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O’Neill pledges to deliver justice for mother and baby home survivors in the North

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Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister has vowed to do “whatever is required” to secure justice for survivors of mother and baby homes.

The Stormont Executive is expected to receive a report around institutions run north of the border in the coming weeks.

Michelle O’Neill said she is determined to do “whatever is required to make sure that these women are no longer denied access to justice”.

First Minister Arlene Foster (right) and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill (Liam McBurney/PA)

First Minister Arlene Foster said she looks forward to seeing the report and hearing recommendations on the way forward.

The pair will meet with Minister for Children’s Roderic O’Gorman next week to consider “any issues which have a cross-border dimension”.

Earlier, Taoiseach Micheál Martin apologised to the survivors of the homes saying they had been failed by the State.

He was speaking after a report by the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes found “appalling” levels of death.

In Northern Ireland, former assistant chief constable Judith Gillespie chairs an inter-departmental working group on mother and baby homes, Magdalen Laundries and historical clerical abuse.

Academics from Queen’s University in Belfast and Ulster University have been examining the operation of institutions between 1922 and 1999.

Ms O’Neill told Stormont’s Executive Committee today that the report is complete and a paper is expected to be brought to ministers “shortly” for consideration.

She said, subject to the Executive’s approval, it will be published before the end of January.

“Alongside the publication of the research report, the Executive will also be asked to consider and agree recommendations on the way forward,” she said.

“The chair of the group has established a reference group, and that includes victims and survivors, and also their representatives, and they clearly have to play an important role in terms of this work programme.”

She said she looked forward to receiving the report and turning around a response “very, very quickly” to provide a “next step” for victims and survivors.

“I think what happened in the south yesterday was appalling, that the report was leaked to the public before the victims and survivors had sight of it, I think that was a further slap in the face. We need to make sure that that doesn’t happen again here,” she said.

Committee chairman Colin McGrath asked the ministers about a perception of a delay around the report, and whether an apology will be issued to survivors.

Ms O’Neill said whatever is recommended in the report, whether that be a full public inquiry, an independent investigation, a statutory investigation, she is prepared to do “whatever is required to make sure that these women are no longer denied access to justice”.

“Whether that be an apology, investigations, whatever is required, I am determined to do that,” she said.

Mrs Foster paid tribute to the work of Ms Gillespie, saying she has made “great progress”.

“Both Michelle and I were very taken when we met her recently by her energy and determination to get to the truth, so I very much look forward to her report,” she said.

“And whilst I totally understand that some people will call for a public inquiry, I think it’s also recognised by others that because this is such a personal issue and such a private issue that others may not want that to take place, so we’ll listen to all those arguments and hear what Judith has to say to us in relation to what is the way forward.

“As Michelle says, we will want to take that forward, whatever that is.”

Independent MLA Trevor Lunn said there is “no border” when it comes to the homes, adding only a full public inquiry will be sufficient.

DUP MLA Christopher Stalford described the report in the Republic as “stark”, and the death rate of children as “scandalous”, adding he believes the figures will be similar in Northern Ireland.

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Ireland

Independent investigation to examine mother and baby homes in North

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Residents of homes for unmarried mothers and their children in Northern Ireland suffered a “lifetime of trauma”, Stormont’s First Minister has said.

A “victim-centred” independent investigation was ordered and Arlene Foster pledged the voices of survivors would be heard “loudly and clearly”.

A research report into operation of the institutions examined eight mother and baby homes, a number of former workhouses and four Magdalene laundries.

Ms Foster said: “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.

“None of us should be proud of how our society shunned women in these circumstance and of their experiences while resident in these institutions.”

More than 10,500 women entered mother and baby homes over a 68-year period from 1922.

Around a third of those admitted were aged under 19 and most were from 20-29.

A number were the victims of sexual crime, including rape and incest.

Ms Foster added: “The research report to be published later today is only the start of a process to allow the long-silenced voices of women and their children to be heard.

“For too long they have carried a burden of shame and secrecy.

“Too often their treatment from those who were in positions of power and trust caused them real harm and a lifetime of trauma.”

Infant mortality

Around 4 per cent of babies were either stillborn or died shortly after birth across the entire period.

The research report does not reach firm conclusions about rates of infant mortality in mother and baby homes, the DUP leader added.

An estimated 32 per cent of infants were sent to baby homes following separation from their birth mother.

