Panel backs public inquiry into NI’s mother and baby homes and Magdalene laundries

Panel backs public inquiry into NI's mother and baby homes and Magdalene laundries

Pictured (L-R): Panel members Dr Maeve O’Rourke, Deirdre Mahon and Professor Phil Scraton

An expert panel appointed to help design a victim-centred independent investigation into mother and baby homes and Magdalene laundries in Northern Ireland has called for a statutory public inquiry.

The independent truth recovery panel, comprising social worker Deirdre Mahone and legal academics Dr Maeve O’Rourke and Professor Phil Scraton, said the inquiry should take place “without delay”.

It recommends that the public inquiry should be chaired by a human rights specialist from outside the jurisdiction, supported by a team with a range of expertise.

It calls for the urgent appointment of a non-statutory independent panel of experts, including those with personal experience, to identify and access institutions’ and other state- and privately-held documents and to hear personal testimonies. This panel, it says, should inform the terms of reference for the statutory public inquiry and provide support to it.

The 75-page report also recommends immediate new legislation to secure access to records for survivors and their families, including legislative guidance for personal data controllers; a statutory prohibition on the destruction of records; and the creation of a dedicated permanent archive of historical institutional and adoption records operating alongside a similar archive already promised by the Irish government.

Redress payments should be made immediately from the beginning of the investigation in line with approaches taken in other jurisdictions, it adds.

Other recommendations include public apologies from the State and all institutions involved; comprehensive funding for health and wellbeing services; funding for voluntary DNA testing; legal aid to access the courts or inquest system; citizenship for those who lost their entitlement due to removal from the jurisdiction as a child; and provision of gravestones and memorials.

Panel chair Ms Mahone said: “For six months we have worked closely with victims-survivors and relatives who have shared their heart-breaking stories with us and we thank them for their dedicated and tireless pursuit of truth and justice.

“The Executive’s decision in January, on the inter-departmental working group’s advice, to decide to set up an investigation and involve victims-and survivors centrally in designing the investigation was a hugely positive step. Nevertheless this decision has come too late for many, and it is essential that these recommendations are acted on without delay.”

Professor Scraton said: “The Executive required the Panel to recommend a framework of investigation – from the breadth and depth of testimonies we received, we propose an unprecedented process, integrating an independent panel and a statutory public inquiry, alongside access to personal records. We also make recommendations for redress and reparation.

“Lives and futures lost through the cruelty within these institutions cannot be recovered, but we must acknowledge the inter-generational pain and suffering inflicted on victims, survivors and families. It is now time for that to be recognised and the full truth revealed.”

Dr O’Rourke said: “The University of Ulster/Queen’s University Belfast academic research report preceding our work contains clear evidence of gross and systemic human rights abuses in the institutions and related adoption system, including arbitrary detention, degrading treatment, serious infringements of the right to respect for private and family life and discrimination.

“Victims and survivors continue to describe ongoing abuse, including the disappearance of family members and the denial of identity. It is essential that the human rights of victims, survivors and relatives are at the heart of the forthcoming investigation. Human rights law also requires full access to records and urgent redress and reparation.”

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