Unprecedented Independent Investigation into Mother and Baby Institutions, Magdalene Laundries and Workhouses recommended in Truth Recovery Design Panel Report
The Truth Recovery Design Panel appointed to work with victims and survivors, today published extensive Recommendations in a Report to the Northern Ireland Executive. The primary recommendation in the report is to establish an ‘Integrated Investigation’ by a non-statutory Independent Panel feeding into a statutory Public Inquiry. There are also further recommendations for supporting measures to ensure that victims-survivors can participate in the investigation: these include Access to Records legislation and urgent Redress payments.
CLICK HERE for Online Supplemental Report – ‘Background Research for the Truth Recovery Design Process – Dr Maeve O’Rourke’
Following all-party agreement in January 2021, the Northern Ireland Executive invited victims and survivors of Mother and Baby Institutions, Magdalene Laundries and Workhouses, to contribute to designing the framework for an independent investigation into the institutions where thousands of girls and women were held and forced into unpaid labour, with many forcibly separated from their babies, during the 20th Century.
The Truth Recovery Design Panel was set up for this process and included the appointment of a Chair, Deirdre Mahon (a Director of Women and Children’s Services and the Executive Director of Social Work in Health and Social Care in NI), along with Dr Maeve O’Rourke (Lecturer in Human Rights, NUI Galway) and Professor Phil Scraton (Professor Emeritus, Queen’s University Belfast).
Following a six-month period of extensive engagement and work by the Truth Recovery Panel, the full report was today launched at Stormont in Belfast, entitled ‘Mother and Baby Institutions, Magdalene Laundries and Workhouses in Northern Ireland – Truth, Acknowledgement and Accountability’.
Commenting at the launch of the Report, Chair of the Truth Recovery Design Panel, Deirdre Mahon, 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.”
Truth Recovery Design Panel member Professor Phil 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 Maeve O’Rourke, Truth Recovery Design Panel member, said at the launch of the report: “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.”
The Truth Recovery Design Panel recommendations to the Northern Ireland Executive are:
- 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. The Independent Panel should support victims-survivors and relatives of those deceased to receive information previously denied, and it should investigate current and past human rights violations arising from institutionalisation and family separation. The Panel should inform the terms of reference for a statutory Public Inquiry and provide support as necessary to the Public Inquiry;
- Legislation, introduced without delay, to appoint a statutory Public Inquiry with powers to compel production of documents and hear evidence under oath from representatives of the institutions and those who serviced them. The Public Inquiry should be chaired by a human rights specialist from outside the jurisdiction supported by a team with a range of expertise;
- 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 Government of Ireland;
- Immediate redress payments from the beginning of the investigation: an approach taken previously in other jurisdictions;
- Other necessary reparation measures including: 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; provision of gravestones and memorials.