Tag Archives: Maeve O’Rourke

Last night.

On RTÉ One’s Prime Time.

Dr Maeve O’Rourke (above), lecturer and director of Human Rights Law Clinic at the National University of Ireland in Galway and co-founder of the Clann Project, spoke to Sarah McInerney about the Commission of Investigation report into Mother and Baby Homes and why it should be repudiated.

It followed the Clann Project publishing a transcript of an Oxford University seminar on June 2 last in which one of the authors of the commission’s report, Professor Mary Daly, explained why evidence given by survivors to the commissions’ confidential committee was deliberately and consciously excluded from the main body report and the commission’s ultimate findings.

Professor Daly said to integrate that confidential committee testimony into the body of the main report would have required “hundreds of hours of cross-checking…”.

Sarah McInerney: “Professor Mary Daly made it very clear in her testimony that the reason she felt, or the commission felt, that they couldn’t include survivors’ testimony in the main report, was because of the law. She said that those witnesses, if they wanted to include their testimonies, would have had to go through a very tough legal process and have their statements challenged. Do you accept that is something that would have needed to have been done?”

Dr Maeve O’Rourke: “There’s two things to say here. The first is that the law, the terms of reference which were in the statutory instrument, underpinning the commission, specifically state that the commission was empowered to the extent it considered appropriate to take into consideration what was in the confidential committee report, for the purposes of making general findings.

“So it’s not true that the law prevented the commission from integrating confidential committee testimony into the report in some way.

“The second thing is that, actually, a lot of people would have wanted to and did, in our experience, want to give proper evidence, as Professor Daly might have seen it, to the investigative committee. But, as we wrote repeatedly in public, but also we wrote to the commission in 2016 to point out that the commission unfortunately was not advertising the investigative committee on its website.

We said that many people in touch with us had given evidence to the confidential committee, had no idea of the difference, and we asked the commission to advertise the investigative committee on its website because at that time, it was only letting people know about the confidential committee.

“And 550 people went to the confidential committee and only 19 managed, directly themselves, to get to the investigative committee in the first instance to give oral evidence.”

McInerney: “All right. And as it happens, the Government has not sought to defend those claims by Professor Daly. They also believe that the witness testimony could have been included in the report but Minister Roderic O’Gorman…has also said that, despite that witness testimony not being included, the Government doesn’t feel at this point that it can reject the report on the basis that, to do so, might undermine the redress scheme because, a spokesman for him said, particularly around the number of deaths and the conditions in the institutions, and the failure of the state to act on reports of these conditions. All of those findings in the report will advise the redress scheme.”

O’Rourke: “Well the minister is actually failing to turn his attention to the other key findings in the report and I’m not sure that people realise that this report finds: there is no evidence of incarceration in the institutions, no evidence of forced adoption, no evidence of medical neglect, no evidence of forced labour in mother and baby homes, and that adopted people’s criticism of the secrecy of information has been vitriolic and unfair.

“And, actually, the recommendations for  redress in the report are highly limited. The commission only recommended that women who were in institutions for more than six months, but only before 1973, should receive any medical care or payments. And the only children born in those institutions who should receive any redress are children who were in the institutions on their own. In other words, the commission did not recommend redress for the separation of mother and child because essentially it found there is nothing to see here, there was no unlawful separation. And that, as we know, is not true. And that cannot stay on the national historical record as the accepted version.”

McInerney: “So, if this report is rejected, as campaigners now are calling for, how does the Government decide who qualifies for redress?”

O’Rourke: “But Roderic, the minister, has already said to survivors several times, I’m not going to be bound by the limitations of the commission report. So I don’t think the Government can have it both ways.

“They’ve actually recognised that their redress scheme is going to have to recognise the harm of separation of mother and child, I think; the harms caused to children who were boarded out; the harms caused to people who were in poor adoptive placements that weren’t overseen properly. So on the one hand, he’s saying ‘don’t worry, I won’t be bound’ and on the other, he’s claiming that he has to be, even though we know that that’s not the case. We know that the redress board…”

McInerney: “Could it get too big though, Maeve. If there are no limitations on the redress and all the people who you say have gone through this very difficult  time in their lives, at the hands of the state, and religious institutions, but still, could it get too wide and and too unwieldly?”

O’Rourke: “But that is a political decision. It’s not a legal one. It’s never been. These redress schemes, unfortunately in some ways but have always been on the ex-gratia principle, meaning that ‘we recognise the moral need, we’re not recognising a legal need’. There will be some restrictions to the scheme but the  Government has already said we won’t base the scheme, really, on the commission report.

