‘Milestone’ mother and baby homes inquiry announcement welcomed

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There were several mother-and-baby homes here

By Rebecca Black (PA)

The formal announcement of a consultation for a public inquiry into mother and baby institutions has been welcomed as an “important milestone”.

First Minister Michelle O’Neill said she hopes to see the draft Bill for the public inquiry and redress scheme introduced in the Assembly before the end of this year.

A 12-week public consultation on proposals to establish a public inquiry and a financial redress scheme will open later this week.

It comes after a recommendation in 2021 that a public inquiry be established to investigate mother and baby homes, Magdalene laundries and workhouses in Northern Ireland.

Research has indicated that more than 14,000 women and teenage girls passed through those institutions in Northern Ireland between 1922 and 1990.

Ms O’Neill made the statement to the Assembly on Tuesday on behalf of herself and deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly.

She described the day as “marking another important milestone and an acknowledgement of the suffering inflicted on mothers and children in mother and baby institutions, Magdalen laundries and workhouses”.

“We have spoken directly to survivors and we know that they still suffer the trauma of their appalling experiences, a trauma that was only ever made worse by years of being ignored whenever they sought the justice that they deserved,” she told MLAs.

Ms O’Neill added: “I’m sure we can all agree that they have waited for far too long and we all want to play our part to address the most difficult and shameful part of our past.”

Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw welcomed the announcement as “an important milestone”, but added that a long road still lies ahead for full truth recovery and recognition for victims and survivors.

“It is important that the 12-week consultation period is put to maximum use and that information gathered during it is used effectively to deliver the best possible legislation for introduction during this calendar year. There is no further time to be lost,” she said.

“There should also, as part of the process, be a focus on learning from the redress scheme set up for victims and survivors of historical institutional abuse of children. We must also be clear throughout that what is needed is redress and recognition of the suffering and harm caused.

“For victims and survivors, there remains a long journey still ahead, but at least now we are clearly on the right road.”

A previous academic research study outlined the scale of mistreatment endured by thousands of women and girls in the institutions.

The work, by Queen’s University and Ulster University, found that more than 14,000 girls and women went through the doors of mother and baby homes, Magdalene laundries and other institutions in Northern Ireland between 1922 and 1990.

It found that many were mistreated, held against their will and forced to give up children for adoption.

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