Senator Martin McAleese will head an investigation into the state's role in alleged abuse at the Magdalene laundries.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter appointed President Mary McAleese's husband to oversee a committee set up to clarify any state interaction with the notorious workhouses.
An international torture watchdog has urged a statutory inquiry involving the religious congregations who ran the homes, prosecutions where necessary and victim compensation.
But Mr Shatter stopped short of a full inquiry for now, saying there was a need to fully establish the facts and circumstances relating to the Magdalene laundries "as a first step".
Senator McAleese confirmed he has accepted the role as chairman of the Magdalene Laundries Inter-departmental Committee.
"I look forward to working with the committee and hope our report will make a valuable contribution to this issue," he said.
The recently-appointed senator said he would make no further public comment until the work of the committee is complete.
The committee has been ordered to make an initial report to Cabinet within three months of its first meeting.
Mr Shatter said Senator McAleese's work in the peace process and his contribution to Irish life had been widely recognised.
"He is a person of the highest integrity whose presence on the committee will, I believe, both enhance its stature and, importantly, reassure everyone concerned that the role of chairperson of the inter-departmental committee is a truly independent one," he said.