From top: UNCAT vice-chair Felice Gaer; Martin McAleese; Irish Examiner journalist Conall Ó Fátharta and Boston College professor James Smith
Readers may recall how the McAleese Inquiry into Magalene laundries – which was chaired by Martin McAleese – was published on Tuesday, February 5, 2013.
It found no evidence existed to suggest abuse took place in the laundries.
Readers may also recall how, in July, the UN Committee Against Torture (UNCAT) in Geneva criticised the Government and said, in fact, UNCAT had received a “great deal of evidence that there has indeed been abuse”.
At that time, Rapporteur Felice Gaer said it was “quite troubling that the interdepartmental committee destroyed its copies of evidence from religious congregations that ran these laundries and will not provide public with information. What is preventing the Government providing public access to the archive?”
Ms Gaer also said the committee had received information about the archives of the Diocese of Galway which was not accessible.
“This individual also brought Senator McAleese’s office’s attention to the existence of these files. He provided the senator with a summary of the materials, but says they were not accurately reflected in the McAleese Report.
“The files reportedly document physical abuse, and the Galway Magdalene’s practice of calling the Irish police to prevent family members from removing women from the institutions.”
Further to this.
In The Irish Examiner, Conall Ó Fátharta reports that the person who gave this information to UNCAT, in November 2013, was Professor James Smith, of Boston College.
He reports UNCAT was also informed that the documentation outlined how there were 107 women who were in the Galway Magdalene Laundry in December 1952.
It was also told of the involvement of the bishop of Galway in the operations and financial dealings of the Sisters of Mercy Galway Magdalene.
This was one of two laundries for which, according to the McAleese Report, no records survive.
Before he accessed the archive in May 2012, Professor Smith signed an agreement not to publish or reproduce any material, without the permission of the Galway Diocesan archive.
But after accessing it, he went on to compile a list of relevant files and prepared a 10-page summary of their contents for Dr McAleese, on May 10, 2012.
Mr Ó Fátharta reports that, according to minutes obtained by him, the McAleese committee did visit the archive and that it was deemed “useful”.
But, when the McAleese Report came out the following year, in February 2013, Prof Smith found that it did not adequately reflect the material he had seen and he subsequently sought to publish the material he had seen.
He was told to send his article to the Galway Diocesan Trustees for approval.
Mr Ó Fátharta reports:
“Prof Smith was also assisting an elderly Magdalene survivor in a personal capacity, as the Department of Justice’s Magdalene Implementation team was having difficulty determining her duration of stay at the Galway Magdalene Laundry, for the purpose of paying her lump-sum compensation. The woman had said she escaped the laundry in early December 1951, but there was no way to document this as fact.
On May 14, 2014, Prof Smith informed the department of the list of 107 women and said that while the list did not confirm her date of exit, it did confirm she was not resident in the Laundry in December 1952.
Prof Smith said he wanted to help the survivor, but that he had also signed an archival users agreement with the diocese of Galway not to “quote from, refer to, or reproduce’ material from the archive without permission”. The department responded by asking Prof Smith to ask the diocese for permission to share the document, but the academic informed it that it should apply directly to the diocese for a copy.
Two weeks later, on May 27, Prof Smith received a letter from the Galway diocesan archive advising him that he had “retained personal data” and that “it is now incumbent upon you, if the information is in fact true, to destroy, erase, or return such data to the data controller”. He was then informed that the archive was now “embargoed”.
“Also, please note that permission has not been given by the diocese, or its agents, to you to publish, or otherwise reproduce, the material.”
In addition, Mr Ó Fátharta reports:
The Irish Examiner put a series of questions to the Department of Justice on Prof’s Smith’s claims and the McAleese committee’s treatment of the Galway diocesan archive. It declined to answer any of them, stating that the committee “no longer exists and is, therefore, not in a position to respond to specific queries”.
Previously: The Magdalene Report: A Conclusion