Call for inquiry into Magdalene laundries

The Irish Times – Wednesday, November 10, 2010
PATSY McGARRY, Religious Affairs Correspondent

THE IRISH Human Rights Commission (IHRC) has called on the Government to set up a statutory inquiry into treatment of women and girls in Magdalene laundries. It also said financial redress should be available to survivors.

The Government said it had “asked the Attorney General in consultation with relevant departments to consider the IHRC’s report”, but expressed regret “that relevant departments were not offered an opportunity by the IHRC to contribute to the commission’s considerations of this matter to facilitate a fully balanced evaluation of all the facts”.

The Government was “conscious that the Magdalene laundries were run by a number of religious congregations” and noted the IHRC would not conduct an inquiry itself.

Possibly anticipating this question, commission chief executive Éamonn Mac Aodha said at the press conference that an inquiry by it could not deliver the apology and redress sought from the State for the women and girls involved. “We do not have those type of powers,” he said.

As to the costs of such an inquiry, commission president Dr Maurice Manning said issues at stake were so fundamental that an inquiry should go ahead. “There is no reason why it should be lengthy, as a great deal of the evidence has been gathered,” he said.

Fianna Fáil TDs Tom Kitt and Michael Kennedy, Labour TD Kathleen Lynch and Independent TD Maureen O’Sullivan attended the IHRC event.

Speaking during the adjournment debate in the Dáil last night, Mr Kitt said he strongly supported the commission’s stance. Survivors “should receive an apology from the State” and a distinct redress scheme for them “should be established”, he said. “The survivors of the Bethany Home should be treated in the same way.” He asked the Conference of the Religious in Ireland (Cori) and the four religious congregations that operated the laundries to meet the Justice For Magdalenes group “to deal with the issues of records, compensation and other related matters”.

Last June, the Justice for Magdalenes group asked the commission to inquire into treatment of women and girls in Magdalene laundries. The commission agreed to do so, and to examine the human rights issues arising.

The principal findings by the commission’s inquiry, on which it based its recommendations yesterday, were that “for those girls and women who entered Magdalene laundries following a court process, there was clear State involvement in their entry to the laundries”.

It found questions arose “as to whether the State’s obligations to guard against arbitrary detention were met in the absence of information on whether and how girls and women under court processes resided in and left the laundries”. It found the State may have breached the 1930 Forced Labour Convention and Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Of the Magdalene laundry in Drumcondra, Dublin, it said: “The burial, exhumation and cremation of known and unknown women from a Magdalene laundry in 1993 at High Park raises serious questions for the State in the absence of detailed legislation governing the area.”

Olive Braiden, of the commission, said: “We are dealing with a small and vulnerable group of women who the Government admitted as far back as 2001 were victims of abuse.” Dr Manning said: “The State cannot abdicate from its responsibilities in relation to the treatment of women and girls in the Magdalene laundries.”

Prof James Smith of the Justice for Magdalenes group said “the Government must move beyond its ‘deny ’til they die’ policy.”

Maeve O’Rourke, co-author of the group’s submission to the commission, said the State “must convince the church to acknowledge its part in this scandal, and to open up its records”. It should also call on the church “to pay its share of compensation to survivors”.