A Magdalene laundry in the 1950s; Dr Martin McAleese with his report into Magdalene laundries in 2013
In the Irish Examiner…
Conall Ó Fátharta reports:
The Department of Justice failed to examine all available evidence when it wrongly refused some Magdalene laundry survivors access to redress payments.
Following an almost year-long investigation of the scheme, Ombudsman Peter Tyndall has published a scathing assessment of the department’s administration of the scheme.
The department had refused several women access to redress, claiming they were not resident in one of the 12 institutions covered by the scheme.
However, the Ombudsman was provided with evidence that some of the Magdalene laundries were either physically linked to the units where the women lived, or were located on the same grounds as the Magdalen laundries and were, in reality, “one and the same institution”.
The report determined that the department gave “undue weight” to evidence supplied by the religious congregations and some of it had been requested and received by the department after the decision to exclude the women was made.
The report also said it was not evident “what weight, if any, was afforded to the testimony of the women and/or their relatives”.
An Irish official from the Department of Justice, sitting next to Minister of State for Justice and Equality David Stanton (left), spoke to the committee about the report into the Magdalene laundries by former Senator Martin McAleese published on February 5, 2013.
“I have to say at the start the Taoiseach’s apology and the findings of the McAleese report still stand. There’s no question of walking back from either.
“On the question of criminal abuse, I’ll start by saying that the department approved payments for 677 women and, as part of that process, there’s a lot of interaction between the individual women and the department. And only in two cases was a reference arose to the question of possible criminal abuse…”
…It was quite rightly stated that a question of criminal abuse was not a specific term of reference for the McAleese committee. The chairperson did decide to look into the matter. He interviewed [inaudible] to determine if they had seen any sign that would indicate any abuse within the institution or whether doctors had treated any suspicious injuries and he got no indication from them.
He also looked at the question of unlawful imprisonment. There was never any legal basis for detaining a woman in a Magdalene laundry if she was an adult. And at the time, the age of majority in Ireland was 21. So that’s, any woman who was 21 or older, there’s no legal basis for their detention in a Magdalene institution.
A number of women, when interviewed by the chairman of the committee, did say that they were unsure of whether they were always free to leave and a smaller number of women who felt that they were being detained against their will but those particular cohort of women all came through the industrial schools and there was a provision in the act that governs those industrial schools that provided that a child committed to an industrial school could be subject to controls up the age of 21. So that there would be a legal basis for them being restricted, their liberty.
We have no reason to believe at this stage, that there is a body of evidence out there which was not looked at by the McAleese committee. But if there is evidence of criminal abuse that’s newly available, we would be happy to receive it from any source.
The McAleese committee did look for all relevant diocesan records and did inspect material from the Galway diocese. In addition, the Department of Justice itself, and separate to the committee, did receive material from the Galway dioceses, because it lists a number of individuals and that facilitated the granting of payments to those individuals because it proved that they were in that institution.
There are questions of sensitive personal data regarding the archives of the McAleese committee. A person who was in a Magdalene institution is entitled to access to religious records relating to her so any individual who wants to access records relating to them may have access to them.
There is no statute of limitations in Ireland for criminal offences. We are not aware of any civil action that has been taken in the Irish courts relating to a Magdalene institution and has failed because of the statute of limitations being envoked.
Moving on to the actual scheme itself, Judge Quirke recommended that only two criteria be applied for the question of eligibility for payment, under the scheme. That was one, the person was admitted to the, one of the specialised institutions and the second was they worked those in those specific institutions.
In that context the Government decided that persons should not benefit from two schemes with one exception. And this was an exception that was specifically recommended by Judge Quirke, it was a report and that is in relation to girls who were transferred from industrial schools to Magdalene laundries under the relevant legislation and the exception applies where the period up to the age of 18, so in period up to the age of 18, they’re eligible for possibly compensation, or payments, from either the Residential Institutions Redress scheme or the Magdalene scheme. But for the period over 18, it’s limited just to the Magdalene scheme.
The question of medical assistance abroad was mentioned. The provision and statutory provision has been provided for the provision of medical assistance in Ireland. But, obviously, that can’t be applied to other countries because we don’t have the jurisdiction over their medical system so the arrangement is done on an ad-hoc basis, individual basis, depending on which country they’re in, arrangements made on that basis.
Now that the majority of women have been identified and have been in and have been paid, there is work necessary to progress other matters and that includes the question of a memorial…
Felice D. Gaer, a member of the UN Committee Against Torture, above, recalled the words of the late Sir Nigel Rodley who addressed Irish officials in 2014.
