Editorial: Mother and baby home survivors deserve truth

Yesterday marked another significant milestone for the survivors of mother and baby homes and Magdalene laundries in Northern Ireland, places which have become bywords for cruelty and a chilling lack of compassion for the women and girls who were sent there.

The appalling abuses that took place in these institutions in the Republic have been well documented but the scale of the mistreatment endured by thousands of women and girls in the north has taken longer to emerge.

A landmark report by Queen's University and Ulster University published earlier this year found that 10,500 women and children were sent to mother and baby homes in Northern Ireland between 1922 and 1990. Around 3,000 women were admitted to Magdalene laundries between the same dates.

Among those sent to these uncaring and judgmental places were victims of rape and incest with the youngest girl admitted aged just 12. We are told that women were held against their will, forced to give up their babies for adoption and even made to scrub floors during the final stages of pregnancy.

The fact that these harsh and unforgiving places existed at all will seem, to many people in today's world, almost beyond belief.

Yet it was 1984 when the last Magdalene laundry in the north closed and as recently as 1990 when the last mother and baby home shut its doors.

Following this report, the Stormont Executive commissioned an expert panel to work with survivors to design the format of an investigation into these institutions.

Yesterday, the panel issued a list of recommendations, including the establishment of a public inquiry as well as a non-statutory independent panel that would allow testimony to be given in a less adversarial setting than a formal hearing.

The panel also called for immediate redress payments to survivors and legislation to allow full access to records.

These are all crucially important measures that must be acted on without delay.

One of the panel members, Professor Phil Scraton, described this issue as 'one of the great scandals of our time.'

The suffering inflicted on victims, survivors and their families, cannot be undone, but Stormont can ensure the full story of what happened in these institutions is told.

The people who were treated so abominably deserve to be heard and should not have to wait any longer for truth, redress and vital support.