The Northern Ireland Executive’s decision to hold an “independent investigation” into mother and baby homes and Magdalene laundries in Northern Ireland follows the publication of the research report into the mother and baby homes and Magdalene Laundries [i].
There needs to be a Public Inquiry
The report has found that 10,500 women went through mother-and-baby homes in Northern Ireland and 3,000 were admitted into Magdalene laundries.
The last mother-and-baby institution closed in 1990; and the last Magdalene laundry in 1984.
The report examined eight mother-and-baby homes, several workhouses and four Magdalene laundries:
Roman Catholic Institutions
St Mary’s Home, Belfast – 1867-1982 (Good Shepherd Sisters)
St Mary’s Home, Derry/Londonderry – 1922-1982 (Good Shepherd Sisters)
St Mary’s Home, Newry – 1946-1984 (Good Shepherd Sisters)
Salvation Army Industrial/Rescue Home, Belfast- 1886-1965
Mother and Baby Homes
Roman Catholic Run Homes
Mater Dei, Belfast (Legion of Mary) 1942-1984
Marianville, Belfast, 1950-1990 (Good Shepherd Sisters)
Marianvale, Newry, 1955-1984 (Good Shepherd Sisters)
Belfast Midnight Mission/Malone Place Maternity Home and Rescue Home – 1860-1948
Church of Ireland Rescue League/Kennedy House, Belfast – 1912-1956
Hopedene House, Belfast – 1943-1985
Salvation Army, Thorndale House – 1920-1977
Health and Social Services/Charities
Mount Oriel, Belfast (EHSSB) – 1969-1980s
Deanery Flats, Belfast (Barnardo’s) – 1973-1991
Belfast and Coleraine Welfare Flats – 1940s-1980s
Mother-and-baby institutions housed women and girls who became pregnant outside marriage, which carried significant stigma, while laundries were Catholic-run workhouses that operated across the island of Ireland.
On reading the report it will be found that the youngest to be admitted was aged only 12, and the oldest 44. Around a third of women admitted to the homes were aged under 19 and most were aged from 20-29.
Some tragically were the victims of rape and incest.
A culture of stigma, shame and secrecy was attached to unmarried mothers. This was particularly true during the early and middle decades of the twentieth century, but such sentiment was still significant in the 1970s and 1980s. However, those two decades did experience a degree of liberalisation of public opinion.
Because of the stigma attached to pregnancy outside of marriage, women and girls were often admitted by families, doctors, priests and state agencies.
The report reveals that several young women ended up in the homes because of “Troubles” related threats. One was taken by a Protestant clergyman as she was under threat from the UDA, another as she had been tarred and feathered.
Numbers of entrants peaked in the late 1960s and early 1970s, before a rapid reduction in the 1980s.
The report has echoes of that published earlier in January 2021 by the Irish Government: Final Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes [ii]
The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and certain related matters was established by the Irish Government in February 2015 to provide a full account of what happened to vulnerable women and children in Mother and Baby Homes during the period 1922 to.
Given the findings of the report, there clearly needs to be a public inquiry.
This report is just the first step. There needs to be a public inquiry to ensure that the truth is heard and seen, and to ensure that there is a full understanding as to why these women were treated effectively as second class citizens. Not to do so would run the risk of history repeating itself.
Hugh James has a wealth of experience representing victims and survivors at inquiries such as IICSA – The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse and the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry.
The Jersey Care Inquiry was similar to the Northern Ireland Mother and Baby and Magdalene Laundries in that in both cases there was a large group of people who were affected over a long period of time with lifelong consequences.
At the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry we represented care leavers and on their behalf we were able to make representations both as regards evidence and recommendations for the future. It is important that the voices of those who were in “care” are heard, because the risk is that if they are not the truth will not emerge, and injustices remain just that.
If you or a relative, whether a parent, grandparent or other relative spent time in a Mother and Baby or Magdalene Laundry and would like to speak to a solicitor to find out where you stand, we are here and are ready to listen. You can get in touch by clicking on the button below.