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The former Marianvale mother and baby institution in Newry (pictured in 2021) Alamy Stock Photo
mother and baby institutions

NI truth panel receives major record haul, boosting mother and baby home inquiry

The Truth Recovery Independent Panel is examining the experiences of people who spent time in mother and baby institutions, Magdalene laundries and workhouses in Northern Ireland.

A “SIGNIFICANT NUMBER” of institutions in Northern Ireland have agreed to have their records digitised and made available to the independent panel tasked with examining mother and baby institutions, Magdalene laundries and workhouses in the North.

The Truth Recovery Independent Panel said it has been working closely with the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) and, as of last month, over 3,000 records have been received.

This includes 178 volumes or registers; 43 annual reports/accounts; 350 case files and 2,550 index card case notes, according to the panel’s interim report which was published today.

The panel said its work to date has laid “strong foundations” for a future public inquiry.

The Good Shepherd Sisters, which ran institutions in Newry, Belfast and Derry, is among the orders to make their records available.

The Sisters of Nazareth, the Church of Ireland Representative Church Body Library in Dublin, and a number of relevant Catholic and adoption service organisations have also given documents to the panel.

In the report, the group encouraged the “remaining institutions who have not yet shared their records to do so”.

The report said this process is not only important to the panel’s work, but also to ensure that the future public inquiry and related redress scheme will have access to digital copies of necessary records.

Some survivors, such as Maria Arbuckle, spent time in institutions in both Northern Ireland and the Republic. 

Professor Leanne McCormick and Professor Sean O’Connell, co-chairs of the panel, said the information gathered to date is “laying strong foundations for the public inquiry, enabling it to carry out its work more effectively”. 

They said the group is committed to ensuring survivors can give their testimony in “a safe, respectful and supportive environment”.

“We are indebted to the victims-survivors who helped us to shape this and want to thank those who have come forward to share their testimony with us so far. We hope they have found this to be a positive experience.”

‘Complicated and emotional’ 

The panel said an important part of their work is helping survivors “navigating the often complicated and emotional process of trying to access information and records held on them”.

In the report, the panel said it has been “mapping the relevant records available and has begun to prepare guidance for accessing them”.

It has also engaged with Northern Ireland’s Department of Justice to “recommend changing the law to provide free legal advice and assistance to victims-survivors in their applications for access to records”.

The panel was set up as part of the North’s Truth Recovery Programme which was tasked with “seeking truth, acknowledgement and accountability” around relevant institutions in advance of a statutory public inquiry.

The 10-person panel includes members with expertise in trauma-informed practice, human rights law and genealogy, as well as three representatives tasked with ensuring “a victim-survivor centred approach”.

This approach was taken after criticism by survivors and advocates in the Republic of Ireland about how survivors, and their testimony, were treated during the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes.

In December 2021, the Irish State acknowledged the rights of survivors were breached when they were not given a draft of the Commission’s final report prior to its publication earlier that year. 

In a significant victory for survivors, the State admitted the women in question were indeed identifiable in the final report and should have been given a right to reply to the sections relevant to them prior to publication, and to correct any inaccuracies. 

The Irish Government’s long-awaited redress scheme finally opened for applications in March. However, thousands of people are excluded from the scheme including those who spent less than six months in an institution as a child.

A number of survivors are considering legal action over their exclusion from the scheme, as previously reported by The Journal.

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