Call for inquiry into mother and baby homes in Northern Ireland

Estimated 7,500 women and girls gave birth in homes in North, says Amnesty NI director

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood: ‘The invasive and pervasive puritanical attitude that allowed these acts, some of them clearly criminal in character, was inflicted on these women and their children by a narrow, close-minded society.’ File photogaph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood: ‘The invasive and pervasive puritanical attitude that allowed these acts, some of them clearly criminal in character, was inflicted on these women and their children by a narrow, close-minded society.’ File photogaph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

The publication of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes in the Republic has prompted calls for a corresponding inquiry in Northern Ireland.

The Northern Executive commissioned research into the homes in Northern Ireland which was carried out by Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University and is due to be published at the end of January.

Amnesty International urged the Executive to go further and initiate a comprehensive inquiry in the North. It said that there were more than a dozen Mother and Baby home-type institutions in Northern Ireland, with the last one closing its doors as recently as the 1990s.

Some 7,500 women and girls gave birth in the Northern Ireland homes, operated by both Catholic and Protestant churches and religious organisations, the organisation said.

Amnesty cited the case of a woman who gave birth to a baby girl at a mother and baby home in 1979 in Northern Ireland and is now taking legal action against the Executive over the failure to set up an inquiry.

“Northern Ireland must now follow the Republic of Ireland and instigate a full-scale inquiry into the appalling tragic scandal of mother and baby homes here,” said Amnesty’s Northern Ireland director Patrick Corrigan.

“These distressing findings echo the serious concerns we have long held about how women and babies were treated in near-identical institutions in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“Women in Northern Ireland have told Amnesty that they suffered arbitrary detention, forced labour, ill-treatment, and the removal and forced adoption of their babies – criminal acts in both domestic and international law,” he added.

“Meanwhile, their babies were branded as ‘illegitimate’ on birth, taken from their mothers as new-borns – some were adopted without consent, while others were put into loveless institutions, only to face death by malnutrition and burial in mass graves.”

He accused the Northern Executive of ignoring victims’ calls for an inquiry. “The Northern Ireland Executive must deliver a human rights compliant investigation into the allegations of systemic human rights abuses at these institutions, and give an apology and redress to those who suffered irreparable damage to their lives.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood also called for an inquiry in Northern Ireland. “The research report into the operation of mother and baby homes in the North is now long overdue. It is unacceptable that survivors of these institutions continue to experience unjustifiable delay that compounds the pain they have to live with,” Mr Eastwood said on Wednesday.

“The truth is that our society, through institutions of faith and the State, exercised a coercive control over new mothers and their babies. The experiences of forced adoption, detention and physical labour are chilling and cannot go unchallenged,” he added.

“The invasive and pervasive puritanical attitude that allowed these acts, some of them clearly criminal in character, was inflicted on these women and their children by a narrow, close-minded society.

“The society that we have become today, and must continue to evolve into, must offer truth, justice and accountability to these survivors. And we must offer them a full apology for their experience. The Executive should move quickly to publish the research report and then call a full public inquiry.”

Later on Wednesday, at a meeting of the Assembly Executive committee, First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill expressed a willingness to address the Mother and Baby issue in Northern Ireland.

“Everything we do will be victim-centred. The victims and survivors have to be part of the design of what comes next,” said Ms O’Neill.