LONDON — The leader of Northern Ireland on Tuesday ordered a new independent investigation that would give voice to the survivors of church-run homes for unmarried mothers and their babies, saying they have been silenced and shamed for too long.
First Minister Arlene Foster’s comments came after the publication of a government-commissioned research report that examined institutions for unmarried mothers and their children that operated from 1922 to 1990. The report said more than 10,500 women and girls, including some victims of rape and incest, entered such homes over seven decades. About one-third were 19-years-old or younger, and the youngest was 12, according to the report.
“It is with huge regret that we acknowledge the pain of those experiences and the hurt caused to women and girls who did nothing more than be pregnant outside of marriage, some of them criminally against their will,” Foster said.
“None of us should be proud of how our society shunned women in these circumstances and of their experiences while resident in these institutions,” she said.
Researchers from Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University looked at four Protestant-run mother and baby homes and three Roman Catholic-run homes.. Many of the babies were separated from their mothers and sent to a different home, or were fostered and put up for adoption, they said.
Foster said that too often, the mothers and their children suffered “a lifetime of trauma.” The independent investigation she ordered as the next step, which is expected to be completed in six months. will ensure survivors’ voices are heard “loudly and clearly.”
Earlier this month, Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin issued a state apology to survivors of Ireland’s mother and baby homes after an inquiry found that 9,000 children died in 18 such institutions during the 20th century. Roman Catholic-run homes in Ireland housed thousands of orphans, unmarried pregnant women and their babies for decades, and the country is in a process of reckoning with the institutions’ history of abuse.