Queen’s University rejects claims of ‘body donation scheme’ with mother and baby homes

Campaigner says college used the remains of 1,980 people from mother and baby homes for research purposes

Queen’s University Belfast 'strongly refutes a number of unfounded allegations' made at the Stormont committee session

Queen’s University Belfast has “strongly refuted” figures given to a Stormont committee by a campaigner who said the remains of almost 2,000 people from mother and baby homes and workhouses were used by the institution for research purposes.

In a statement to The Irish Times, Queen’s said 1,055 bodies were donated to the university between 1922 and 1970. According to its current records, five of these came from mother and baby homes and none had taken place for more than 50 years. The remainder came from a variety of sources, including workhouses and hospitals.

“This figure is significantly lower than quoted” at the Committee for the Executive Office session, the university said.

On Wednesday Eunan Duffy from Truth Recovery NI told the committee that the remains of 1,980 adults, children and babies had been used for research at Queen’s, and in the case of 1,824, it was not known what happened to their remains and body parts thereafter.


Mr Duffy – who was taken from his mother for adoption after he was born in Marianvale mother and baby home in Newry – called for an expedited investigation and a public information campaign to raise awareness.

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

On Thursday Queen’s said it “strongly refutes a number of unfounded allegations” made at the committee session “around its handling of a body donation scheme in relation to mother and baby homes”.

The university said of the 1,055 bodies it had received for the teaching of anatomy, its records showed that the “vast majority have been buried or cremated by the university”, as the family have requested.

“In the instances where families requested the body be returned, the university does not hold a burial or cremation record.

“Records are currently subject to our digitisation project as part of our ongoing commitment to review and collate historical records,” Queen’s said.

“It has been reaffirmed that the acquisition, use and burial or cremation of bodies received at Queen’s has been carried out in full compliance with the legislative frameworks in place at the time. We fully understand the sensitivities around the issues and will continue to engage with relevant parties including attendance at the next Executive Office Committee on this matter,” the university said.

Remains of almost 2,000 people used at Queen’s University Belfast, Stormont committee toldOpens in new window ]

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 preparatory work is under way on an independent inquiry into the operation of mother and baby homes and Magdalene laundries run by the Catholic and Protestant churches after research by Queen’s and Ulster University found 13,500 women were admitted to those institutions between 1922 and 1990.

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times