Educational Resources: A Pilot Project by NUI Galway postgraduate law students 2021

We are Tomás Carlos Biggins, Sijia Shen, Emily O’Reilly, Helen McDonagh, Jessica Howard and Erika Hayes, LLM students participating in the Human Rights Law Clinic at the Irish Center for Human Rights in NUIG, directed by Dr. Maeve O’Rourke and mentored by Mary Harney and Fionna Fox.

From left to right: Tomás Carlos Biggins – Emily O’Reilly – Mary Harney – Jessica Howard – Helen McDonagh – Sijia Shen. This photo was taken at Mary Harney’s socially distant birthday on the Salthill Prom.

Educational Resources: A Pilot Project

Throughout the 2020-2021 academic year we have worked with Mary Harney and Fionna Fox, first and second generation survivors of Ireland’s religious-run, State-supported institutions who are experienced advocates for the human rights of survivors.

During our discussions with Mary and Fionna, both placed a heavy emphasis on the need for education-based memorialisation of the atrocities perpetrated against children and women in Industrial and Reformatory Schools, Mother and Baby Homes, County Homes, Magdalene Laundries and related institutions, and in the adoption and family separation system that continues to impact people to this day. 

It was evident from our research that these aspects of Irish history and current practice are not an established part of the national curriculum for Secondary Level Education. Some important educational resources concerning the Magdalene Laundries are available on the Justice for Magdalenes Research website and in this Resource Pack for Secondary School teachers by Dr Jennifer O’Mahoney and Dr Kate McCarthy. However, in consultation with Mary and Fionna, we realised that we could make a valuable contribution to the education of young people in Ireland by creating a Pilot Programme addressing the linked abuses of children and women across the range of Church-run, State-supported institutions. We aimed to create a resource that could potentially be used to teach secondary school students across the country.

Our group divided the workload into three main sections. The Pilot Programme is designed to be taught to Transition Year students and can be adopted by any teacher, containing lesson plans, scripts and links to additional resources. We created an accompanying Educational Archive with information about the institutions and links to survivor testimonies and newspaper coverage. In addition, while we were developing these educational resources, Erika Hayes, LLM candidate at the ICHR and solicitor, contributed alongside Mary Harney, Fionna Fox, Dr Maeve O’Rourke and a number of other activists, practitioners and academics to the Oireachtas scrutiny of the Government’s Institutional Burials Bill.