Skip to main content


PhD title: ‘Remembering What They Can Never Forget: Exploring Memorialisation of Historical Institutional Abuse from the Perspective of Victim-Survivors and the General Public’


My PhD thesis investigates the role and significance of memorialisation as a response to historical institutional abuse. Its specific focus is upon the abuses within the Magdalene Laundry and Mother and Baby Home regimes. The increasing importance of memorialisation in this context is demonstrated by its recommendation in official inquiries in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Australia as a response to historical clerical sexual abuse, and in Canada and Australia in relation to historical institutional child abuse against indigenous populations. Memorialisation has also been recommended following the Irish government’s investigation into the Magdalene Laundries, and it is an anticipated outcome of the ongoing investigation into Mother and Baby Homes.

Transitional justice literature represents the main strand of the twin theoretical framework underpinning the thesis. The theoretical justification of the study lies in the recent extension of the field of transitional justice, including the mechanism of memorialisation as a means of redress, beyond its normative post-conflict setting into the area of historical institutional abuse. Transitional justice literature informs the public dimension of remembrance in terms of non-repetition of the abuse, and the official (Church-State) dimension, as regards issues of acknowledgement, responsibility and accountability. Although there is a growing body of literature examining memorialisation in the aftermath of conflict, there is a dearth of research exploring its role in the context of historical institutional abuse. My PhD addresses this gap in the literature. The private dimension of remembrance, in terms of how memorialisation might address the deeply private experiences of victim-survivors, is informed by the second strand of the theoretical framework, namely literature in the field of death and cultural studies.

The overall rationale of the study is to gain rich understandings of how memorialisation is perceived as a response to historical institutional abuse. The central focus is upon the perceptions of victim-survivors, as well as the public. The research objective of gaining deep insights into the subjective life experiences of victim-survivors will be achieved through qualitative interviews with victim-survivors and professionals working in the field of historical institutional abuse. Interviews will be conducted in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Public perceptions will be obtained through face-to-face surveys carried out in both jurisdictions.

Although my overarching objective as a researcher is the production of knowledge, my research is underpinned by notions of social justice and human rights. It aspires to empower victim-survivors by (1) giving them a voice after their previous marginalisation and stigmatisation; and (2) telling and keeping their ‘stories’ and the ongoing nature of the injustice within the public domain. Further, it seeks to provide informed insights to policymakers regarding why and how past wrongdoing should be remembered.

My research interests are as follows: transitional justice; restorative justice; human rights; memorialisation; redressing historic injustice; social justice for victim-survivors of historic abuse; addressing the private grief experiences of victim-survivors of historic abuse.



Professor Anne Marie McAlinden


Dr Heather Conway