When he apologised in the Dáil last month - on behalf of the Irish people - to the survivors of mother-and-baby homes, the Taoiseach said it was the "duty of a republic to be willing to hold itself to account".

More than six weeks after the publication of the report, and the sort of accountability Micheál Martin spoke of seems for many survivors, campaign groups and politicians, to remain stubbornly out of reach.

The Commission of Investigation into Mother-and-Baby Homes, which carried out the examination and compiled an almost 3,000-page report, is dissolved as of today.

As it goes up in a puff of smoke, it leaves behind the smoulders of questions for survivors, who wonder who they should turn to for answers. 

The Testimonies

One of the most pressing of these questions - around what would happen to the personal testimonies given by survivors - has, the Government argues, been adequately addressed.

On Monday night, on the eve of a Dáil debate on a motion to extend the term of the commission, it was announced that the previously "irretrievable" audio recordings of some 549 personal testimonies had been recovered.

This "positive development", according to Minister for Children Roderic O'Gorman, would be a "reassurance" to survivors and meant it was "not clear what practical purpose can be achieved" by extending the commission.

The Dáil motion, and the calls to extend the lifetime of the commission had largely been prompted by concerns about the destruction of these testimonies, something that was revealed in the report itself.

Minister for Children Roderic O'Gorman

It stated that witnesses were asked to record their evidence "on the clear understanding that the recordings would be used only as an aide memoire for the researcher when compiling the report, and would then be destroyed".

The commission's argument, according to Minister O'Gorman's articulation of it, was that this was done "to ensure the anonymity it had promised".

The problem was that a number of survivors had claimed they were not told their evidence would be destroyed and their consent had not been given to do so.

Furthermore, they believe their stories were not properly reflected in the final report and would therefore never be told - their voices would never be heard.

After engagement with the minister, the commission told him on Monday that a database file, including 549 audio recordings, was restored from back-up tapes by an IT expert.

Minister O'Gorman told the Dáil that a random sample of these files was tested by the IT expert to ensure that the files could be heard. As of today, those audio records will be handed over to the Department of Children.

But to many, that is not the end of the matter.

"Major questions remain unanswered as to why the commission originally deleted the recordings," according to Dr Meave O'Rourke - a human rights lawyer and co-director of the Clann Project which brings together a number of organisations aiming to seek the truth about what happened to unmarried mothers in Ireland in the 20th century.

She says the recordings should never have been destroyed in the first place, without creating a full verbatim transcript, without sending a copy of the interview to the witness and without notifying anyone in writing that they would be deleted.

She says doing so is prohibited under section 43 of the Commission of Investigations Act, the National Archives Act of 1986 and under EU GDPR regulations.

Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore, who tabled the Dáil motion, said that survivors are being asked to take a "leap of faith" that all testimonies will be available and intact when they ask for them and that no survivor will be left "empty handed".

Referring to newspaper quotes of the commission just last weekend saying: "We are strongly of the view that [the recordings] should not be retrieved for legal and moral reasons," Deputy Whitmore asked: "What happens in a week's time if it is discovered that some elements of the testimonies are gone?" With the commission no longer in existence: "Who will answer for that and be accountable?"

Social Democrats TD, Jennifer Whitmore

That does not seem out of the bounds of possibility, considering the scale of what it is dealing with.

Some 100,000 documents, 900,000 pages and 120,000 persons may be referenced in the entirety of the archive that will be passed today from the Commission to the Department of Children, according to Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon.

She said there are risks involved in such a body of information changing hands.

"Our concern at this stage is that the Commission of Investigation was the expert in its own archives. Clearly it knows its way around these, it created the archives, it worked on this commission for five years," she told RTÉ's Today with Claire Byrne.

"So, there is really a need for the department now to mitigate what are high risks in taking over an archive of this nature."

Data Protection Commissioner, Helen Dixon.

Ms Dixon said the department, in taking over the archive, should have a "clear understanding of what factors the commission considered" when they decided to delete the audio recordings in the first place.

She said transparency "seems to be lacking for witnesses" and it is "extremely important" that they understand the factors and whether they are still in play.

She said she would assume that her office will not now be able to have further contact with the commission, to ask it questions or interrogate it once it is gone.

Which brings us to another one of the arguments being made to extend it. 

The Right to Challenge

As well as the right to witnesses to receive their testimony in both audio and fully transcribed form, Dr O’Rourke argues they "must be facilitated to challenge and correct where, if anywhere, their testimony is misrepresented in the commission's final report".

It is on this basis of access to justice that she, and others, believe the biggest problem with dismantling the commission lies.

A judicial review is where people can apply to the High Court to challenge the decision-making process of a public body. The deadline for any survivors taking this course in relation to the mother-and-baby homes report is on 11 April - three months after the publication of the final report.

