N.Irish police probe abuse at Church-run women’s homes

(File photo) A churchgoer holds a cross and rosary beads as the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, speaks in Saint-Patricks Cathedral on March 20, 2010 in Armagh, Northern Ireland. Brady voiced hope on March 20, 2010 that the Catholic pope’s letter addressing sex abuse by priests could lead to “a great season of rebirth”. AFP PHOTO / Peter Muhly (Photo by PETER MUHLY / AFP)

DUBLIN, Ireland (AFP) — Northern Irish police on Wednesday began probing historic allegations of abuse at women’s homes run by the Protestant and Catholic Churches in the UK province, where thousands were ostracized from society.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) launched the probe after a panel commissioned by the regional government on Tuesday called for a full inquiry into the Church-run homes for women.

Detective Chief Superintendent Anthony McNally said specially trained officers “will be investigating all allegations of non-recent physical and sexual abuse against residents”.

“All reports we receive will be examined thoroughly and any criminality detected will be robustly investigated,” he added in a statement.

Research published earlier this year found 14,000 women and girls passed through the doors of institutions run by Protestant and Catholic organisations in Northern Ireland between 1922 and 1990.

Of these, some 10,500 women and girls as young as 12 entered “mother and baby homes” for unmarried mothers and their children.

The residents included victims of rape and incest, cast out by a society in the grip of hardline Christian dogma of shame and stigma.

Research also found that 3,000 women were sent to austere “Magdalene laundries”, where women seen as “fallen” were forced to work washing clothes.

The research found women were mistreated, held against their will and forced to give up children for adoption.

A member of the expert panel that called for the inquiry, law professor Phil Scraton, on Tuesday described the system as “one of the great scandals of our time”.

The PSNI said in a statement that it “will now commence an investigation into allegations of physical and sexual abuse involving mother and baby homes and Magdalene laundries”.

The Northern Ireland investigation into Church institutions for women comes after an inquiry in the Republic of Ireland concluded in January.

The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes said 56,000 unmarried women and 57,000 children passed through Irish institutions over 76 years.

Infants suffered an “appalling” 15-percent mortality rate, while the mothers suffered emotional abuse in “cold and seemingly uncaring” conditions.

Irish prime minister Micheal Martin offered an official state apology for the mistreatment.

© Agence France-Presse