The case for a public inquiry into Northern Ireland's Mother and Baby Homes and linked institutions seems unassailable. Reports by Kathryn Torney of Detail Data published in this newspaper over recent days make clear that in the middle decades of the last century, particularly, treatment of children in such institutions north of the Border was every bit as negligent as already reported to be the case in the Republic over the same period.
Amnesty International and Birth Mothers and Their Children for Justice NI held an event in Belfast this week to highlight their call for a public inquiry into the former homes. In the Republic such homes are currently being scrutinised by the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, due to report next Spring.
From what has emerged in both jurisdictions, it is clear infants in some children’s institutions and mother and baby homes died of malnutrition. Comparative poverty at the time, and the fact the second World War was in progress in instances, does not adequately explain why so many children died of such causes in homes on this island.
What is clear, north and south, is that these children were treated as being of little value by those responsible for their care, either at Church or State level.
Although statutory authorities in both jurisdictions failed miserably in honouring their duty to these most vulnerable of their charges, ultimate responsibility must lie with the Churches who, in the main, ran the institutions and whose thinking provided the framework within which care was provided at the time.
That thinking was dominated by a theology wherein competing churches believed it was acceptable to take risks with a child’s health and physical wellbeing rather than allow a different church institution or the State assist with its care. The children were not the only ones affected. So were their so-called carers, trained to suppress human emotion in devotion to a primitive concept of God for whom this life was seen as a mere testing ground.