Ex-residents of mother and baby homes demand public inquiry into abuse claims
Former residents of mother and baby homes in Northern Ireland have called for a public inquiry into allegations of abuse and forced adoptions.
The institutions, which were run by the Catholic Church, Church of Ireland and the Salvation Army, housed women and girls who became pregnant outside marriage.
Oonagh McAleer, who was forced into Marianvale mother and baby home in Newry when she became pregnant at 17, gave birth to a son in 1980.
However, she claims she was prevented from seeing or holding her baby before he was taken away for adoption against her will.
"My baby was taken from me as soon as he was born. I never even got to hold him, or even to look at his face. He was adopted against my knowledge or agreement.
"The nuns and the government did that to me. And they did it to my child and to so many other women and girls and their babies across Northern Ireland for decade after decade," said Ms McAleer, who is chairwoman of the Birth Mothers and their Children for Justice NI campaign group.
She added: "We demand the truth be told now, at long last. We demand a public inquiry.
"There is an inquiry happening right now in the Republic of Ireland. Are we worth less to our government? Does our suffering not count?
"We have been asking the Executive to set up an inquiry for years. And, for years, ministers have brushed us aside. No more. We want truth and justice and we want it now."
Amnesty International's Patrick Corrigan accused Stormont politicians of ignoring calls from victims for an inquiry for years.
"That cannot continue. After the June 29th talks deadline (for the restoration of powersharing), either the government in Stormont or at Westminster must deliver a human rights compliant investigation into the allegations of systemic human rights abuses at these institutions."
The harsh conditions in mother and baby homes have recently gained international attention due to the Tuam babies scandal in the Republic of Ireland.
Three months ago, an Irish public inquiry confirmed that "significant quantities" of human remains had been discovered at the site of a former home in Tuam, County Galway.
The Irish government agreed to set up the inquiry in 2014, following allegations about the deaths of 800 babies in Tuam and the manner in which they were buried.
To date, the Northern Ireland government has not agreed to set up a similar inquiry.
The UN Committee Against Torture and the UN Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women have both recommended that the Northern Ireland Executive should establish an inquiry into abuses in such institutions.
A group of women and children born in the homes gathered outside the former Laundry and Mother and Baby Home run by the Good Shepherd Sisters on Belfast's Ormeau Road on Wednesday in a call for justice.
Eunan Duffy, who was adopted out of Maranvale home in Newry in 1968, aged three months, said the pursuit of justice for all victims of historical institutional abuse has become "increasingly exacerbated by political inertia and instability".
Mr Duffy called on DUP leader Arlene Foster to "make space in her shopping trolley" at Westminster for a compensation scheme for victims.
"People continue to die bereft of justice and redress," he added.