Magdalene survivors urge Coalition to deliver on promises
Published 20/01/2015 | 02:30
Dubliner Martina Keogh spent almost two years in two different Magdalene laundry homes when she was a young woman.
She is supporting a coalition of groups who are calling on the Government to fully implement all the recommendations made by Mr Justice John Quirke in the restorative redress scheme, particularly in relation to healthcare.
The group, which includes Justice for Magdalenes Research (JFMR), the National Women’s Council of Ireland, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and Amnesty International, claims the Redress for Women Resident in Certain Institutions Bill is an “unacceptable paring back of what the Government promised”.
Maeve O’Rourke, from JFMR, said the bill promises little more than the regular medical card, “which most of the women already have.”
Survivors want a card giving them access to a full range of health services, similar to the HAA cards issued to women infected with Hepatitis C through infected blood products.
Ms Keogh said: “I am hoping the Taoiseach will give us that card so we can get better treatment. I think they should stand up and deliver what they promised us.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Justice last night said: “The Magdalene women will receive an enhanced medical card on the same lines as the HAA card. Under this legislation, GP, prescription medicines, nursing, home help, dental, ophthalmic, aural, counselling, chiropody and physiotherapy services will be made available by the HSE free of charge.”
Outrage expressed at provisions of Magdalene Bill
Advocates for women say Bill is unacceptable paring back of redress package promises
Patsy McGarry Mon, Jan 19, 2015, 19:55
The draft legislation to assist survivors of Magdalene laundries has been described as “unacceptable, unfair and full of broken promises” by advocacy groups.
Advocates for the women say the Bill published last month represents an unacceptable paring back of what the Government promised as part of the women’s redress package.
After Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s apology to the Magdalene women last year, Mr Justice John Quirke was tasked with designing a restorative justice scheme, which the Government accepted.
The Redress for Women Resident in Certain Institutions Bill, published last month, proposes the women be entitled to GP care, prescription medicines, nursing and home-help as well as dental, ophthalmic, aural, counselling, chiropody and physiotherapy services provided by the HSE.
This was described at the press conference as “an obvious and unacceptable paring back” on what Justice Quirke recommended, as well as possibly being open to legal challenge.
It was also claimed that of approximately €60 million allocated for spending on redress for the woman, just €18 million had been spent so far.
Dr Katherine O’Donnell of Justice for Magdalene Research (JFMR) said the Bill represented “a massive claw back” on the Quirke recommendations. She felt it may be open to legal challenge as, on receiving redress, women signed a waiver agreeing not to sue the State. This was on the understanding all the Quirke recommendations would be fulfilled, she said.
“Justice Quirke could not have been clearer in recommending that each woman should receive a card entitling her to the full range of health services provided to state-infected Hepatitis-C survivors under the HAA card scheme,” said Maeve O’Rourke, of JFMR.
“Instead, the Bill promises little more than the regular medical card, which most of the women [91 per cent] already have.”
She said 14 per cent of the women were over 80, while the average age of the approximately 500 involved was 70, 66 per cent of them with serious health issues.
The Bill also failed to provide care representatives for Magdalene women in nursing homes whose full capacity to address their affairs may be limited, or to implement fully the recommendations on the women’s pension entitlements.
Orla O’Connor, of the National Women’s Council, said the Bill was “a further denial of the rights of women survivors of the Magdalene laundries”.
Amnesty International’s Colm O’Gorman described the Bill as “outrageous” and asked “what did the Taoiseach apologise for?” He described Government assertions that the interdepartmental McAleese inquiry was “a comprehensive investigation” of the laundries as “shocking”.
‘Enhanced’ medical card
Responding to the criticism, a Department of Justice spokesman said the women would “receive an enhanced medical card on the same lines as the HAA card”.
On the women with reduced capacity, he said this was being dealt with through separate legislation expected to be enacted in the first half of this year.
He also said: “Justice Quirke’s recommendation regarding top-up pension-type payments is being fully implemented.”
Magdalene survivor: ‘They’re ignoring my basic human rights’
Former residents say Government has failed to implement necessary health measures
Sorcha Pollak Mon, Jan 19, 2015, 19:49
Diane Croghan was 13 years old when she climbed inside a laundry van to escape the Sisters of Mercy Training School in Summerhill, Co Wexford.
After more than three years of isolation, hard work and abuse at the Magdalene laundry at Summerhill, Diane decided to run away to Dublin.
“It was dreadful, we weren’t allowed to speak with one another,” she says. “I think we worked from 7am-7pm but I’m not sure. We didn’t know the time, we had nothing to show us what time it was.”
After Diane escaped she found work as a domestic servant in Ballsbridge in Dublin. She later worked as a waitress in the Shelbourne hotel.