He referred to your legacy of abuse and I’m going to quote him here: he said it was ‘quite a collection’. Quite a collection and his view was, he said it is time the Irish state stopped it’s automatic response to every scandal, being to first deny, then delay, then lie, cover-up and, eventually are forced to throw some money at it and hope it will go away.
“Now, this is a surprisingly sharp omment from him and I only bring it up at the end now because first I wanted to honour his memory but recalling this, I also wanted to recall that when we reviwed Ireland the first time, in 2011, Mr Shatter [former Justice Minister Alan Shatter] came in and his response to the question of what was happening with the Magdalene laundries was to say that the, this was something that happened long ago, that the girls…and it was only by, that everybody had gone there with consent.
“And I’m glad to hear today that the position of the Government has changed on that position.”
Martin McAleese with McAleese Inquiry into Magdalene laundries in February 2013
Further to the 2002 indemnity deal signed between then Minister for Education Dr Michael Woods and 18 congregations which capped the congregations’ abuse liability at €128million.
And last week’s Comptroller and Auditor General report which shows the congregations have paid just 13% of the €1.5billion compensation fund for victims of abuse who were residents of religious institutions.
And the McAleese Inquiry into the Magalene laundries which was chaired by Martin McAleese and published on Tuesday, February 5, 2013.
In the Irish Examiner.
Conall Ó Fátharta writes:
A religious order that ran two Magdalene Laundries told the Government that its decision not to contribute any money to the redress scheme for survivors was based on the findings of the McAleese Report.
…To date, the four orders that ran Magdalene Laundries — the Sisters of Mercy, Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge, the Good Shepherd Sisters, and the Sisters of Charity — have refused to contribute any money to the redress scheme set up in 2013 to compensate women.
The McAleese committee had no remit to investigate allegations of torture or other criminal offences that occurred in the laundries.
However, the Government in its August 2013 letter to the UN Committee against Torture said that, based on the McAleese committee’s interviewing of 118 ex-residents, “no factual evidence to support allegations of systematic torture or ill-treatment of a criminal nature in these institutions was found”.
Documents released under Freedom of Information show the Government wrote to the orders in February 2013 asking them to formally contribute to the redress fund. It wrote again in January 2014.
All four orders stated they would not contribute any money to the scheme.
Regional leader of the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity Sr Sheila Murphy responded on three occasions to then justice minister Alan Shatter stating its decision not to contribute was made after examining the findings of the McAleese Report.
On February 7, 2013:
Conor Ryan, in the Irish Examiner, reported:
The four religious orders who established and ran the for-profit laundries have substantial assets and it’s for this reason that the Justice For Magdalenes group (JFM) are arguing that the €296m made in property deals during the boom by these four orders must form part of a redress package. Many of the sites the orders haven’t sold and hold on their balance sheets continue to raise revenue by selling services to the State.
Three of the four orders that ran the laundries have earned €86m from the HSE from services provided on these sites in the past six years up to last year.
From top: A Magdalene Laundry in the 1950s; Nuala Ní Mhuircheartaigh (Department of Foreign Affairs), adviser to Martin McAleese in his role investigating State involvement with the Magdalene Laundries; Enda kenny during the leaders’ debate on Tuesday night
Also known as Opus Dei.
On Tuesday night, towards the end of the Prime Time Leaders’ Debate on RTÉ, presenter Miriam O’Callaghan asked the leaders what decision they regretted the most in their public life – political or otherwise.
When it came to Taoiseach Enda Kenny, the Fine Gael leader said:
“Well I regret a number but I would say that, maybe, to have been able to do things earlier but then that didn’t come my way. Like, that’s why I was happy to speak out about the sexual abuse in Cloyne, that’s why I was happy to do, to be moved by the tears of the Magdalene women, that’s why I was happy to deal with the people in Priory Hall, and that’s why I think it was important to be able to join the, join with the many hundreds of thousands who were able to provide freedom and relief for so many people in the marriage equality referendum. I had regrets about not being able to do things about those earlier but, when its come my way, we’ve been happy to work with others in delivering on that responsibility.”
Further to this.
Oireachtas Retort has dedicated their Election Day post to the survivors of the Magdalene laundries and symphysiotomy with pieces written by Claire McGettrick, of Justice For Magdalenes, and Marie O’Connor, of Survivors of Symphysiotomy.
Oireachtas Retort writes:
“You will find no clearer example of how brute uncaring force, casually demeaning people over decades is hardwired into the DNA of this state.
