The Director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties has said Ireland has several questions to answer on enforced disappearances when it comes to what happened to unmarried mothers and their children throughout the 20th century.

Liam Herrick’s comments come on United Nations International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances.

Enforced disappearance is when a person is detained or abducted with the help of the State and after which the State refuses to disclose their fate or whereabouts.

It is recognised as a crime against humanity when it is widespread or systematic.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Mr Herrick said it was about focusing on the State's obligation and where violations have not been addressed, where there are still individuals who do not have information about their identity, the violation is ongoing.

He said these were questions of law and that the State had very concrete obligations, as laid down by the UN, to "search for the whereabouts of the disappeared, for the identities of the children abducted and for the bodies of those killed, the assistance and the recovery, identification and reburial of those bodies in accordance with the expressed or presumed wish of the victims."

ICCL Director Liam Herrick speaking on Morning Ireland

Mr Herrick continued: "When we look at Tuam [mother-and-baby home], we're talking here about the obligations of the State to take all measures possible to identify the children who died in Tuam.

"And then to, where possible, return the remains to the families.

"We also are talking about a full public investigation into the circumstances of what happened at Tuam and steps being taken to guarantee that nothing of this nature could ever happen in another Irish institution in the future."

Mr Herrick said that while Ireland had not been accused of anything under international law, in recent years a number of UN bodies had increasingly focused on the historical abuses in Ireland when considering its compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by the UN Human Rights Committee and the UN Committee Against Torture.

He said they looked at issues such as the Magdelene Laundries, symphysiotomy, as well as the related issues of forced adoptions and other forms of illegal adoptions in Ireland.

Mr Herrick said the Adoption Information and Tracing Bill, which Minister for Children Katherine Zappone hopes to have signed into law by the end of year, does not go far enough.

The bill seeks to balance the rights of a child to know its birth parents and the rights of the parents to not be found.

"We are talking about the most intrinsic right of a person to know their own identity, which we have in other jurisdictions and I think most pertinently in the neighbouring jurisdictions," Mr Herrick said.

"This was a point that was made by Archbishop Eamon Martin, that in Northern Ireland and in Britain, there is a right of the individual to their birth certificate and the file relating to their early childhood.

"We have a challenge here about church institutions and private institutions refusing to disclose information but the obligation is on the State to address that."