NI expert panel supports inquiry into mother and baby homes

Truth recovery group also advises inclusion of Magdalene laundries, workhouses in inquiry

Survivors Mechelle Dillon (left) and Adele Johnstone after release of the Truth Recovery Design Panel report into mother and baby homes in Northern Ireland, at the Stormont hotel on Tuesday in Belfast. Photograph: Getty

Survivors Mechelle Dillon (left) and Adele Johnstone after release of the Truth Recovery Design Panel report into mother and baby homes in Northern Ireland, at the Stormont hotel on Tuesday in Belfast. Photograph: Getty

 

A panel of experts has recommended a public inquiry be held into mother and baby homes, Magdalene laundries and workhouses in Northern Ireland.

They said there should be immediate redress payments for victims and survivors, and that the Northern Executive should co-operate with the Irish Government to achieve the “maximum possible access to information regarding the operation of cross-Border practices”.

The panel also recommended “all state, religious and other institutions, agencies, organisations and individuals complicit in the processes of institutionalisation and forced labour, family separation and adoption to act without delay in issuing unqualified apologies”.

Panel member Prof Phil Scraton said what was proposed was an “unprecedented process” but it was now time for the inter-generational pain and suffering inflicted on victims, survivors and families “to be recognised and the full truth revealed”.

Solicitor Owen Beattie of KRW Law, which represents a number of victims and survivors, welcomed the report and said it was a “momentous day” for their clients.

“The panel’s seismic recommendations bring long overdue acknowledgment of their pain and suffering as well as offering a totally victim-centred process to help bring closure,” he said.

The recommendations made by the panel will now be considered by the Northern Executive.

First Minister Paul Givan said the voices of victims and survivors “are being heard” and that he hoped the Executive would be in a position to take definitive decisions on the next steps in the investigation within the “next couple of weeks”.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said she would support the recommendations and would advocate at the Executive that they be adopted in full.

The report by the Truth Recovery Design Panel was published in Belfast on Tuesday. The panel was commissioned by the Executive to work with victims and survivors to design the format of the investigation which Ministers committed to following the publication of academic research into experiences at mother and baby and homes and Magdalene laundries earlier this year.

Workhouses were subsequently added to the scope of the panel following representation from victims and survivors.

The 534-page report by academics at Queen’s and Ulster universities, which was published in January, found 10,500 women were admitted to mother and baby institutions and about 3,000 women to Magdalene laundries in the North between 1922 and 1990. It found women in the institutions were ill-treated, held against their will and forced to give up their babies, with at least 550 babies sent across the Border for adoption.

‘Without delay’

Deirdre Mahon, who chaired the panel, said the decision to set up an investigation, while welcome, had “come too late for many” and it was therefore “essential that these recommendations are acted on without delay”.

The panel’s recommendations included the “urgent appointment” of a non-statutory independent group of experts, including those with personal experience, to identify and access institutions’ and other state and privately-held documents and to hear personal testimonies.

It should “support victims-survivors and relatives of those deceased to receive information previously denied. And it should investigate current and past human rights violations arising from institutionalisation and family separation”.

This should inform the terms of reference for and provide support as necessary to the statutory public inquiry.

Legislation should be “introduced without delay” to appoint the statutory public inquiry with “powers to compel production of documents and hear evidence under oath”.

There should also be immediate new legislation to secure access to records for survivors and their families, including a statutory bar on the destruction of records and the creation of a dedicated permanent archive of historical institutional and adoption records which the report’s authors said should operate alongside “a similar archive already promised by the Government of Ireland”.