‘No-one brought to us was ever turned away’ - Good Shepherd Sisters

The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, who ran homes in Derry, Belfast and Newry, have said that no woman ever brought to their door was ever turned away.

The Sisters were speaking as they welcomed the Interdepartmental Working Group on Mother and Baby Homes and Magdalene Homes in Northern Ireland, 1922-1990.

In a statement they said: “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. 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.

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“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.

“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.”

The Sisters said they 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 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.

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“Good Shepherd Sisters, in good faith, endeavoured 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 be affording the independent investigation our fullest co-operation.”