“So what I’m saying, what we’re all saying, is that this commission report does a massive disservice to the survivors in terms of historical truth and it’s not good enough say, ‘oh survivors are more interested in money than they are in the truth’. You can’t make them choose one or the other. The truth is the most basic form of redress, actually.”

McInerney: “And does it help at all that the minister has said, ‘we believe you’. He’s writing to survivors to say ‘we believe you’?”

O’Rourke: “I actually think it’s somewhat patronising of the survivors because, in actual fact, officially, they are not believed. And we have to remember that, long after Minister O’Gorman is gone, civil servants may well, as they do with the McAleese report, be relying on this report to say in public, as they still do, about the magdalene laundries, ‘the State has found there was no systematic abuse here’.

“We are seeing at the UN Committee Against Torture right now a case by Elizabeth Coppin who was detained in three magdalene laundries. And the State is saying ‘she is not telling the truth because the McAleese committee found no credible evidence of systematic ill-treatment in magdalene laundries’. So these reports have a lifetime far beyond any Government.”

Meanwhile, during the same programme, Susan Lohan, co-founder of Adoption Rights Alliance, said:

“I think when you have one of the three main authors of the report outline the shortcomings of their actual approach, that they took this decision to discount eye-witness testimony, that, certainly for the Adoption Rights Alliance, is the death knell in this report.”

On the commission’s report becoming the official, final word on Mother and Baby Homes in Ireland, Ms Lohan said:

“I think that would be ultimate insult to survivors. The report needs to be repudiated and set aside.”

The programme also drew attention to an article by Catriona Crowe in the Dublin Review about survivor Caroline O’Connor’s testimony being misrepresented in the commission’s report.

In respect of this article, James Gallen, Associate Professor in Law at Dublin City University, said:

“If we look at the article in the Dublin Review, we see a process that is disrespectful to survivors, that doesn’t follow international best practice, and a process that really challenges the idea that we are listening and believing survivors.”

In respect of the claim by the Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman that repudiating the report would delay survivors receiving redress, Mr Gallen said:

“There is no basis in law or in the state’s prior practice to believe that. The Commission  of Investigation Act says the commission’s findings cannot be used in criminal or civil proceedings. And, in addition to that, all of the Government’s prior redress schemes have been ex-gratia which means without admission of legal liability or as a gift. You might remember the Ryan Commission – that ran concurrently with the Residential lnstitutions Redress Board scheme.”

Watch back in full here

Martin McAleese with his report into the Magdalene Laundries

This weekend.

The Frontline DefendersDublin Human Rights Festival will take place at the Wood Quay Venue, Smock Alley Theatre and The International Bar.

As part of the festival…

Tomorrow, at 1pm, at the Wood Quay Venue…

Maeve O’Rourke, of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, will present a follow-up report to the Department of Justice’s assertion that there is an “absence of any credible evidence of systematic torture or criminal abuse” in the Magdalen Laundries.

Specifically, in August 2018, the Department of Justice told the UN Committee Against Torture:

“While isolated incidents of criminal behaviour cannot be ruled out, in light of facts uncovered by the McAleese Committee and in the absence of any credible evidence of systematic torture or criminal abuse being committed in the Magdalen laundries, the Irish Government does not propose to set up a specific Magdalen inquiry or investigation. It is satisfied that the existing mechanisms for the investigation and, where appropriate, prosecution of criminal offences can address individual complaints of criminal behaviour if any such complaints are made.”

The Department of Justice’s assertion came after the Sate rejected the UN Committee Against Torture’s call for an investigation into allegations of ill treatment of women in Magdalene Laundries.

Ms O’Rourke will also be joined by Stixy Nyaluso, of the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland, who will outline some of the conditions experienced by people living in Direct Provision.

The Dublin Human Rights Festival is organized in partnership with the Dublin City Council, Irish Council for Civil Liberties, National Women’s Council of Ireland, Fighting Words, the Latin America Solidarity Centre and the National LGBT Federation.

See programme of events here

Previously: ‘The Irish Government Does Not Believe A New Inquiry Is Warranted’

UNfinished Business

Standing By McAleese

The McAleese Report: A Conclusion

Dr Maeve O’Rourke; Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan

Yesterday evening.

Human rights lawyer and legal adviser to the Clann Project Dr Maeve O’Rourke tweeted a thread on foot of an article by Irish Examiner journalist Conall Ó Fátharta.