Deputy Whitmore has argued to the Dáil that survivors who believe their testimonies are not accurately reflected in the final report cannot prove this to be the case without access to the transcripts or recordings of those testimonies. The retrieval of them means they can show any discrepancies if they exist.

"The dissolution poses a threat to access to justice, because it is not clear if judicial review actions can proceed against a non-existent commission," says Dr O'Rourke.

The minister was asked in the Dáil a number of times on Tuesday whether he could guarantee access to judicial review will be available to the survivors if the commission ceases to exist.

"Is the minister happy to step in to the shoes of the commission, as the most important person in the Government in this matter, if there is a judicial review?" asked the Independent TD for Galway West, Catherine Connolly.

The minister did not give any such assurances, despite being asked a number of times. Dr O'Rourke is calling on him to guarantee that he will stand in as 'legitimus contradictor' - a legal term to mean he would take the place of the commission in order to defend applications for judicial review of the commission's final report.

"Otherwise, the commission should be extended," she says.

Social Democrat TD, Holly Cairns

Holly Cairns of the Social Democrats has asked: "Should a mother not be entitled to a judicial review challenge to the findings that there is no evidence of coerced or forced adoption, or that labour in the homes was not abusive but simply what women would be expected to do in the home?"

These findings are some of the causes for dissatisfaction with the final report, meaning a number of judicial reviews can be expected.

For example, it finds that there is no evidence that women were forced to enter these homes by church or State authorities; that they were always free to leave; that they were not incarcerated in the strictest sense; that there was very little evidence that children were forcibly taken from their mothers (it accepts that mothers did not have much choice but this is not the same as "forced" adoption).

These findings, according to Dr O'Rourke, will have a massive bearing not just on Ireland's historical record and how future generations are educated, but also - and more urgently - on the scope for redress.

She refers to a quote from a spokesperson for the commission, reported in The Irish Times, that: "The report is there, it is not going to be revised," pointing out: "They are saying: 'here is our monopoly view on history, it is not changing, you can like it or lump it.' But any survivor has the right to bring a case requesting the High Court to invalidate any of the findings."

This all begs the question: was the Commission of Investigation the appropriate way to examine how women and their babies were treated?

The right approach?

The entire controversy around the recordings may not have arisen at all if people felt their narratives, their stories and histories were adequately reflected in the report, according to Labour Party TD Sean Sherlock.

"So great was the damage done by inaccurately reflecting the trauma of people that we have now reached the point where this House is calling for an extension of the commission's remit to deal with the matter," he told the Dáil.

He was not the only one who appeared to be left with a sense that the very body tasked with finding answers about the past, was itself not answerable.

The Government has been at pains to stress that the commission is independent and when asked about the destruction of phone recordings on 17 February, the Taoiseach told the Dáil there were "limits" to what Government could do about it.

"I am not a member of the commission. The commission decided to do this and I do not know why it did so," Micheál Martin said in response to Catherine Connolly.

He added that no member of Government was involved in the commission's work and "that is important, because the impression is being given that the Government could do something now about how the commission operated. It cannot".

The problem with this response is that the commission itself chose not to come before the Oireachtas Children's Committee to answer questions, they did not conduct any media interviews or press conference.

So TDs had nowhere to turn with their questions other than to Government. 

Site of the former home in Tuam in Co Galway

When Deputy Whitmore asked about the destruction of the recordings, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the commission was "not controlled by Government or a creature of Government".

He did suggest that "one of the flaws in the process is an independent body like a commission can spend five years hearing evidence, examining evidence and making its report, but then it is not there to explain it.

"One is left, as a Government minister, trying to explain a report that one had no role in actually drawing up. I do not blame the members of the commission for that in any way, but if we are going to do another inquiry on a similar issue, we need to look at a better way to do it."

The suggestion is that, for an issue as sensitive as this one, maybe the Commission of Investigation approach was not the right one.

But Dr O'Rourke argues that the Commissions of Investigation Act "had many strong aspects that were not utilised" in the examination of mother-and-baby homes.

For example, she says it could have held some of its hearings in public and given witnesses access to evidence gathered, or a draft copy of the final report to individuals who are identifiable.

Retired Supreme Court Judge, Catherine McGuinness, said some of the criticism of the commission has been "over the top" and that this will make it less likely that people will be members of such bodies in the future.

However, she said there was nothing to prevent the members appearing before Oireachtas committees and this was done by report authors in the past.

Whatever route any such inquiries take in the future, there is a lingering sense of incompleteness around the exercise that was undertaken to find out the truth about what happened in the mother-and-baby homes.

As the commission shuts up shop today, the Government leaves itself open to accusations from the Opposition that it did not bring about the sort of accountability that was promised. Given that cover up has been the hallmark of the handling of these issues in the past, nothing less than full transparency can be politically acceptable in the future.

The Government's task was to ensure this great stain on our history was cleansed. The remaining questions mean that smudges still remain.