Lord Mayor lays flowers at unmarked mass graves to remember Belfast's ‘forgotten babies’
Amnesty calls for inquiry into Mother and Baby Homes in Northern Ireland
Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Nichola Mallon, and Deputy Lord Mayor, Councillor Máire Hendron will lay flowers today at unmarked mass graves at Milltown Cemetery to remember the city's ‘forgotten babies’ and other poor and marginalised citizens buried there.
It is estimated that at least 11,000 people are buried in the mass graves at the point where the cemetery meets the Bog Meadows. Hundreds 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. Others are so-called 'limbo babies' - unbaptised children denied a burial on consecrated ground. The mass grave is also the final resting place of thousands of Belfast's citizens who were too poor to afford a proper burial plot in the main cemetery.
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. This is the first year that civic leaders have joined the relatives for the ceremony.
Among those present at the ceremony will be Fionnuala McGoldrick, who was born in Marianville Mother and Baby Home in south Belfast, as was her older brother Paul, after her young unwed mother was sent there. Paul died in another home from pneumonia seven months after he was born in August 1972. Fionnuala began the search to find her brother four years ago and, earlier this year, obtained records that confirmed he was buried at the Bog Meadows on the edge of Milltown Cemetery.
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."
In May 2013 Amnesty International provided Ministers in OFMDFM with a briefing on Mother and Baby Homes in Northern Ireland and called for them to establish an inquiry into alleged abuses. In June 2013 and again in September 2014 Amnesty International, alongside women who allege abuse in the homes, met with Junior Ministers Jonathan Bell and Jennifer McCann. Eighteen months on from the original request, Amnesty and the families affected are still awaiting a response from Ministers.
In June 2014, 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.