I have, like many others, watched with extreme sorrow over the past few days as more details of the moral injustices that took place in Mother and Baby Homes across the Republic of Ireland were revealed to the masses. The time is now for Stormont to launch an inquiry into similar homes in the North.
It is time for the North to confront this dark and grotesque part of our society. We will never right the wrongs of what happened in these homes, but we have face up to our failures in letting this abuse continue and allowing victims to go without answers.
Amnesty International claims there were more than a dozen Mother and Baby Home-type institutions in the North, the last of which closed in the 90s. Around 7,500 women and young girls gave birth in these homes in the North, managed by both Catholic and Protestant churches and religious organisations.
The women kept captive in these homes tell hideous stories of prolonged suffering, forced adoption, abuse, forced labour and were treated completely inhumanely. There is no excuse for what occurred in these institutions.
Mary O’Neill gave birth in 1979, at the age of eighteen, in Marianvale home, County Down, which was operated by the Good Shepherd Sisters. Her child was forcibly taken from her.
“My baby was taken from me. She was adopted against my knowledge or agreement. I missed everything - her first walk, her first words, her first day at school. “I will never get over it. The heartache has lived with me every day since and will live with me until my dying day."
“My time in Marianvale was a living nightmare. The nuns enforced a regime of praying, knitting, and scrubbing floors. We were like prisoners, not expectant mothers.
“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 year after year in Northern Ireland.”
A 2017 investigation by The Detail also uncovered information showing incredibly high infant mortality rates for babies in children’s homes adjacent to the Mother and Baby Home run by the Good Shepherd Sisters, on Belfast’s Ormeau Road.
We must demand a full-scale inquiry into all these mother and baby-type homes in the North following the publishing of the long overdue report that was completed in February of last year and is expected to be published by Stormont by the end of this month.
Mary O’Neill’s testimony alone is frankly enough to break the heart. However, Mary did not suffer alone. Countless other women in our nation faced this hellish reality, this monstrous pain. I know Now is the Time for Truth. Now is the Time for Answers. Now is the Time for Accountability. Now is the Time for Justice. The victims of this institutional abuse have gone far too long without all of these.
A full-scale inquiry into what happened in these homes, the role of the churches and other religious orders in creating this nightmare, and the role of the state in allowing this institutional abuse to continue unchallenged, is the very least of what these women deserve. Justice delayed is Justice Denied. These women cannot and will not wait any longer.
Karl Duncan is 19 and from Derry. He is an SDLP Activist and Secretary of SDLP Youth Derry. He is interested in both domestic and foreign policy.