Diane’s testimony of the three years she spent working at Summerhill has been rejected by the Department of Justice reparation scheme for former residents of Magdalene laundries.
The financial compensation she received under the restorative justice scheme was based on information provided by the Sisters of Mercy Religious order, which claimed she had only spent five months at the Wexford laundry, between April and September 1956. According to Diane, by 1956 she was already living and working in Dublin.
“I felt like I was a liar; that I was trying to claim for years I wasn’t there and that’s not true. I accepted what they said because I took a stroke and I said no money would repay my good health,” she says. “I felt I was being punished. I was bullied into accepting it, so I accepted it.”
Elizabeth Coppin from Listowel, in Co Kerry, is also unhappy with the Government’s failure to respond to Mr Justice John Quirke’s recommendations for survivors of Magdalene laundries.
Elizabeth spent four years between two Magdalene Laundries in Cork and one in Waterford between the ages of 15 and 19. She spent the first 15 years of her life in an industrial school in Tralee.
“You were locked in a cell, treated like you were in prison,” she says, describing the laundries. “They cut my hair and changed all our names. Nobody knew anybody by their proper name.”
“We’re talking about trafficking. They exploited us as vulnerable young children. Most of us were underage.”
In August 2014, Elizabeth wrote to Minister for Health Leo Varadkar asking whether she was entitled to a Health (Amendment) Act 1996 Card (HAA card) following the Government’s commitment to accept all recommendations in Justice Quirke’s report.
The report states HAA cards should be given to “each of the women who were admitted to and worked in a designated Magdalene laundry”.
Four months later, on December 23rd, a response arrived from Mr Varadkar’s private secretary which said: “Judge Quirke did not recommend that a medical card would issue to participants of the ex gratia scheme”.
“For me, they’re saying again that I don’t matter,” says Elizabeth. “Again they’re ignoring my basic human rights. I had to wait four months to get that hidden, sneaky answer.
“I bet you all those people in Government are getting their full pension and expenses, yet the Irish women are still being deprived of their entitlements. To me that’s disgusting.”
Elizabeth believed Taoiseach Enda Kenny when he apologised in 2013 on behalf of the State to the women who endured suffering in the Magdalene laundries. However, she says he’s gone back on his word.
“I was taken up with the moment of the idea of an apology. On reflection it couldn’t be genuine because they’ve reneged on Judge Quirke’s recommendations. I really believed it … but now I just feel that it was all a drama. He has let us down very badly.”
Roman Catholic Horrors: Magdalene Launderies and Asylums
N. Ireland struggles to confront Catholic Church’s enslavement of 1000s of women
3/29/2013 6:09pm by Paresh Dave
NOTE FROM JOHN ARAVOSIS: Below is a follow-up to a story we reported on last month about the Catholic-church-run Magdalene laundries that imprisoned up to 30,000 Irish women as slave labor over the past century. This update is authored by Paresh Dave, a journalism student at USC who recently traveled to Ireland and Northern Ireland for 10 days under a grant from the Luce Foundation.
BELFAST — A damning report concluded last month that the Irish government breached its duty of care to thousands of women who were abused over a 74-year-period in church-run asylums known as Magdelene laundries. In response, the head of the Irish government apologized to victims and laid out a compensation package.
In Northern Ireland, however, there is no forthcoming apology or redress for Magdelene survivors.
Northern Ireland’s investigation into institutional abuse just kicked off in January — 216 complaints have been filed through March 10. But the inquiry covers only people younger than 18 who were abused in at least 35 places, such as live-in trade schools, between 1922 and 1995. Established by the government, these institutions were generally run by religious orders.
In contrast to the Republic of Ireland, left out in the infant Northern investigation are victims of abuse at local churches and the infamous Magdalene laundries.
Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland program director, said too few of the Magdalene victims came forward as the investigation was originally being organized, so there wasn’t enough political will to include them. Amnesty is pushing lawmakers to now include them.
A Northern Ireland Assembly committee heard last Wednesday that it certainly can expand the investigation, if government leaders decide to.
In an interview following the hearing, Amnesty’s Corrigan said Northern Ireland is playing catch up with its southern neighbor.
“The victims in the south have pushed the door open,” he said. “Victims in the north are now asking, ‘Why is my government not responding?’”
Corrigan called for a meeting last month with the two partisan leaders who head the Northern Irish government, but hasn’t heard back from either.
At Wednesday’s hearing, the chairman of the committee that oversees those two leaders suggested there’s potential for action by summer on whether a new inquiry should be started, or the existing one amended.
Corrigan said it would be cost-efficient to expand the existing Historical Institutional Abuse inquiry to include the potentially several thousand Magdelene victims. The goal of the investigation is to determine whether the state failed in its duty toward children in its care, and if so, what should be done about that now.
