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Mother and baby homes: still no inquiry


Northern Ireland, Mother and Baby Homes, forced adoption, trafficking, passports, inquiry“My baby was taken from me as soon as he was born. He was adopted against my knowledge or agreement.”

Amnesty International is among those calling for an independent investigation into potential criminal activity at Mother and Baby Homes in Northern Ireland following a BBC investigation which uncovered evidence of apparent illegal adoption and international trafficking of babies.

A BBC File on Four investigation broadcast on BBC Radio 4 recently with the title ‘The Lost Children of Marianvale’ found evidence that laws may have been broken and birth certificates falsified in the adoption of babies born in the Marianvale Mother and Baby Home in Newry to families in the Republic of Ireland and USA.

In Northern Ireland thoughout the 2oth century thousands of women and girls were sent to mother and baby homes to give birth in secret and then handed their babies over for adoption.

And some women have claimed they were subjected to human rights abuses which culminated in seeing their babies taken from them and adopted out without their consent.

File on 4 investigated one such former institution, Marianvale in Newry in Northern Ireland, and heard concerns over the conditions and practices at the home – which closed in 1984.

And some of the adopted children are now racing against time to find their birth mothers before they pass away – and some of them claim they have been faced with a trail of secrecy and obfuscation.

There are growing calls for a public inquiry to provide answers about the extent of the alleged forced adoption practices in Northern Ireland.

The BBC, to take one example, discovered that over one hundred babies who were born at Marianvale in Newry were taken out of Northern Ireland for adoption.

And one case highlighted in the programme featured a baby whose birth was registered in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and the USA – each time with different birth dates and places of birth.

Research by Amnesty International had previously identified twelve Mother and Baby Homes or Magdalene Laundry-type institutions operating in Northern Ireland in the last century.

The Good Shepherd Sisters ran Mother and Baby Homes in Newry, on the Ormeau Road in Belfast and in Derry / Londonderry from the late 19th century until the 1980s and 1990s.

The Sisters said they were cooperating with an academic research project commissioned by the Department of Health in Northern Ireland which is examining mother and baby homes.

A Magdalene Asylum and laundry was operated by the Church of Ireland on Belfast’s Donegall Pass, and the home continued into the 1960s, while the Presbyterian Church was associated with the Ulster Female Penitentiary in central Belfast.

The Irish government has established a commission of inquiry into alleged abuses at Mother and Baby Homes in the Republic of Ireland, but to date the Northern Ireland government has refused to set up a similar inquiry.

Both the UN Committee Against Torture and the UN Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) have recommended that the Northern Ireland Executive should establish an inquiry into abuses in such institutions.

Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland programme director of Amnesty International, was interviewed in the BBC programme, and he too called for an independent inquiry into potential criminal activity in the Homes.

He said: “Women in Northern Ireland have told Amnesty that they suffered arbitrary detention, forced labour, ill-treatment, and the removal and forced adoption of their babies – criminal acts in both domestic and international law.

“Amnesty has previously provided the Northern Ireland Executive with information about cases of forced adoption and falsified documentation, such as those now being highlighted by the BBC.

“We are calling on the Northern Ireland authorities to establish an independent investigation into the allegations of systemic human rights abuses at these institutions, including the alleged theft and trafficking of new-born babies.”

And women who were forced to give birth in Mother and Baby Homes in Northern Ireland, and children who were born in the Homes, have also been calling for a public inquiry into abuses they say they suffered there.

Oonagh McAleer was forced into Marianvale mother and baby home in Newry when she became pregnant as a 17 year-old. She gave birth to a son in 1980 but was prevented from seeing or holding her baby before he was taken away for adoption against her will.

In 2017 she told Amnesty: “My baby was taken from me as soon as he was born. I never even got to hold him, or even to look at his face. He was adopted against my knowledge or agreement.

“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.”

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