Remains of almost 2,000 people from mother and baby homes used at Queen’s University Belfast

Stormont committee told it is not known what happened to vast majority of remains and body parts after use in research and teaching

The chair of the committee said Queen’s University Belfast had been invited to the evidence session but 'didn’t have anyone available'.

The remains of almost 2,000 adults, children and babies from mother and baby homes and workhouses in the North were used for anatomical research and teaching by Queen’s University Belfast, a Stormont committee has been told.

Eunan Duffy, from Truth Recovery NI, told the Committee for the Executive Office on Wednesday that of the 1,980 people he was aware of whose remains were used for research at Queen’s, in the vast majority of cases it was not known what happened to their remains and body parts thereafter. “Eighteen-hundred-and-twenty-four are effectively disappeared,” he said.

Mr Duffy called for an expedited investigation and a public information campaign to raise awareness.

The chair of the committee, the Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw, said Queen’s had been invited to the evidence session but “didn’t have anyone available”.


In 2019, the Commission of Investigation of the Mother and Baby Homes in the Republic of Ireland found that more than 950 children who died in Irish mother and baby homes were sent to medical schools at UCD, Trinity and the Royal College of Surgeons for dissection for anatomical study between 1920 and 1977.

Under the 1832 Anatomy Act, the use of bodies of “unclaimed deceased residents” from workhouses and psychiatric hospitals for research purposes in medical schools was legal and was “common practice” in Ireland and the UK until the mid-1960s.

In Northern Ireland, an independent inquiry into the operation of mother and baby homes and Magdalene laundries run by the Catholic and Protestant churches was ordered in 2021 after research by Queen’s and Ulster University found 13,500 women were admitted to those institutions between 1922 and 1990.

A Truth Recovery Independent Panel has been set up and preparatory work is under way, including around the design of the inquiry.

Mr Duffy also said there were concerns, which “had so far gone uninvestigated”, that babies and children in mother and baby homes in the North had been used in drug and vaccine trials without their consent, as had been identified in the Commission’s report in the South.

He said he had “information that 44 children an unnamed children’s residential institution [in Northern Ireland] in 1962 were subjected to a drug and vaccine trial”.

Mr Duffy – who was taken from his mother, who had been sent to Marianvale mother and baby home in Newry, shortly after birth – approached drug company GlaxoSmithKline in 2018 to see if he had been subjected to any such trial while in the home.

“They told me that because the trials weren’t published, it was highly unlikely that I was subjected to a trial, which is completely unacceptable,” he said.

The committee also heard from forensic archaeologist and campaigner Toni Maguire, who outlined difficulties accessing records – particularly when seeking to obtain them from the Catholic church – and finding where the remains of the dead were buried.

Calling for cross-Border communication to be “put in place” between the investigatory commissions, she said she had “real hope” for the inquiry in the North.

“Historically, we did not have the hand-in-glove relationship that the church and the state had in the South,” she said. “So long as the commission here has sufficient teeth, records exist, and they need to be able to go after them and get them.”

In a statement, Queen’s said it “continues to work with all partners involved in relation to the body donation scheme.

“It has been reaffirmed that the acquisition, use and disposal of human material at Queen’s has been carried out in full compliance with the legislative frameworks in place at the time.

“As part of our ongoing commitment to review and collate historical records, we are undertaking a record digitisation project which will enable searchable information to be easily accessed from 1927 to the present day,” a spokeswoman said.

This story was updated at 17.49 on June 19th to correct an error.

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times