‘An Island’s Shame’ speaks to mothers, children, investigators and campaigners
The next episode of UTV’s current affairs programme ‘Up Close’ investigates Mother and Baby homes in an in-depth programme which airs on Thursday 27th May at 9pm.
These establishments were part of the fabric of life in Northern Ireland for decades, used for young pregnant unmarried women to have their babies, with most being given up for adoption.
Entitled ‘An Island’s Shame’, and presented by UTV’s Sharon O’Neill, this compelling and moving programme follows on from a damning report published in January about Mother and Baby Homes, which was commissioned by the Department of Health and chaired by retired PSNI officer Judith Gillespie. The report found that more than 10,000 women and children, among them rape and incest victims, were sent to mother and baby homes in Northern Ireland between 1922 and 1990. The Executive subsequently ordered a “victim-centred” independent investigation, with campaigners calling for a full statutory inquiry.
In the programme, Northern Irish children born in these homes talk about their own emotional journeys and searches, and a mother gives her account of her time in the home, and the memories that haunt her to this day. We also hear from Judith Gillespie; solicitor and campaigner, Claire McKeegan; and criminologist and academic Phil Scraton who led the investigation into the Hillsborough Disaster, and who is now one of three experts leading the Truth Recovery Design Team, set up after the report to investigate the operation of the historical institutions.
The programme opens with Judith Gillespie who comments on the findings of the initial report, “This was not a marginal issue, this was thousands of young girls and women, who had babies in secret, and had all sorts of subterfuge and cover stories to hide what was going on from neighbours, friends, wider society and indeed family. This was mainstream on an industrial scale, and I find that shocking…… an appalling chapter of our island’s history”
Solicitor Claire McKeegan highlights claims of ‘systemic failings’ and a ‘culture of cruelty and lack of care,” and is calling for a full statutory inquiry as the only mechanism to find the truth as to who was responsible.
We meet Maria, who goes with Sharon for the first time to Marianville in Belfast where she was born in 1969. Her mother, then aged 21, was in a mixed religion relationship and fell pregnant, and was sent to the home to have the baby and give her up. She said, “Babies like myself were treated as commodities. I know she had absolutely no choice.”
Then we meet Paul whose mother was forced to travel from Londonderry to Belfast aged 18 to have him and give him up for adoption. As a young adult, Paul traced her family back to the North West to only discover that she had passed away at 29 in a tragic house fire. Always hoping as a child she would return for him, he says, “That feeling of abandonment – that feeling without her has shaped me irreversibly. I will never be able to change now.”
Adele, herself born in a mother and baby home, goes back to Marianvale in Newry where she was sent to have her baby when she fell pregnant aged 17. She describes the Spartan conditions. . Her son was later adopted. She says, “Even all this time later it still hurts me to the core to give away a part of yourself into someone else’s hands – it is just devastating.”
Peter was born in 1945 to an unmarried mother in Thorndale, a home run by the Salvation Army in Belfast. They both then spent time in another home in Dublin from where he was adopted aged four. He talks about meeting his mum in the 1980s shortly before she passed away. When asked about forgiveness, he poignantly says, “She did what she thought was right, the fault wasn’t hers, the fault was the system.”
Adele ends the programme by saying, “I really feel that now is the time to step out of the shadows, tell your story, tell the truth about what happened in these places, and get some justice for us all.”
UTV’s Trudy Smyth-McCann, who produced the programme said, “We hope that through this programme, we’ve been able to dig deeper into this heart breaking issue, and lift the lid on what has been buried for decades. During our research, we found that so many families had stories to tell about sisters, aunts, or neighbours who had this path chosen for them when they fell pregnant. January’s report into these homes in Northern Ireland has highlighted the need for a full investigation and we hope that through the programme, by seeing the bravery of those we interviewed, other women and their children will come forward with their stories.
“Thank you to all the contributors but especially those who very bravely put their own personal tragedy aside to tell their stories to help others. The Up Close team hope that viewers come away with a better understanding of this part of Northern Ireland’s history that affected so many families.”
Tony Curry, Programmes Editor at UTV said, “Up Close allows us to go in-depth on some of Northern Ireland’s biggest stories – stories that need further analysis, investigation and explanation. UTV News reported extensively on the publication of the initial report back in January and even then we wanted to examine the issue further and hear the human stories behind the report. We haven’t shied away from this very sensitive but important issue, and hope that this programme will help keep this story alive for those looking for answers.”
‘Up Close – An Island’s Shame’ will air on Thursday 27th May 9pm on UTV.