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Health Minister Robin Swann apologises to survivors of mother and baby homes

The Bishop of Derry said he wasn't aware of the scandal: 'I was a junior squaddie'


Robin Swann (Liam McBurney/PA)

Robin Swann (Liam McBurney/PA)


Bishop Donal McKeown

Bishop Donal McKeown

The head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin, has apologised to survivors (Niall Carson/PA)

The head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin, has apologised to survivors (Niall Carson/PA)



Robin Swann (Liam McBurney/PA)

Health Minister Robin Swann has apologised to survivors of mother and baby homes.

He described a research report published this week around the homes, that operated here until 1990, as “harrowing”.

“It’s something that we have to ensure that the corrections and the apologies and the recognitions are made for the hurt and the damage that was done to so many women and children,” he said.

Earlier, the leaders of Ireland’s Catholic Church and the Church of Ireland expressed their shame.

More than 10,000 pregnant women and girls entered homes, run by Catholic orders and Protestant clergy, between 1922 and 1990.

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On Tuesday a report outlined claims of inappropriate labour and women being stigmatised at the homes.

It said victims of rape and incest were put in the facilities.

A “victim-centred” independent investigation was ordered by Stormont ministers and should be completed within six months.

On Wednesday, the Bishop of Derry said he had no knowledge of what was happening in the mother and baby homes, saying: ‘I was a junior squaddie’.

Bishop Donal McKeown said he was working in education and was involved with dealing with issues in Belfast at the time.

Asked by BBC’s Good Morning Ulster if he had knowledge of women being forced to move into the homes, Bishop McKeown insisted that he “can’t be responsible for knowing what I wasn’t aware of”.

“I don’t doubt that people who were in leadership positions in the 80s and 90s much have been much more aware than I was as a very junior squaddie within the diocese of Down and Connor,” he said.

Pressed further on the issue, it was put to the cleric that he must have been aware of mothers being forced to live in these homes as a result of being pregnant, he again said he had no direct knowledge of the issue.

The cleric said he believed that “some form of inquiry” into the scandal should be recommended as part of the issue of redress for victims.

Catholic Archbishop Eamon Martin and Church of Ireland Archbishop John McDowell said they have reflected on the report with shame, and have issued an apology on behalf of their churches.

Archbishop Martin said: “For that I am truly sorry and ask the forgiveness of survivors. How did we so obscure the love and mercy and compassion of Christ which is at the very heart of the Gospel? Shame on us.”

Mr McDowell said: “I acknowledge with shame that members of the Church of Ireland stigmatised women and children in a way which was very far removed from Christian principles and which resulted in an unloving, cold and judgemental attitude towards pregnant women who deserved better.”

Apologies have also been issued by the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd and the Presbyterian Church following the research by a team of academics from Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University.

The report features claims from women that 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.

First Minister Arlene Foster pledged the voices of survivors would be heard “loudly and clearly”.

She added: “It was not their fault that they were raped or the victims of incest yet they were the ones who suffered, and it appears to me that those who perpetrated the crime went scot-free."

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