Belfast Telegraph

Dublin move sparks call for Northern Ireland mum and baby homes probe

By Brian Hutton

Pressure is mounting on Northern Ireland to launch a public inquiry into decades of alleged abuse at so-called mother and baby homes after the Republic announced a three-year probe into more than 14 institutions.

The State inquiry is being set up after fresh revelations last year about a mass grave at a Catholic-run home for unmarried mothers in Tuam, Co Galway, where 796 infants died between 1925 and 1961. A team of three commissioners will investigate what happened to more than 35,000 women and children - mostly placed in homes after being ostracised by their families - between 1922 to 1998.

The causes of deaths at the homes, burials, vaccine trials carried out on children, how residents ended up there, how they were treated and where they went afterwards will all form part of the mammoth inquiry.

Former residents will be able to give evidence in private. Others compelled to give evidence face imprisonment or hefty fines if they fail to bear witness or produce requested documents.

While the inquiry itself cannot bring criminal charges, findings can be referred to police and prosecutors for investigation.

Amnesty International has criticised the absence of other institutions from the scope of the inquiry, including the Magdalene Laundries.

The human rights organisation is demanding a similar probe is set up in Northern Ireland, where it has identified 12 mother and baby homes or Magdalene Laundry-type institutions which operated over the past century.

"Women in Northern Ireland have told Amnesty 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," Amnesty International spokesman Patrick Corrigan said.

"Two years after first asking, victims in Northern Ireland still cannot get an answer from First and Deputy First Ministers Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness on whether there will be an inquiry here."

Ireland's Children's Minister James Reilly said the probe - expected to cost €21.5 million (£16.7m) - will be critical to how Ireland comes to terms with an uncomfortable truth that it had seen fit to largely ignore, and that people were indignant.

"Last May, people in Ireland and around the world were shocked at media reports about what was described as a mass grave in the mother and baby home in Tuam in Galway," he said.

What now?

More than a dozen Catholic and Protestant-run homes in the Republic are to be investigated. Campaigners have complained that there is no specific mention in the terms of reference to compensation for survivors. A sample of so-called County Homes around the country will also be looked at. Alleged victims will be able to give evidence in private.

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