Belfast Telegraph

Victims of Northern Ireland mother and baby homes demand public inquiry

By Rachel Martin

An inquiry into decades of harrowing institutionalised abuse in Northern Ireland's mother and baby homes would "shock society to its core", a group representing victims pressing for an investigation has said.

Campaign group Birth Mothers and their Children for Justice NI said pregnant girls as young as 13 were sent into the homes where many of them were robbed of the chance to experience motherhood and forced to work in laundries while their babies would grow up not knowing their biological families.

The last mother and baby home in Ireland is thought to have closed as recently as 1996.

Decades on, the stories still leave many of the victims visibly upset as they recount their experiences.

It comes on the back of revelations made by The Detail's Kathryn Torney showing the death rate among 'illegitimate' babies to be more than double others, mostly due to malnutrition.

Survivor Eunan Duffy only found out last year he was born in Marian Vale Mother and Baby Home in Newry after he requested a copy of his birth certificate to get married.

"The summary information - which is basically what the nuns want to tell you - said that I stayed there for three months," he said. "I only found out last year, at 47, so it's all very recent.

"A lot of the mothers were put under that parochial pressure and duress. Hundreds and thousands are affected - and some of these people will never know.

"My mum didn't remember the whole eight months that she was in there due to post-traumatic stress; it was like a prison."

The group's chairwoman Oonagh McAleer was forced into Marian Vale when she became pregnant aged 17 in 1980.

"My baby was taken from me as soon as he was born," she said. "I never got to hold him, or even to look at his face. He was adopted against my knowledge.

"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.

"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?"

Mechelle Dillon was also born in Marian Vale 47 years ago. Her mother, a young woman from Co Tyrone, rescued her and raised her in England.

"She wouldn't say much about it," Mechelle said. "I suppose it would have been seen that she was bringing shame on the family and she needs to go.

"I'm heartbroken thinking that my mother has gone to the grave without an apology for the way that she was treated."

Fermanagh woman Collette Cassidy was born 55 years ago in St Joseph's Baby Home in east Belfast and has been trying to find her birth mother since 1994.

She said: "I have a little information - 15 lines - but I have since found out that much of it is inaccurate. That's 18 months of my life unaccounted for."

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