The cold indignity visited upon these women is multi-layered. The complicity and indifference that fuelled these crimes is not confined to the past but persists in the decisions we make in the ballot box today.”
In the post, Ms McGettrick reminds readers that, as the UN found the McAleese Report’s investigation to be neither prompt, independent nor thorough, it called for the Irish government to set up an independent inquiry.
But the government rejected the UN’s claim stating that because McAleese didn’t find evidence to “support allegations of systematic torture or ill treatment of a criminal nature in these institutions”, there would be no independent inquiry.
Further to this, Ms McGettrick writes:
“Are we to believe that the Taoiseach’s tearful apology [on February 19, 2013] was as a result of a ‘road to Damascus’ moment, or was it a political decision, designed to make the Magdalene problem go away? The experiences of survivors in contact with our organisation since the apology would suggest that unfortunately, it was the latter.”
“In June 2013, Mr Justice Quirke published The Magdalen Commission Report and while the financial element of the ex gratia scheme fell far short of what survivors deserve, we nonetheless welcomed it, in recognition of the other recommended benefits and services, particularly the establishment of a Dedicated Unit and the provision of an enhanced medical card which would provide access to ‘the full range of services currently enjoyed’ by HAA Card holders. We were pleased when the government announced that it would accept all of Judge Quirke’s recommendations.”
“...It is now three years since the apology, and the trust of Magdalene survivors has been seriously undermined, as the government has tried to cut corner after corner on its implementation of the ex gratia scheme. Survivors are still awaiting the establishment of a Dedicated Unit, a measure that should have been put in place immediately and not after the women have had to navigate the Ex Gratia Scheme alone. Some survivors have difficulty in proving lengths of stay because of the religious orders’ poor record keeping, yet incredibly, the government affords greater weight to the religious orders’ contentions than survivor testimony.”
“The healthcare provisions as outlined in the RWRCI Guide do not provide Magdalene survivors with the same range of drugs and services made available to HAA cardholders.”
“…Earlier this week a vulnerable Magdalene survivor phoned to say she had spent 17 hours on a drip in a chair in a crowded A&E. This same woman shed tears of happiness in the Dáil on the night of the apology. She phoned me the next day, concerned about the Taoiseach – ‘the poor man was very upset’ she said. Three years later however, she feels completely hoodwinked.”
“She read Appendix G of Judge Quirke’s report and signed away her right to sue the State based on the legitimate expectation that she would receive a comprehensive healthcare suite. She certainly expected better than 17 hours in A&E.”
Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the Fine Gael Ard Fheis in Citywest Hotel Dublin at the weekend
“Easter 1916 was a cold and passionate dawn, for a new Ireland. In 100 years we have built on the new day the Rising leaders gave us. We founded a new state, we declared a Republic, we joined the European Union. At long last, we put our children first and respected the Magdelene women. We made marriage equal. It is that sense of generosity, compassion, strength, and imagination that will be the making of us as a people, a nation.”
Enda Kenny speaking at the Fine Gael Ard Fheis at the weekend.
In response, Claire McGettrick, co-founder of the Justice For Magdalene Research project tweeted:
In addition, readers may wish to recall a post from 2014, based on a BBC report about then 83-year-old Mary Merritt who spent 14 years in the High Park magdalene laundry in Drumcondra, Dublin.
It was reported that Ms Merritt told former Senator Martin McAleese – author of the McAleese Report into the magdalene laundries – about how, one day, she broke a window and ran away from the laundry. She went to a priest and begged for help. The priest raped her before giving her sixpence. The gardaí then brought her back to the laundry. Ms Merritt became pregnant as a result of the rape. Her daughter, Carmel, was taken by the nuns and put up for adoption. Ms Merritt didn’t see her daughter again for another 40 years.
Ms Merritt’s testimony of her rape was not included in the McAleese Report.
Further to the exclusion of the magdalene laundries from the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes.
Justice for Magdalenes writes:
“As JFMR has previously pointed out to Minister Reilly, the McAleese inquiry did not investigate or make findings about abuse or lines of responsibility for abuse in the Magdalene Laundries. Furthermore, the McAleese Report does not contain a single word from the 796 pages of testimony submitted by JFM and it failed to adequately examine issues relating to deaths and burials. Serious doubt has been cast on the accuracy of the McAleese Report’s assertions regarding duration of stay.
