.

Read the Terms of Reference in full