An investigation into mother and baby homes and Magdalene laundries in Northern Ireland "must not repeat the mistakes of past inquiries", Amnesty International has warned.
The human rights body's programme director in the North, Patrick Corrigan, was speaking ahead of the launch later today (Monday) of a series of online events by Amnesty and Ulster University to help survivors contribute to the design of a forthcoming inquiry.
They will include speakers with experience of inquiries into institutional abuse in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Australia and Canada.
In January Northern Ireland's First Minister, Arlene Foster, announced there would be an "independent, victim-centred" investigation into eight mother and baby homes and four Magdalen laundries run by Catholic and Protestant churches and local authorities between 1922 and 1990.
It followed the publication of research by academics from Queen's University, Belfast and Ulster University which outlined for the first time the suffering and stigma experienced in such institutions by women, girls and their babies.
Earlier this month the North’s Executive commissioned a panel of experts to work with survivors to establish the terms of reference for the investigation. They are due to report within six months.
Launching the event, Professor Patricia Lundy of Ulster University highlighted the lack of prosecutions following the Historical Institutional Abuse [HIA]Inquiry in Northern Ireland, which reported in 2017, and said the same could not be allowed to happen with the investigation into mother and baby homes.
According to data obtained by Prof Lundy and Mr Corrigan as the result of Freedom of Information request, following the HIA Inquiry 190 complaints of criminal activity were passed to the police, with 77 subsequently reported to prosecutors.
“However, we understand that no prosecutions have resulted,” Prof Lundy said. “In designing the inquiry into Mother and Baby institutions, it will be important to build in a real prospect of criminal prosecution if that is where the evidence points.”
“Survivors have a right to both truth and justice,” Mr Corrigan said. “Yet, despite a 2300-page report from the HIA Inquiry detailing a litany of crimes and human rights abuses, victims got precious little justice.
“This new series of events will help survivors of mother and baby homes institutions in their work of co-designing the investigation into the abuses they suffered. We must not repeat the mistakes of past inquiries.”
A spokeswoman for the North’s Public Prosecution Service (PPS) said it was “fully committed to prosecuting allegations of sexual abuse, including those of a historical nature, where there is the evidence to do so and where it is in the public interest.”
She said prosecutors understood it is “deeply disappointing when a victim is informed a case cannot proceed to court” but this should not deter anyone from coming forward to report allegations to police.
In a statement, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said it had a "dedicated team within the Public Protection Branch for the investigation of non-recent physical and sexual abuse against children.
“Officers would encourage anyone who has been the victim of non-recent abuse to come forward and report it to police. Specially trained officers care about what you have to say, will listen and support you, and will act to keep you and others safe.”
The first event, which includes Breeda Murphy of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home Alliance and Dr James Gallen, expert advisor on mother and baby homes to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, will be available to view online from March 29th at amnesty.org.uk/motherandbabyinquiry. –Additional reporting - PA.