Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Nichola Mallon, and Deputy Lord Mayor, Councillor Máire Hendron, will lay flowers at unmarked mass graves at Milltown Cemetery to remember the city’s ‘forgotten babies’ and other poor and marginalised people buried there, today.
Of the at least 11,000 people buried in the mass graves, 100s are babies and small infants from the city’s Mother and Baby Homes and religious-run children’s homes who were routinely buried there without ceremony or marker.
The Christmas flower-laying ceremony is organised by Milltown Action Committee, comprised of relatives of those buried in the mass graves, and by Amnesty International which is calling for an inquiry into alleged abuse at Mother and Baby Homes in Northern Ireland.
Toni Maguire, archaeologist and chairperson of Milltown Action Committee, whose uncle is buried in the mass graves, said: “Today we pay homage to all those who are buried here. We must mark the graves which currently lie in this ground in such an anonymous way, to show that we remember them, but also to demonstrate that society recognises their existence.”
Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland Programme Director of Amnesty International, said: “After the revelations about the mass grave of babies at Tuam, it is more important than ever that we discover of the truth of what happened at Mother and Baby Homes in Northern Ireland, including whether their short lives were, in any way, attributable to neglect or abuse while in care and whether those babies ended up in unmarked graves in the Bog Meadows.”
“We have asked the First and Deputy First Minister to establish an inquiry into Mother and Baby homes here, as has been promised in the Republic. Unfortunately, eighteen months on from the original request to Ministers, families are still awaiting a response.”
Amnesty International is concerned at Ireland’s delay in commencing its promised independent investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and other similar institutions run by the state or religious authorities, on foot of the discovery of babies and children’s bodies in an unmarked grave on the grounds of a former home in Tuam, Co Galway in June 2014.
Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland, said: “It is now six months since the then Minister for Children announced a statutory Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes across the Irish State. The Commission’s terms of reference were initially supposed to be have been published within weeks, and then by the end of September. In the Oireachtas select committee on health last week, the current Minister said the terms of reference should be ready for publication by Christmas, but no guarantee has been given.”
“We are calling for the terms of reference to be published as a matter of urgency so this long overdue investigation can finally begin. It is troubling that we are nearing the end of the year with no terms of reference for what precisely this Commission will be investigating and no advance of the legislation needed to establish it.”
“The Minister must announce a clear timeframe for the Commission to be up and running. The women who found themselves placed in these institutions, and the children who were born, lived and in many cases died there, have a right to truth, justice and reparation for any human rights abuses they experienced. Any further delay in putting in place an independent and effective investigation imperils those rights.”
In June, reports emerged of an unmarked grave of 100s of babies and children in Tuam, Go Galway, on the grounds of a former Mother and Baby Home operated by a religious order, reportedly between 1925 and 1961. There are concerns about how children and women were reportedly treated in these institutions, including high child mortality rates, alleged illegal adoption practices, vaccine trials conducted on children without consent, and denial of medical care to some women.
On 10 June, the then Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Charlie Flanagan, announced a statutory Commission of Investigation and that its establishment would require a resolution of both Houses of the Oireachtas. He said its terms of reference would be published by the end of that Dáil term.
On 18 June, the Minister said “the Government is anxious to have the Commission of Investigation established before the Dáil recess and has set a tight deadline”. He also announced that some institutions beyond Mother and Baby Homes would be included.
On 16 July, announcing Judge Yvonne Murphy as Chair of the Commission of Investigation and publishing the report of the Inter-Departmental Group on Mother and Baby Homes, the current Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, James Reilly, said: “On the return of the Dáil after the Summer recess I intend tabling a draft order to establish the Commission under the Commission of Investigation Act, 2004 together with a statement providing an estimate of the costs to be incurred by the Commission in conducting the investigation and a time frame for its work.”
The Department of Children and Youth Affairs’ website then set out a timeframe of end-September for bringing the proposed resolution to the Houses of the Oireachtas, and since October that has changed to “as soon as possible”.