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Mother and baby homes: the case for a public inquiry

There are growing calls from victims and campaigners for a public inquiry into Northern Ireland’s former mother and baby homes, with claims the findings would “shock this society to its core”.

Detail Data has examined archive documents and interviewed women and children who survived conditions in the homes for unmarried mothers that existed in Northern Ireland until the early 1980s – including institutions run by the Catholic Church, the Church of Ireland and the Salvation Army.

Files at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) include correspondence homes had with government departments, the minute book for one home and inspection records for a children’s home where some of the children would have moved to after their birth.

Pregnant girls as young as 13-years-old were sent into mother and baby homes and a letter from 1945 shows how the chairman of a home for unmarried mothers appealed for money and warned the government about the high infant mortality rate among "illegitimate" children.

Our research led us to look at the treatment more generally of children labelled as 'illegitimate' in Northern Ireland's recent past. Official records from 1942 show that the 'legitimate' infant mortality rate for Northern Ireland was 72 per 1,000 births - it was 157 for 'illegitimate' children.

An analysis of burial records for Milltown Cemetery in west Belfast and a search for death certificates means we can reveal that at least 43 babies of 63 children who died at two Belfast children’s homes in just one year, died from severe malnutrition.

The Executive Office has confirmed that an independently chaired inter-departmental group - jointly sponsored by the Executive Office and the Department of Health - has been established to take forward work relating to clerical child abuse and residents aged over 18 from mother and baby homes and Magdalene laundries who fell outside the remit of the Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) Inquiry. The group held its first meeting in March.

Amnesty International is calling for a “proper human rights compliant public inquiry” after receiving allegations from women of forced labour, arbitrary detention, ill treatment and the illegal adoption of babies in former mother and baby homes. 

Today Detail Data is publishing a series of articles by Data Journalist Kathryn Torney at www.thedetail.tv/data

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