Dealing with people who were abused at local churches is more difficult. Corrigan said that, unlike with the Magdalene laundries, it’s hard to make a case that the Northern Irish government had a watchdog role inside churches. Because of the strong ties between the Irish government and the Roman Catholic Church, the situation was different in the south.
Yet with a new abuse story emerging nearly every week, many observers now see the likelihood for a more comprehensive investigation in Northern Ireland.
“We don’t know the full story about the abuse crisis in the North,” said William Crawley, a BBC presenter based in Belfast, during an interview. “But we will before the calm hits.”
A report isn’t likely to come out until January 2016.
Catholic Church enslaved 30,000 Irish women as forced unpaid labor in Magdalene Laundries until 1996
Catholic Church enslaved 30,000 Irish women as forced unpaid labor in Magdalene Laundries until 1996
2/6/2013 8:00am by Myrddin
What a horrific story. The Irish Prime Minister gave a partial apology today for the government’s role in a 74-year scandal in which, a new official government report says, over 10,000 women were forced to work without pay at commercial laundries called Magdalene Laundries, operated by the Catholic Church for “crimes” as small as not paying a train ticket.
In Northern Ireland, a parellel investigation is currently under way, although it, oddly, is so far refusing to include that country’s Magdalene Laundries in the investigation.
Wikipedia notes that the estimate of the number of women who were used as forced slave labor by the Catholic Church in Ireland alone goes as high as 30,000 over the entire time the Magdalene laundries were in operation.
The last Magdalene laundry closed in 1996.
Women were locked in, couldn’t leave Magdalene Laundries for months, sometimes years
The women were locked in and not permitted to leave. And if they tried to get away, the cops would catch them and bring them back. They were quite literally Catholic slave labor working for the government and even Guinness, which would pay the laundries for the women’s slave labor.
Half of the girls enslaved in these Catholic Church prisons were under the age of 23. The youngest entrant was 9 years old.
Singer Sinead O’Connor was perhaps the most famous Magdalene Laundry slave
Singer Sinead O’Connor was forced to work in a Magdalene Laundry in Dublin:
When I was a young girl, my mother — an abusive, less-than-perfect parent — encouraged me to shoplift. After being caught once too often, I spent 18 months in An Grianán Training Centre, an institution in Dublin for girls with behavioral problems, at the recommendation of a social worker. An Grianán was one of the now-infamous church-sponsored “Magdalene laundries,” which housed pregnant teenagers and uncooperative young women. We worked in the basement, washing priests’ clothes in sinks with cold water and bars of soap. We studied math and typing. We had limited contact with our families. We earned no wages. One of the nuns, at least, was kind to me and gave me my first guitar.
No apology from the Catholic Church
Absent from any of the media reports on the scandal that I could find was an apology from the Catholic Church which operated the Magdalene laundries and made handsome profits from contracts with government and hotels. Oh, found one. It seems the Catholic Church blew the women off. I know, you’re as surprised as I am:
Victims of the child sex abuse scandals that have rocked the Irish Catholic Church have received an apology and compensation, but no one has taken responsibility for what happened in the laundries. Cardinal Sean Brady, the most senior Catholic cleric in Ireland, met with Justice for Magdalenes in 2010. He said “by today’s standards much of what happened at that time is difficult to comprehend” but that it was a matter for the religious orders who ran the laundries to deal with. The religious orders have declined to meet the women.
The Irish Cardinal wasn’t interested in hearing from people who were hurt and abused — if not sexually, certainly physically and mentally, by the Catholic Church. And it’s not the Catholic Church’s fault. Where have we heard that story before?
The laundries were run by nuns, many of whom treated the women sent to work there as slaves:
Senator McAleese’s inquiry found that half of the girls and women put to work in the laundries were under the age of 23 and 40%, more than 4,000, spent more than a year incarcerated.
Fifteen percent spent more than five years in the laundries while the average stay was calculated at seven months.
The youngest death on record was 15, and the oldest 95, the report found.
The Irish state is also implicated in the scandal because the police would take women to the asylums after arresting them for trivial offenses and would return runaways.
The story of the Magdalene laundries shows what happens when an institution — in this case the church and the government — is considered beyond criticism. It probably isn’t a coincidence that the last of the laundries closed in 1996, shortly after the first wave of the Catholic pedophile priest scandals hit Ireland.
Let me reiterate that for a moment. The Catholic Church had slaves as late as 1996.
“It changed me as a person to authority, God forgive me I learned to hate people then”
Here are some of the testimonials of the women who served as forced Catholic slaves. You can find them in the official report:
“The only thing was I had appendicitis and asked [named nun] could I go to bed and she wouldn’t let me”.
Some, but not all women reported that their hair had been cut on entry to the laundry. Some described this as an upsetting and degrading experience.
“T’was the ultimate humiliation for you. It changed me as a person to authority, God forgive me I learned to hate people then”.