Ó Fátharta reported how women who worked in Magdalene laundries, but who have been wrongly excluded from a redress scheme, are now expected to provide “records” showing how long they worked in the institution.

He also reported the requirement follows the publication of an addendum to the scheme by the Department of Justice this week…

Women excluded from Magdalene laundries redress must provide ‘records’ of work (Conall Ó Fátharta, Irish Examiner)

Previously: “It’s Like As If They’re Calling Us Liars”

From top: Bessborough Mother and Baby Home and Dr Martin McAleese with his report into Magdalene laundries in 2013

This morning.

In the Irish Examiner.

Conall O Fatharta writes:

The Tuam babies scandal recalled a more callous Ireland we thought we had left far behind, but as late as 1990 children from the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home were still being buried in unmarked graves…

When the Tuam babies scandal broke in 2014, it immediately became a story about Ireland’s past. Babies died and were left forgotten in a mass grave in a different Ireland, a crueler Ireland. An Ireland that we have long left behind. A memory.

However, an Irish Examiner investigation has discovered that children from the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home who died as late as 1990 are buried in unmarked graves in a Cork city cemetery.

Three grave plots in St Finbarr’s cemetery in Cork city were found to contain the remains of at least 21 children. Two of the three plots are completely unmarked. The third records just one name despite 16 children being buried in the grave.

Read the story in full here

Readers may also wish to recall a special investigation by Mr Ó Fátharta published in June 2015.

During his investigation, Mr Ó Fátharta obtained material produced on foot of the HSE examining both the Tuam and Bessborough mother and baby homes in 2012, as part of the McAleese Inquiry into the Magdalene laundries.

As a result of these examinations, in Tuam, a HSE social worker made the HSE aware of concerns that up to 1,000 children may have been “trafficked” to the US from the Tuam mother and baby home.

In addition, the HSE West social worker for adoption found letters were sent from the Tuam home to parents asking for money for the upkeep of their children – even though some of those children had already been discharged or had died.

The social worker wrote “This may prove to be a scandal that dwarfs other, more recent issues with the Church and State, because of the very emotive sensitivities around adoption of babies, with or without the will of the mother” and she recommended that the information be brought to the attention of the Minister for Health, Dr James Reilly, of Fine Gael, and that a State inquiry be launched.

In addition, Mr Ó Fátharta reported:

A separate report on Bessborough, written in 2012, spoke of “staggering” numbers of children listed as having died at the institution. The author of the report says infant mortality at Bessborough between 1934 and 1953 is “a cause for serious consternation”. Curiously, no deaths were recorded after 1953 but 478 children died in this 19-year period — which works out as one child every fortnight for almost two decades.

Perhaps most shocking of all is the view of the report that death certificates may have been falsified so children could be “brokered into clandestine adoption arrangements, both foreign and domestic” — a possibility the HSE report said had “dire implications for the Church and State“.

Bessborough children were buried in unmarked graves as late as 1990 (Conall O Fatharta, Irish Examiner)

Further to this…

Last week…

On RTE Radio One’s Late Debate.

Two weeks after Ombudsman Peter Tyndall told the Oireachtas Justice Committee that less than half the €54million originally estimated for redress for the Magdalene survivors has been paid out and that 106 women have been refused payments because officials found they were not in one of 12 specific institutions…

Presenter Katie Hannon revisited the 2013 report by Dr Martin McAleese into the Magdalene laundries – five years after then Taoiseach Enda Kenny shed tears in the Dail on February 19, 2013 when he apologised to women who had been incarcerated in the institutions.

Dr Maeve O’Rourke, Senior Research and Policy Officer at the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, was on the panel.

From their discussion, Ms O’Rourke said:

The McAleese committee that was set up in 2011 and reported in 2013 estimated that over 10,000 women went through the Magdalene laundries between 1922 and 1996 but that committee didn’t actually have access to the records from Galway or Dun Laoghaire so that is certainly an underestimate

“…We know from the women who have spoken before the State apology – but a lot more after the State apology –  including to the UCD oral history project that, by and large, their experiences were that they ended up in a Magdalene laundry without being told why they were there, that they were usually given a uniform, given a new name or a number to answer to, that they were subjected to a routine of silence and constant work.

Some slept in dormitories, some actually slept in cells. It wasn’t an option whether the women and girls worked – they did so from eight in the morning until six in the evening and they often spend their time after that engaging in handcrafts, lace-making, for example, making rosary beads…”

Asked by Ms Hannon how Ireland has got from Mr Kenny’s speech in the Dail in 2013 to Mr Tyndall’s comments last month, Ms O’Rourke said:

“Failures to implement the scheme that was promised in 2013 are down to the failure of the State to investigate the abuse that happened to the women.

