NI mother-and-baby homes: Reaction to statement

Image source, Niall Carson/PA Media
Image caption,
The former Marianvale home in Newry was among several institutions where single mothers were sent to give birth

Stormont's decision to hold an "independent investigation" into mother and baby homes and Magdalene laundries in Northern Ireland has produced a mixed reaction.

It follows the publication of a 536-page academic research report into the institutions, commissioned by the Northern Ireland Executive.

The form of the investigation is still to be decided because former residents of the institutions will be invited to help co-design and "shape" the process.

Many campaigners had already called on ministers to order a full public inquiry and still say it is the only acceptable option.

Eunan Duffy - campaigner and adoptee from mother and baby home

"For us, this must include us being the architects of any future investigative process. And it wouldn't be a standard public inquiry - it would have to be bespoke and customised to our needs and our demands.

"Because we have been learning from the mistakes of the past - whether its the Hart HIA [the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry]; whether its the Commission of Investigation in the south of Ireland - we want to be part of the process, which means everything has to be victim-centred, led and framed."

Claire McKeegan - solicitor representing a number of survivors

"We note that there 'may' be a willingness for a statutory inquiry but we asked the Northern Ireland government to provide absolute clarity to these survivors without delay. This has gone on long enough. These people have lived with the shame inflicted on them and mental trauma for a lifetime, and we still have uncertainty."

"The survivors remain resolved that only a public inquiry with statutory powers will provide confidence to them that truth will be exposed and that those responsible will be held to account."

Irish Catholic Church

The leader of the Irish Catholic Church, Archbishop Eamon Martin, said this period would be known as one when the "people of Ireland - north and south - came face to face with a stark reality of our past which we preferred would remain hushed and hidden".

He said vulnerable pregnant women had been "stigmatised and harshly judged" and treated in a "cold and uncaring manner."

"We made them feel guilty and ashamed," he said.

"As a Catholic Church leader in Ireland it is I who now feel embarrassed and guilty over the way in which we in the Church contributed to, and bolstered, that culture of concealment, condemnation, and self-righteousness.  For that I am truly sorry and ask the forgiveness of survivors," he added. 

He said the testimonies of "courageous survivors has lifted the lid on this dark chapter of our shared history and exposed our hypocrisy to the glaring light," adding that no family today should "shun their child to protect some misguided notion of 'respectability' in the parish community."

He thanked the team for their work the report and said lessons must be learned from the past.

He encouraged all in leadership within the Church and State to extend their full cooperation with the work of the independent investigation.

The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd statement

"This report reflects a time in our history when women did not receive the support they needed and deserved from family, society or the state. We provided services for women when no other option seemed to be available to them.

"Good Shepherd Sisters, in good faith, endeavoured to provide appropriate care for these women. Many former residents have appreciated the support they received while in our care and have kept in contact with our Sisters over the years.

"We have also noted in the report the many and varied accounts of those who spent time with us. This was not a good experience for everyone and we wish that we could have done more for the women in our care at such a critical time in their lives. We deeply regret that we could not and did not always meet the multifaceted needs of these women".

Presbyterian Church in Ireland statement

"The report sheds much needed light on a dark era in Northern Ireland's history and speaks more of the inhumanity shown to mothers and their babies and their wider families at that time, than the Christian care and compassion they deserved."

"With regards to our own history, we will need to reflect on the findings of this report, and our own association with, for example, what became the Edgar Home in Belfast, which closed some 93 years ago. We deeply regret and unreservedly apologise for the damaging effects of institutional care, in which the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, or its members played a part."

Image source, Getty Images

Church of Ireland statement

"The publication of the Research Report on Mother and Baby Homes and Magdalene Laundries in Northern Ireland sheds further light on the suffering of women and children in relation to their experiences in these homes.

"The Church of Ireland will be giving the report further careful consideration, as it has done with the recent report in the Republic of Ireland. We appreciate the extensive work undertaken by the researchers in the Department of Health."

The Salvation Army

The Salvation Army said it would reflect on the findings and cooperate with the independent investigation.

Amnesty International

The campaign group welcomed the findings of the "remarkable" academic research, but restated its call for a public inquiry, explaining that many questions about the homes "remain unanswered".

"When addressing allegations of serious and systemic human rights violations, academic research, no matter how good, can be no substitute for a properly-empowered, independent investigation and so we welcome the commitment today by the executive to an inquiry to be designed in partnership with survivors."

Steve Aiken, leader, Ulster Unionist Party

"The history of Magdalene laundries and mother and baby homes casts a dark shadow on the history of Northern Ireland and this island. You cannot detangle this vile practice from deeply misogynistic attitudes and how women have been viewed by our society.

"The report is an important first step in acknowledging what was inflicted upon women and children. We will read and consider it in full."

Cara Hunter, SDLP health spokesperson

"The SDLP support the process that puts victims and survivors at its centre and welcome that they will co-design the pathway to truth. It is welcome that approach will be taken and that a public inquiry can, and in our view should, be taken forward.

"There must be a parallel process alongside the co-design work for victims and survivors that ensures access to support services for all those affected and works out urgently the details of the redress scheme that must be quickly put in place."

Paula Bradshaw, Alliance health spokesperson

"Having spoken with victims and survivors, it is now evident their wait for truth, accountability, justice and recognition may be best met via a co-designed investigation, centred on victims, expertly facilitated within a legal framework.

"This would give victims and survivors clear agency in the process and make them central to the outcome. It could also proceed relatively swiftly."

Gerry Carroll, People Before Profit MLA

"The announcement of an investigation today is a step forward for victims and campaigners, but it doesn't go far enough. We need a robust and thorough public inquiry, leading to a real effort to hold those responsible to account and get justice where possible.

"Where necessary, moves must be made to seize assets from the institutions responsible in order to provide compensation to survivors. People Before Profit is calling upon the state north and south to agree terms of compensation for the victims of these practices."