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Editorial: Mother and baby home survivors failed again

WHEN an expert panel set out its recommendations to finally address what went on behind closed doors over many decades in mother and baby homes, Magdalene laundries and workhouses in Northern Ireland, it appealed for the plans to be acted on "without delay".

The Truth Recovery Design Panel was reporting back last October after spending months listening to the stories of some of those who were mistreated, held against their will and forced to give up children during one of the darkest chapters of our recent history.

It had been tasked with working with survivors to help design the format of an investigation after research revealed how more than 10,500 women and girls entered homes for unmarried mothers and their children from 1922 to 1990, many of them just teenagers.

Around 3,000 women were also sent to Magdalene laundries where they were forced to carry out unpaid manual labour.

As well as a public inquiry, it was recommended that an independent panel be set up to hear victims' testimonies in a non-adversarial setting. Records should also be opened up and compensation paid from the outset.

The executive agreed to fully implement the panel's findings, with former Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill describing it last November as a watershed moment for survivors.

Ms O'Neill also said it was "crucial that we move rapidly on all the issues", suggesting legislation to establish an inquiry would be a matter for a new assembly elected in May.

Instead, victims and survivors have since experienced months of frustration as they wait for progress to be made.

The DUP boycott of Stormont over the Northern Ireland Protocol has meant there has been no functioning government since February, with little prospect of a speedy return.

Survivors have been campaigning for justice for 15 years and Adele Johnstone, from the group Birth Mothers and their Children for Justice, told this newspaper how they feel let down.

The situation echoes that faced by survivors of historical institutional abuse, who had to fight for years even for recommendations of a public inquiry to be implemented.

In both cases many of those affected are elderly and some have tragically not lived to see official recognition that what happened to them was wrong.

As with health service funding, the cost-of-living crisis and a range of other pressing issues, it is the most vulnerable in our society who are being failed most by the continuing political dysfunction at Stormont.

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