The McAleese Committee’s terms of reference were limited to investigating State involvement with the Laundries only. We believe that it is partly because of the gaps in the McAleese Committee’s terms of reference that all religious orders involved still refuse to apologise or provide redress to the women who spent time in Magdalene Laundries.
The Magdalene Laundries abuse must be investigated. The women who are still alive, their families and the families of those who have died, have a right to the truth.
JFMR does note that the Commission of Inquiry ‘can exercise discretion in relation to the scope and intensity of the investigation’. JFMR will avail of the opportunities presented to engage with the Inquiry to present relevant evidence it has gathered through archival research and gathering of oral histories, evidence ignored by the McAleese inquiry.”
Mary Merritt, who spent 14 years in the High Park magdalene laundry in Drumcondra, Dublin, with her daughter Carmel, top – whom she found 40 years after Carmel was born – on BBC’s Newsnight, above, last night
Last night, on BBC’s Newsnight, journalist Sue Lloyd Roberts did a 15-minute report on the magdalene laundries.
During her segment, she spoke to gravedigger Barney Curran, who was hired by the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity nuns to dig up the remains of what the nuns then believed were 133 magdalene laundry workers at the High Park Laundry in Drumcondra, Dublin, in the early 1990s. At the time, the nuns were selling the land to developers.
Mr Curran found the remains of 22 more workers. Mr Curran’s appearance on Newsnight last night was his first ever television interview.
Ms Lloyd Roberts also spoke with Mary Merritt, 83, who was born in a mother and baby home and sent to an orphanage. One day she stole an apple from an orchard because she was so hungry. After this she was sent to High Park laundry where she remained for 14 years. While there, she was tasked with laying out the women who died at the laundry.
In the BBC report, Ms Lloyd Robert reported that Ms Merritt told former Senator Martin McAleese – author of the McAleese Report – how, one day, she broke a window and ran away from the laundry. She went to a priest and begged for help. The priest raped her before giving her sixpence. The gardaí then brought her back to the laundry. Ms Merritt became pregnant as a result of the rape. Her daughter, Carmel, was taken by the nuns and put up for adoption. For 40 years, Ms Merritt only had a photo of her daughter.
Ms Merritt and Ms Lloyd Roberts went to visit the headquarters of the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity where Ms Merritt pleaded for an apology but didn’t receive one.
During the report, Ms Lloyd Roberts also interviewed Tánaiste Joan Burton. Mr McAleese turned down her request for an interview.
From the report:
Gravedigger Barney Curran:
“The nuns were trying to sell the place there and it was big money like so they didn’t want anyone to know what was going on, it was all hush-hush. We were supposed to tell no-one about it.”
“We kept digging and digging until we dug out the whole lot and we ended up with 22 more than they knew were there…they didn’t even know they were there.”
“[We also found] a lot of plaster of paris which was on their wrist and in their arms, their legs, their feet, their ankles, there were broken arms and broken legs, as far as, it seemed to me like. The women were too small and too frail for that kind of work.”
Ms Merritt and Ms Lloyd Roberts at the gates of the headquarters of the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity:
Lloyd Roberts: “Good morning, my name is Sue Lloyd Roberts, I’m here from the BBC and this is Mary Merritt, a former magdalene laundry worker.”
Unidentified representative of the order: “You’ve already sent in a request and I think you’ve got your answer to that request.”
Lloyd Roberts: “No, we’ve been refused an interview but we have some very important questions to ask.”
Merritt: “All I wanted, please, somebody to give me an apology for what happened to me. That’s all I wanted.”
Merritt: “I want somebody to apologise to me, the nuns, the church, the priests, just somebody to apologise to me before I die.”
Ms Lloyd Roberts’ interview with Joan Burton:
Lloyd Roberts: “When I speak to these women what they want is the truth to be told.”
Joan Burton: “Well, we now have underway the process of preparing a full judicial report by a very experienced judge who has been involved in a number…”
Lloyd Roberts: “So you admit the McAleese inquiry was less than thorough?”
Burton: “Well, the McAleese inquiry was an inquiry at a point in time. I think that the critical thing that it achieved was recognition for what women had experienced and what women had gone through.”
Lloyd Roberts: “But the women themselves say it didn’t, for example, the glossing over the abuse, the duration of stay?”
Burton: “Well, I do know that what is important for a lot of the women is that they would receive a redress payment.”
Readers may recall how Mary Merritt was on Prime Time on February 5, 2013 – about two weeks before Taoiseach Enda Kenny issued a State apology to the magdalene women – when she begged for an apology from the Labour TD Kathleen Lynch, who was in the studio that night.