The chair of an official working group investigating mother and baby homes and Magdalene laundries in Northern Ireland has appealed to people from throughout Ireland and beyond to tell it in confidence about their experiences of the institutions.

Norah Gibbons, the independent chair of the committee of northern civil servants, has welcomed the appointment of a team of senior academic researchers to help uncover the full extent of the institutions' operations.

It is a year since the North's Historical Abuse Inquiry confirmed there had been widespread abuse in children's residential homes over several decades and recommended various forms of restitution, which have not been acted upon because of the collapse of the power-sharing executive.

However, the North's ad-hoc administration, under pressure from many mothers whose children were illegally adopted, former Magdalenes and mother and baby home residents who had not come within the scope of that landmark investigation, mounted a behind-closed-doors inquiry.

Last February, Ms Gibbons, who chairs the Child and Family Agency Tusla, was appointed to lead the civil service-driven probe of the full extent of the institutionalisation of marginalised mothers and their children.

She says that while anecdotal evidence suggests most of them were Catholic-run, less well-known Protestant charities may also have been involved.

She appealed to anyone with relevant information to speak in confidence with a team of experienced researchers from the North's two universities, which the Department of Health has appointed to assist her committee to trawl all available records referring to the years between 1922 and 1999.