Catholic Archbishop asks for forgiveness as he apologises to survivors of mother and baby homes

Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin issued a statement after the publication of the report on Mother and Baby Homes and Magdalene laundries in Northern Ireland.

The head of the Catholic church in Ireland has apologised and asked for the forgiveness of the survivors of the mother and baby homes.

Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin issued a statement after the publication of the research report on Mother and Baby Homes and Magdalene laundries in Northern Ireland, which revealed victims of rape and incest were put in facilities for unmarried mothers and their children.

"As a Catholic church leader in Ireland it is I who now feel embarrassed and guilty over the way in which we in the church contributed to, and bolstered, that culture of concealment, condemnation, and self-righteousness," he said.

"For that I am truly sorry and ask the forgiveness of survivors. How did we so obscure the love and mercy and compassion of Christ which is at the very heart of the Gospel? Shame on us.

"The persistence and the powerful testimonies of these same courageous survivors has lifted the lid on this dark chapter of our shared history and exposed our hypocrisy to the glaring light."

The Bishop of Derry, Donal McKeown, said all historic records from the homes should be released in full.

"If anyone is trying to hide records or destroy records, that is a crime. Of course there is no reason why records should be withheld because people want to know who they are," Mr McKeown told the BBC.

"They mightn't like what they find out when they discover who they are, the parent may not want to know them, but people have to have access to as much information as possible."

Church of Ireland Archbishop John McDowell said: "I acknowledge with shame that members of the Church of Ireland stigmatised women and children in a way which was very far removed from Christian principles and which resulted in an unloving, cold and judgmental attitude towards pregnant women who deserved better.

"The birth of a child should always be a time for happiness, and that many young women experienced it as joyless and cold is a matter for bitter regret. I am sorry and apologise for the role we played in treating unmarried women and their children in this way. They deserved much better."

Apologies have also been issued by the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and the Church of Ireland following the research undertaken by a team of academics from Queen's University Belfast and Ulster University.

Their report features claims from women that they were subjected to labour like scrubbing floors during the final stages of pregnancy and were described as "fallen" and stigmatised.

Some survivors are pressing for a speedy public inquiry but there are concerns surrounding the impact on some who suffered life-changing trauma of giving evidence.

More than 10,500 women and girls entered mother and baby homes over a 68-year period from 1922.

A "victim-centred" independent investigation was ordered by Stormont ministers and should be completed within six months.

First Minister Arlene Foster pledged the voices of survivors would be heard "loudly and clearly".

She added: "It was not their fault that they were raped or the victims of incest yet they were the ones who suffered and it appears to me that those who perpetrated the crime went scot free."

Around a third of those admitted were aged under 19 and most were from 20-29.

Tuesday's report examined eight mother and baby homes, a number of former workhouses and four Magdalene laundries, the leader of Northern Ireland's devolved administration said.

Mrs Foster said: "It is with huge regret that we acknowledge the pain of those experiences and the hurt caused to women and girls who did nothing more than be pregnant outside of marriage, some of them criminally against their will.

"None of us should be proud of how our society shunned women in these circumstances and their experiences while resident in these institutions."

Around 4% of babies were either stillborn or died shortly after birth across the entire period, the independent report ordered by Stormont ministers said.

Retired senior police officer Judith Gillespie led the review and said survivors would finally have control over their own choices.