“That [narrow terms of reference of the McAleese Report] was the key problem. The mandate of the McAleese committee was to investigate  the extent of State involvement with the institutions. It didn’t have a mandate to receive complaints of abuse or to investigate abuse.

“Now it found overwhelming evidence of State involvement in a number of areas and then it said, in the public interest, we decided to include a chapter on conditions in the laundries but we are, we want to say that we didn’t make findings in relation to the abuse because we didn’t have the mandate and we also had such a small sample size. They didn’t issue a public call for evidence for example.

“So what happened was, because they didn’t have a mandate to investigate allegations, there were no terms of reference about what they should be investigating. There’s actually no category or section in the chapter on conditions that looks at whether the women were locked in.

“There’s no section in that chapter that looks at whether the women were forced into unpaid labour.

There’s a section on physical abuse that says not much physical abuse was suffered but it doesn’t actually characterise forced labour as physical abuse.

“…The women have been done a grave disservice by the lack of investigation into abuse and I think that has followed through into the administration of the scheme.”

Asked about the State’s refusal to accept liability for what happened, Ms O’Rourke said:

The State has the power to do what it wants in this area and it has chosen to set up an ex-gratia [given as a gift] scheme which has allowed civil servants, for example, in the Department of Justice to state to the Oirechtas Committee on Justice and Equality that there is actually no legal liability in this area, that there hasn’t been a court finding and the reason there hasn’t been a court finding is, partly because, all of the women who applied for the scheme were forced to sign a waiver that they, making sure that they couldn’t sue the State.

“There is a very strict statute of limitations that, unlike in England, does not have an exception in the interest of justice so people cannot get to court.

“You cannot get the evidence of the way that these institutions operated. So the archive that the McAleese committee created is not accessible to the women or to the public.

When it came to the religious evidence, the McAleese committee destroyed its copies and sent the originals back. When it comes to the State archive that the McAleese collected, it’s being held in the Department of the Taoiseach for safe-keeping…

“I think the State has gotten into a pattern over the last 20 years of trying to provide forms of, what it calls, redress without actually providing the truth.”

Listen back to Late Debate in full here

Previously: The Magdalene Report: A Conclusion

Open The Files

Architecture Of Containment

Pic: Conall O’Fatharta


[Former Senator Martin McAleese with his report into the magdalene laundries in
February last year]

In today’s Irish Independent, Maeve O’Rourke, a barrister and member of the Justice for Magdalenes Research advisory committee, calls for the magdalene laundries to be included in the Commission of Investigation into mother and baby homes – echoing the call from the Irish Human Rights Commission and other support and campaign groups.

She explains why former Senator McAleese’s investigation was inadequate and how the Government’s use of the report’s conclusions in correspondence with the United Nations Committee Against Torture – which has made repeated calls for follow-up investigations into the laundries since the McAleese Report – is ‘shocking’.

She writes:

Some 793 pages of testimony, which Justice for Magdalenes transcribed and submitted (and offered to have sworn) alleging systematic abuse were not mentioned in the report.

The Committee did not set itself a framework of potential human rights violations and evaluate the evidence received against it.

It did not find whether or not any human rights violations occurred. It did not have the mandate.

Perhaps the most shocking thing to happen as a result of this gap in the terms of reference and powers is the following assertion by the Government in its August 2013 letter to the UN Committee against Torture: “No factual evidence to support allegations of systematic torture or ill treatment of a criminal nature in these institutions was found … in light of facts uncovered by the McAleese Committee and in the absence of any credible evidence of systematic torture or criminal abuse being committed in the Magdalene Laundries, the Irish Government does not propose to set up a specific Magdalene inquiry body.”

Anyone who reads the McAleese Report will see that it is strewn with uncontroverted evidence of young girls and women being imprisoned, working long hours, receiving no wages, not knowing why they were there, not knowing when they would get out.

This is grave human rights abuse.

It’s time we learnt the truth about Magdalene Laundries (Maeve, O’Rourke, Irish Independent)

Commission of Investigation must be broad in scope, comply with the State’s human rights and equality obligations and offers effective remedies and redress (Irish Human Rights Commission)

Previously: The Magdalene Report: A Conclusion

The McAleese Report: ‘Incomplete And Not Independent’

He Did The State Some Service