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  • Editors' Introduction:Toward Transitional Justice in Ireland? Addressing Legacies of Harm
  • Katherine O'Donnell (bio), Maeve O'Rourke (bio), and James M. Smith (bio)

We were locked in and there was absolutely no way of getting out.

We were made to work even if we were very ill, as I was. No excuses were ever accepted.

[My son] was wrenched from my breast by one of the nuns while I was feeding him and taken away for adoption…. At no time did I give my consent to my son's adoption.

I do not even know whether he was buried in a coffin…. There was never even a kind or sympathetic [word] spoken to me.

I have found it incredibly difficult to access information about my childhood, my mother, and my siblings…. I was made to feel that I was a nuisance.

Throughout the time I spent researching my birth family, I found the authorities from whom I sought assistance obstructive and unhelpful.

Everyone has the right to know their name; the right to know their mother's name.1 [End Page 9]

The testimony above comes from the CLANN report, an evidencegathering and advocacy project that facilitated survivor participation in the Republic of Ireland's ongoing Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and Certain Related Matters. We open this special issue of Éire-Ireland, entitled Toward Transitional Justice in Ireland? Addressing Legacies of Harm, with survivors' voices in order to acknowledge that the volume is concerned with the experience of hundreds of thousands of individuals who were born or grew up in Ireland, and of their families across multiple generations, who have been too frequently ignored. As academics and members of the Justice for Magdalenes Research (JFMR) advocacy group, for the past decade we have endeavored to place the motto of survivors, "nothing about us, without us," at the center of our research and activism on the subject of Ireland's class, race, disability, and gender-based abuses, so evident in Irish carceral institutions.2 We have attempted always to ensure that our work is led by survivors' experiences, perspectives, and critiques, and we have consciously continued such practice in putting this special issue and the conference that preceded it together.

The essays in this collection originated in the conference Towards Transitional Justice: Recognition, Truth-Telling, and Institutional Abuse in Ireland, held at Boston College in early November 2018.3 Over two days scholars, policy-makers, abuse survivors, people affected by adoption, artists, and advocates came together to consider the nature of both the republic's and Northern Ireland's responses to Magdalen laundries, county homes, mother-and-baby homes, child residential institutions, child foster care, and the closed, secret, and coercive adoption system. What was clear at the conference, and what is evident from the contributions to this special issue, is that state-led efforts to address this legacy of abuse have been inadequate, and as a result the harms experienced are not "historical" but continuing. [End Page 10]

Over the past twenty years the Irish state has initiated a plethora of inquiries into twentieth-century institutional and gender-based abuses, including the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (resulting in the so-called Ryan report, 2009), the Interdepartmental Committee to Establish the Facts of State Involvement with the Magdalen Laundries (resulting in the McAleese report, 2013), the Surgical Symphysiotomy Ex-Gratia Payment Scheme inquiry (resulting in the Harding Clark report, 2016), and the ongoing Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and Certain Related Matters (set to produce the Murphy report, forthcoming in 2020).4 However, these inquiries have frequently hampered or excluded other avenues of accountability. They have largely operated in private. Survivors and relatives of the deceased, and frequently also the police, have been prohibited from accessing the inquiries' archives. The director of public prosecutions brought charges against only one person in relation to the contents of the Ryan report.5 Neither the Magdalen laundries nor the mother-and-baby homes have been the subject of criminal cases. Survivors' access to the civil courts has been stymied by myriad procedural barriers, a lack of access to relevant evidence, and the unavailability...


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