By Donal McMahon
An organisation set up to address the abuse of young unmarried women in mother and baby homes in the North is calling on those affected by the Catholic institutions to make contact.
'Birth Mothers and Their Children for Justice NI' has recently expanded on its membership since 2015 to include the children who survived and were adopted from the homes.
Such institutions include Nazereth House Belfast and at Marian Vale in Newry by the Good Shepherd Nuns.
The Historical Institution Abuse (HIA) inquiry, which sat in Banbridge heard evidence from some individuals of the home, but did not investigate mother and baby homes as a whole.
The inquiry covered a period of 73 years and heard evidence from 527 witnesses from January 2014 to July 2016.
The findings of the £13m HIA have called for a full apology and compensation to those abused in institutions across Northern Ireland. However, many women and children were left out of the inquiry without anyone listening to their story.
A mother and baby inquiry was set up in the Republic of Ireland after revelations in 2014 of a mass grave at a Catholic run home for unmarried mothers in Tuam, Co Galway, where 796 infants died between 1925 and 1961. The coast is expected to cost in excess of €21m.
The office of the First and Deputy First Minister in Stormont has yet to agree on a similar inquiry for the North.
However, attempts to research the possibilities of further burials is currently active in the North, with the newly set up organisation asking for more women and adopted children to share their stories of the mother and baby homes.
For anonymity reasons, members of the group go by their first name only.
Spokesperson of the Birth Mothers and Their Children for Justice NI, Eunan said that the group would provide an empathetic ear for survivors to come forward.
“The group is a charitable organisation as a representative support and advice forum for mothers, of all ages, who were processed through any of the so-called mother and baby homes,” explained Eunan.
“The group also welcomes, represents and includes the children born, many adopted out under false pretences including forged and forced signatures on adoption papers.
“Women of any age, not all pregnant, were sent to these institutions by their own families and by clergy of different denominations and by referrals from social services.
“We feel that these mother and baby homes were deliberately excluded and ignored by the HIA Inquiry.
“Our group acknowledges the hardship and difficult decisions that survivors of these mother and baby homes had to make and continue to make, due to the social and religious duress, which convinced them that it would be better not to ever tell anyone that they were in these homes and had babies.
“Most women left the homes with nowhere to go, penniless, with no social skills, restricted education and employment skills.
“Many were institutionalised due to the long years of being at the homes and could not leave, psychologically and emotionally attached to abuse, degradation and worthlessness.
“The physical and mental scars of those who left the homes and laundries permeated their lives forever.
“Many harboured the truths of suppression and the secrecy surrounding their offspring as they tried to lead 'normal' lives yet burdened by brain-washed emotions of shame, humiliation and transgression.
“All the women who gave birth would never cease with thoughts and memories of children who died or were taken from them. Many would live in the hope that a living child, aware of their adoption, would seek them out and bring reconciliation.
“Many would dread and fear the day that a child would try to find them because they had been compelled to erase memories of a child born out of wedlock, a child that society, State and religion deemed a 'mistake, a reject or untimely'.
“The recent acknowledgement of mother and baby home and clerical abuses and issues, the appointment of Norah Gibbons as chair of the inter-departmental group set up to 'look further' into the abuses, is a welcome if belated development that will hopefully lead to restorative justice, which survivors and victims, and their relatives and especially children, deserve and demand,” he added.
The group has now launched an active listening programme for people affected by mother and baby homes to make contact with people who know what they are experiencing.
“Birthmothers and Their Children for Justice NI is now appealing to all those women and their children, if known and aware of their mother’s circumstances, to approach us in whatever capacity they wish and are comfortable with.
“We can help, advise and support all those who want to share their experiences and stories to people with similar experiences in a non-judgemental and understanding manner.
“We can help and advise in whatever way a person may wish to move forward in seeking justice and consolation.
“We are a forum for confidential and private support, respectful and fully aware of each individual's needs and wishes.
“We also encourage and ask people who may have been employed or made deliveries or collections, in or around any mother and baby home to come forward to us with any information or knowledge of a particular home.
“Even if you know someone who is unaware of current issues and may well like to be informed of them then please do so,” said the group spokesperson.
If you would like to contact the Birth Mothers and Their Children for Justice NI, telephone Louise (0792 7943 248), Eunan (0771 8645 924) or Martina (0751 3874 371).