Experts to draw up terms of reference for mother and baby homes inquiry in NI

Q Radio (Northern Ireland)

March 4, 2021

By Michael McHiugh PA

The Stormont Executive has appointed a team of experts who will work in partnership with victims and survivors of mother and baby homes here – to establish terms of reference for a fully independent investigation.

They include academics, human rights experts and a community worker, and will report back to ministers in Northern Ireland within six months on drawing up terms of reference.

The appointments follow the executive’s announcement in January of its intention – to establish a victim centred independent probe – into historical institutions between 1922 and 1990.

More than 10,000 women and girls, from the age of 12, went through the doors of homes run by Catholic orders and Protestant clergy.

A recently published report disclosed claims of inappropriate labour and an ethos of shame at homes for those born out of wedlock.

Stormont First Minister Arlene Foster said: “The many women and children who were victims of shocking ill-treatment and abuse in mother and baby Homes and Magdalene laundries have had to wait far too long for their voices to be heard.

“The appointment of this team of experts to work with victims and survivors in shaping the independent investigation is another welcome step forward in the long fight to break the silence around their suffering.”

The members of the team are: Deirdre Mahon, a qualified and experienced social and community worker; Phil Scraton, a professor emeritus at Queen’s University who investigated the 1989 Hillsborough disaster; and Dr Maeve O’Rourke, a lecturer in human rights at National University of Ireland Galway.

She has worked pro bono for more than a decade with individuals and relatives of those affected by the laundries, mother and baby institutions, forced and illegal adoptions, and related institutions and practices in the Republic of Ireland.

Mrs Foster said: “All three individuals bring a wealth of experience and expertise in this area and I am confident that, through a process of engagement and working side by side with victims and survivors, the team will be able to shape an investigation that will have their confidence and deliver the truth and justice they deserve.”

A “victim-centred” independent investigation has been ordered by the Stormont Executive.

Catholic Archbishop Eamon Martin has said he would support a public inquiry.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “The harrowing stories of the many women and children who suffered abuse in mother and baby homes and Magdalene laundries are truly heart breaking.

“They were treated appallingly by these institutions and failed on every level.

“This is another significant step towards finally securing justice for the victims and survivors of this abuse, and it is vital that they are at the heart of the co-design process.”

Health Minister Robin Swann said he was delighted to announce the appointments.

The recently-published research report said women claimed they were subjected to labour like scrubbing floors during the final stages of pregnancy and were described as “fallen” and stigmatised.

Some survivors are pressing for a speedy public inquiry but there are concerns surrounding the impact that giving evidence would have on some who suffered life-changing trauma.

In total, more than 14,000 women went through mother and baby homes, Magdalene laundries and industrial homes over a 68-year period.