Independent Inquiry to examine Mother and Baby homes in Northern Ireland

The Northern Ireland Executive announced yesterday that an independent investigation into mother and baby homes will be carried out.

The announcement has been made following yesterday’s publication of the research report on historical Mother and Baby Homes and Magdalene Laundries between 1922 and 1990.

The research was commissioned by the Executive’s Inter-Departmental Working Group on Mother and Baby Homes, Magdalene Laundries and Historical Clerical Child Abuse.

It examined eight Mother and Baby Homes, a number of former workhouses and four Magdalene Laundries.

The research found that around 10,500 women were admitted to Mother and Baby institutions and around 3,000 women were admitted to Magdalene Laundries here between 1922 and 1990 – the period covered by the research.

Ministers have agreed that the independent investigation should be shaped by survivors through a co-design process, which will be facilitated by experts and completed within six months.

The First Minister Arlene Foster said that “This is an important day for women and children who were resident in Mother and Baby Homes and Magdalene Laundries.” and that “It is with deep regret that I acknowledge the pain of those experiences and the hurt caused to women and girls who did nothing more than be pregnant outside of marriage, some of them because they were victims of criminal acts. It was shameful how so many of these women were treated. The accounts of cold and uncaring treatment are truly harrowing; and the separation of mothers from their children a terrible legacy.”

The Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said that “The research report into Mother and Baby homes and Magdalene Laundries is a difficult read, but an important step towards addressing the harm caused to survivors and the pain they have endured. It gives a sad and troubling insight into the lived experiences of the thousands of women and girls, and their now adult children, who suffered in these institutions.”

The Health Minister Robin Swann welcomed the publication of the report and said that “It not only gives us a sorrowful insight into the experiences of the women who were resident in these institutions, but increases our understanding of the devastating impact their treatment had on the rest of their lives.

The report identified strong similarities with the experience of women examined in the recent report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes in the Republic of Ireland, although there were a number of key differences. 

In commenting on the Mother and Baby homes the report noted that:

  • There was stigma attached to pregnancy outside of marriage;
  • The women and girls were admitted by families, doctors, priests and state agencies;
  • Many of the women and girls were required to undertake tough chores late into pregnancy;
  • There was limited preparation for childbirth and the women were often criticised and chastised when giving birth;
  • Many women and girls were separated from their children by placing them in children’s homes, boarding them out (fostering) or through adoption;
  • The report also identified issues with the cross-border movement of women and children into and out of these institutions;
  • The report found that some questions about adoption and infant mortality rates remain unanswered and will require further examination.

In its analysis of the Magdalene Laundries the report found that:

  • Women and girls entered by a number of routes, including from Mother and Baby institutions;
  • Girls and women were given ‘class names’ and there was a greater number of children (under 18s) in the laundries than the Hart Inquiry was able to identify;
  • Work was carried out without pay and some women spent a lifetime in a laundry, died and were buried from there.

The research report has been published and is available here.

Katrina Gray, Partner, BLM

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