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Editor's Viewpoint

Women deserve an inquiry into mother and baby homes in Northern Ireland

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First Minister Arlene Foster has promised survivors an independent investigation into what went on in the homes

First Minister Arlene Foster has promised survivors an independent investigation into what went on in the homes

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First Minister Arlene Foster has promised survivors an independent investigation into what went on in the homes

The 500-plus page report into mother and baby homes in Northern Ireland reads like something from the time of Dickens. But to our eternal shame the events chronicled only ended in 1990.

While there is little detail of what the women went through on a daily basis in the homes and Magdalene Laundries, there is enough to show that it was a hard, unrelenting existence with little empathy for the plight of the women who occupied the institutions. The numbers involved are staggering, 10,500 but probably more, in the mother-and-baby homes and 3,000 in the laundries between 1922 and 1990. Their only 'crime' was becoming pregnant out of wedlock. Some were the victims of sexual crime including incest or rape, and one-third of them were aged under 19 years. The youngest was 12.

Many of the women were separated from their children who were placed in other homes, fostered or adopted and a significant number were moved to the Republic where they were given up for adoption to families there, in Britain and in the US.

First Minister Arlene Foster has promised survivors an independent investigation into what went on in the homes. That will allow the women the opportunity to give detailed, first-hand accounts of life in those shocking regimes where many were treated virtually as slaves - made to work without any recompense.

As in the Republic - where the tales coming out of the mother and baby homes were shocking with 40% infant mortality - some may attempt to excuse what went on in the various institutions as a reflection of the social mores of the day where pregnant single women were virtually shunned, especially if they came from poor families. Sending them away saved their families' reputation. Those responsible for fathering the children were never mentioned nor shunned.

The only positive note to be taken from the report is that there was no evidence that the women in the homes on this side of the border endured as dire living conditions or were subjected to vaccine trials as happened in seven homes in the Republic.

Some were victims of our own societal problems. One girl had been tarred and feathered, another had been threatened by the UDA and a third because she frequented army bases.

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The promised independent investigation is a major step forward although many survivors want a public inquiry. Survivors need to be closely involved in the independent investigation and those responsible for running the institutions should pledge to give evidence. It is the very least the women deserve.


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