Other babies were boarded out – fostered in today’s terms. Others [around a quarter of babies] were placed for adoption.

Ireland

NI mother and baby home numbers may be ‘significan…

In the Republic, the report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes was published on January 12th. It revealed stories of cruelty, emotional abuse and soaring infant death rates in a series of State- and religious-run institutions.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the report outlined a “dark, difficult and shameful chapter of recent Irish history” in which an “extraordinarily oppressive culture” had “treated women exceptionally badly”.

The State, churches, the families of pregnant women and the fathers of their children were responsible for the ill-treatment of women, according to the report which took more than five years to research and compile.

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Ireland

Sinn Féin to introduce legislation to ban accent discrimination at work

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Sinn Féin will introduce new legislation in the Dáil tomorrow to prohibit discriminating against someone on the basis of their accent or perceived socio-economic background.

Sinn Féin TDs Chris Andrews and Violet-Anne Wynne will introduce the Equality (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2021 which will amend The Employment Equality Act 1998-2015 and The Equal status Act 2000-2018.

The Bill will ensure employers can not discriminate against a job applicant or current employee because of their accent or the socio-economic status of the area they come from.

Speaking today, Mr Andrews said: “This is an important opportunity to protect people in the workplace against class and accent based discrimination.

“Sadly, this kind of discrimination is all too common in our society. One of my constituents recently had the upsetting experience of applying for a job in Dublin and finding out his accent had been mocked by during the application process due to being from an inner city area.”

Legal protection

He said it is clearly “discriminatory and unacceptable” yet there was no legal protection against this discrimination. He said it is time to close this loophole in our legislation and outlaw such prejudice.

He added “No-one should be mocked or discriminated against because of their accent or perceived social class. I am calling on TDs from all parties to back Sinn Féin’s bill.”

Meanwhile, Ms Wynne said it is appalling that accent discrimination still occurs in our society and in the workplace.

She said “It should go without saying that no one should be judged or treated as being lesser because of their accent or stereotypes about their background.

“Our legislation is an important opportunity to change the current laws and protect people from class-based discrimination in the workplace. It is unacceptable that in 2021, this can still occur with no protections in place for workers who are subjected to it.”

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Explorer from Ireland fundraises for homelessness with travel photos

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Every nursing home across Ireland will receive a collection of photographs taken from the worldwide travels of an explorer from Dublin.

Vincent Butler is behind the Sixty Photographs for Simon collection, an initiative to raise money for homeless charity the Simon Community.

The collection of photographs were taken from the explorer’s worldwide travels when he worked as a lecturer aboard the expedition cruise ship, the National Geographic Explorer, and as an expedition leader with Across the Divide.

Twenty-five countries are represented in a broad geographical sweep in the collection of pictures, from the Arctic to the Sahara, to the Antarctic.

The book was originally published in 2018 and is now being sent to more than 400 nursing homes across the country, and also to schools following a recent fundraising initiative to support the Simon Community.

The book is being sent to more than 400 nursing homes (Vincent Butler)

In the lead up to Christmas, Mr Butler launched a fundraising initiative for the charity, whereby every €10 donation received would result in a copy of the book being sent to a nursing home or a school.

He raised over €12,000 which will see every nursing home in the country receiving the collection of photographs.

More than 800 primary and secondary schools will also be gifted one.

The initiative is supported by An Post’s freepost service for parcels being delivered into nursing homes.

Mr Butler said: “My travels provided me with an opportunity to explore some of the most diverse locations in the world and to capture different geographies, wildlife, natural history and heritage.

“My camera was my companion to capture these very special experiences and the book picks out the finest pictures and most memorable of these.

Vincent taking a picture of a penguin (Vincent Butler)

“I hope it gives people in our nursing homes and schools an insight into the different countries and cultures I was very fortunate to get to know and provokes discussion, curiosity and enjoyment.

“Those who contributed were supporting not just the Simon Community but also expressing solidarity with people in our nursing homes during these difficult times.

“I am delighted to report that the Irish tradition of ‘meitheal’, the coming together of a group of people to help others, is very much alive in our wonderful country.

“When I broached the idea for the fundraiser a close cohort of 18 friends came onboard and joined me. Together we raised €12,357 and every book we are sending has supported the Simon Community.”

Anyone wishing to donate can visit vincentbutlerheritage.ie where people can donate on Vincent’s Simon Community page.

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