DUBLIN (Reuters) – Unmarried mothers in British-ruled Northern Ireland suffered cruel treatment in homes run by the Protestant and Catholic Churches, a report found on Tuesday, confirming that abuse for which Ireland apologised earlier this month was rife on both sides of the border.
Arlene Foster, first minister in the Northern Ireland government, said the accounts of cold and uncaring treatment were truly harrowing, and the separation of mothers from their children a terrible legacy.
The research carried out by a team of university academics found that the mortality rate for babies born in institutions in Northern Ireland was not as high as the 15% found by an inquiry into the Irish Republic this month. In part this was because women did not tend to stay as long after they gave birth.
But it found that women, including victims of rape, incest and other crimes, were often treated cruelly and put under severe pressure to give their children up for adoption.
At least 10,500 women and girls, some as young as 12, spent time at the homes in the British-run region between 1922 and 1990, when a “culture of stigma, shame and secrecy” was attached to unmarried mothers.
“In the majority of testimony gathered … women provided vivid accounts of being made to feel ashamed about their pregnancy and suggested that the atmosphere was authoritarian and judgmental,” said the report, by academics from Ulster University and Queen’s University Belfast.
A report earlier this month on so-called Mother and Baby Homes south of the border in the Irish Republic, where such institutions were overwhelmingly run by the Catholic Church, found that 9,000 children had died in them in a 70-year period.
The issue has prompted a further reappraisal of the Catholic Church’s role in what had long been one of parts of Europe where it retained the most influence. Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin formally apologised for the “profound generational wrong visited upon Irish mothers and their children”.
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Additional reporting by Conor Humphries; Editing by Peter Graff)