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Religious order which ran a home for 'fallen women' in Derry 'deeply regret' how the women were treated

“This report reflects a time in our history when women did not receive the support they needed and deserved from family, society or the state."

Magdalene Laundries

The report looked into the former Magdalene Launderies and mother-and-baby homes in Northern Ireland.

A religious order which ran a home for 'fallen women' in Derry for many years say they 'deeply regret' how the women were treated.

The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd tonight issued a lengthy statement following the publication today of a report into mother-and-baby homes and Magdalene Laundries in Northern Ireland.

Magdalene Laundries were initially Protestant but later mostly Catholic institutions that operated from the 18th to the late 20th centuries, to house 'fallen women'.

The report published today was compiled by Queen's University and Ulster University on behalf of the Northern Ireland Executive.

The Executive said that a new independent investigation will now be carried out into the activities and impact of the homes.

First Minister Arlene Foster said the investigation would be 'victims-centred'.

"A statutory public inquiry may well be the outcome of that process but victims and survivors will be given the opportunity to influence that," she said.

The report examined eight mother and baby homes, a number of former workhouses, four Magdalene Laundries and sought personal testimony from women and children with 'lived experience' of the institutions.

The Magdalene Laundries examined included one which was run by the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd in the Waterside area of Derry from 1922 to 1992.

The report describes as a 'conservative estimate' that over 10,500 women and girls entered the homes between 1922 and 1990.

Living conditions and care for residents were recorded in little detail but personal testimonies revealed 'strenuous physical labour' was expected of the women in the homes.

In their statement tonight, a spokesperson for Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd said they welcomed the report.

“This report reflects a time in our history when women did not receive the support they needed and deserved from family, society or the state. We provided services for women when no other option seemed to be available to them,” the spokesperson said.

“As Judge Hart confirmed in a previous report, no-one who came, or was brought to us in need of help, was ever turned away.

“We ran three St. Mary’s Homes with adjacent Laundries, in Derry, Belfast and Newry.

“The report describes these homes as a ‘catch-all solution to a wide range of issues identified by the state, members of the Catholic Clergy and in some instances family member of the girls…’

“The report also describes the ‘lack of state funding for many of the girls as a key issue’. Our sisters lived in these homes and worked alongside the women in the laundries, which were the main and necessary means of support.”

The order's spokesperson said that many of these women were sent to St. Mary’s Homes by the state (31%) and the report states that they were ‘free to leave subject to (completion of) probation or protection order’.

“The report also established that for St Mary’s Derry, 20% of women departed the home within a month of entry and a further 35% departed within a year.

“In Belfast the report confirms that 75% of women departed the home within a year.

“We ran two mother and baby homes, one in Newry another in Belfast.

“Mostly young pregnant women came to us seeking assistance and confidentiality and mostly with the intention of placing their baby for adoption.

“Residents in the mother and baby homes did not work in the laundries.”

The spokesperson highlights that the new report refers to the ‘complex nature’ of mother-and-baby homes.

“The lack of family support made it very difficult for these women at such a critical time in their lives.

“However, the report shows that 26% of babies left the homes with their mother.

“The issue of adoption has been raised in the report, however, as the researchers did not have access to adoption files, which were never held by us, no firm conclusions were drawn on this matter.”

The spokesperson said that Good Shepherd Sisters tried to provide appropriate care for these women.

“Many former residents have appreciated the support they received while in our care and have kept in contact with our Sisters over the years.

“We have also noted in the report the many and varied accounts of those who spent time with us.

“This was not a good experience for everyone and we wish that we could have done more for the women in our care at such a critical time in their lives.

“We deeply regret that we could not and did not always meet the multifaceted needs of these women.

“We will need more time to review the contents of the report in detail and we will affording the independent investigation, announced this evening, our fullest co-operation,” concluded the order's spokesperson.

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