Following years of relentless campaigning for truth and accountability by victims-survivors, on behalf of the NI Executive, in 2018 the Department of Health commissioned a team to consider evidence and research the operation of Mother and Baby Institutions, and Magdalene Laundries.
In January 2021, following publication of its research, jointly conducted by Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University, the NI Executive agreed to undertake an independent investigation into the institutions, as although the research revealed some of the horrendous experiences of the women and girls and their children who were admitted to the institutions over many decades up to the late 1990s, it also left many unanswered questions.
In March 2021, the Minister of Health took the lead on this and established a Truth Recovery Design Panel, which included experts Dr Maeve O’Rourke, Professor Phil Scraton and Deirdre Mahon. As agreed with Ministers, the Truth Recovery Design Panel was tasked with developing options for an independent investigation / inquiry into Mother and Baby Institutions and Magdalene Laundries.
In October 2021 the Truth Recovery Design Panel published its findings in a ‘Truth, Accountability and Acknowledgement: Mother and Baby Institutions, Magdalene Laundries and Workhouses in NI’ Report’ (the Report). The Report shone a light on numerous widespread abuses which occurred in the past and persist, not least in their long-term impact, and which required a transitional justice approach to remedying such serious human rights violations. It recognised that these necessitate the highest level of government commitment to implement the recommendations.
It identified the need for an integrated truth investigation to investigate issues of individual, institutional, organisational and state departmental/agent responsibility experienced in Mother and Baby Institutions, Magdalene Laundries, and Workhouses. In addition, it should examine their pathways and practices; including the adoption system; related institutions such as ‘baby homes’ and private nursing homes; and, cross-border and international transfers of children and women.
The Report was fully endorsed and agreed to be implemented by the NI Executive on 15 November 2021.
The Truth Recovery Programme is a unique and ground-breaking project established by the Northern Ireland Executive following close collaboration between the Truth Recovery Design Panel and victims-survivors of Northern Ireland’s Mother and Baby Institutions, Magdalene Laundries and Workhouses. The campaign for truth, justice and acknowledgement for those impacted was born out of the tireless and courageous efforts of victims and survivors who have publicly lobbied The Executive Office since 2013 and continue to do so.
All victims-survivors and relatives interviewed, or who responded to the Truth Recovery Design Panel’s call to action, wanted ‘truth’ to be disclosed: truth about personal and family experiences, and truth about how the institutional, forced labour and family separation system as a whole operated; including how it was enabled to operate, and how it impacted on girls, women, their children, partners, and subsequent generations.
The Truth Investigation will comprise two discrete but integrated phases: an Independent Panel with complementary professional expertise and victims-survivors’ representatives which allows for a flexible non-adversarial process of investigation using diverse methods of evidence gathering, research and public engagement, and which will gather testimonies and provide a full report, to run in advance of, and in parallel with a full Statutory Public Inquiry.