Northern Ireland Police appealing to New Zealanders over investigation into Magdalene Laundries dating back decades

Northern Ireland Police are appealing to New Zealanders to help them in an investigation dating back decades. 

They are investigating claims of illegal adoptions, forced labour, and abuse at Magdalene Laundries and mother-and-baby institutions.

"We were slaves, I was a child slave," Magdalene laundry survivor Maureen Sullivan said in 2013.

A recent report found close to 15,000 women were admitted to these institutions between 1922 and 1990.

"They changed my name, they called me Francis, and of course, for the first few days you're not used to being called Francis and you do get boxed in the head and rosary beads in your back and ribs," Sullivan said.

Police in Northern Ireland believe some of those women, likely to now be in their 70s, and their children, likely to be over 50, may now live in New Zealand. 

"It's a working hypothesis for us, a strong possibility given the strong links between Ireland, Northern Ireland and Australia and New Zealand," said Detective Superintendent Gary Reid of the Northern Ireland Police Service.

Northern Ireland Police have so far spoken to 88 people about allegations of physical, mental, and sexual abuse, but the vast majority of complaints centre around illegal adoptions.

"You can imagine a young woman going into these institutions and then being asked to hand their baby over at the end is what is being alleged," Det Supt Reid said. "And some of the adoptions we're looking into now, is the criminality of that."

The Police Service of Northern Ireland would like to hear from women who worked in or now-adult children who were adopted out of these institutions. So far no New Zealanders have spoken to the dedicated team but they are hopeful people will come forward. 

"I take my hat off to the people that have come forward so far. It's very brave of them," Det Supt Reid said.

He added that his team knows this is a subject of great pain for those involved. In some cases, the trauma is so significant that all these years later, women have never revealed to their families that they spent time in these institutions. 

"I'm into my 20th, 30th year in policing, and I have to say, this is the most difficult job in those 30 years," Det Supt Reid said.

Everyone involved acknowledges that, with many years having passed, time is of the essence.