One woman said that in the Magdalene Laundry in which she was, “You could write once a month but the nun would read the letters”.
This is one is pure torture:
Another very common grievance of the women who shared their stories with the Committee – particularly those who had previously been in Industrial or Reformatory Schools – was that there was a complete lack of information about why they were there and when they would get out. None of these women were aware of the period of supervision which followed discharge from industrial or reformatory school.
Due to this lack of information and the fact that they had been placed in an institution among many older women, a large number of the women spoke of a very real fear that they would remain in the Magdalene Laundry for the rest of their lives. Even if they left the Laundries after a very short time, some women told the Committee that they were never able to fully free themselves
of this fear and uncertainty.
Victims reject Irish PM’s apology
The victims have rejected the Prime Minster’s “apology,” which does sound somewhat lame:
“To those residents who went into the Magdalene Laundries through a variety of ways, 26pc from state intervention or state involvement, I am sorry for those people that they lived in that kind of environment,” Mr Kenny said in parliament in Dublin today.
“I want to see that those women who are still with us, anywhere between 800 and 1000 at max, that we should see that the state provides for them with the very best of facilities and supports that they need in their lives.”
Did your defense lawyer write that one up for you?
Here’s Joni Mitchell singing about the Magdalene Laundries:
A life unlived: 35 years of slavery in a Magdalene Laundry
One woman tells the story of her mother who was sent to a Laundry in Dublin at the age of 16 – and died there at the age of 51.
Sep 30 1:00 PM
THE TREATMENT OF women incarcerated in Magdalene Laundries – and the level of State involvement in these Church-run institutions – has been highlighted yet again this month. There was disappointment among survivors and relatives of those kept in the Laundries when it was announced that a State committee’s final report into the matter would be delayed until the end of the year.
To reiterate the urgency of revealing the inter-departmental findings, the Justice for Magdalene advocacy group last week distributed some redacted statements of women detailing their lives in such institutions. (The group claims that there was State involvement in the operation of the Laundries as places to send women considered to be “problem girls”, due to poverty or pregnancy outside marriage for example.)
Samantha Long’s mother Margaret Bullen was placed in Gloucester Street (now Sean McDermott Street) Laundry c.1967 and died 35 years later, never having been released into society and her own home. Margaret died of an illness known as Goodpasture Syndrome, a disease of the kidneys and liver – one of the causes is exposure to industrial-strength chemicals such as those used in the Laundries.
Samantha made a lengthy statement to the interdepartmental committee, led by Senator Martin McAleese, about her mother’s life. Margaret Bullen had a tragic start in life: she was born in a mental institution in Grangegorman, Dublin to a mother who already had six children, Margaret being the youngest. Margaret was sent home to Kimmage to live with her siblings and father, where she remained until she was three years old. At that point, Margaret’s brother was sent to Artane industrial school and Margaret and her sister closest to her in age sent to the notorious High Park industrial school and Laundry in Drumcondra. That, as Samantha says of her mother, “was the end of her and the outside world”.
A second statement sent to Senator McAleese’s committee from a former Laundry inmate who remembers Margaret and her sister recounts how Margaret suffered fits as a young child but that they were ignored by the nuns there (then known as the Sisters of Charity of Refuge, now the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity).
Margaret appears to have been moved in her early teens to a special school called St Teresa’s in Blackrock, after she was certified mentally unfit for education, but fit for work. Her daughter Samantha says in her own statement:
She was assessed at age thirteen as being mentally challenged because on the day that they measured her, they said that she had an IQ of fifty, which I dispute after meeting her, even after all those years of institutionalisation.. And I think that if you’re hungry and tired from your slavery, your IQ wouldn’t be very sharp, or your skills on any given moment mightn’t be sharp. You would be probably just pulled into this room – “now we’re going to measure your IQ” – so even the shock of that wouldn’t, you know, you could shut down.
At roughly the age of 16, Margaret was sent to the Magdalene Laundry at Gloucester Street. The exact time and circumstances of her move there are not clear because Samantha and her sister are still waiting on full records to be supplied to them on their mother’s past.
She became pregnant – twice – with Samantha and her twin sister Etta, and later with another daughter, while officially under the care of the Gloucester Street nuns. The circumstances of these conceptions are again shrouded in mystery but Samantha says her conversations in later life with her mother when they were reunited led her to believe that Margaret had been the victim of sexual abuse and predators several times.
There was no education, no education and I, you know, I honestly believe for a long time she didn’t know how she got pregnant, she just knew that somebody hurt her once and then she had babies. I really believe that. She didn’t make that connection, I know that for sure. She was no, she didn’t have a boyfriend, let’s put it that way. And that’s the politest way that I can say that.
Some of the more harrowing details of Samantha’s testimony recount how her mother was denied society, education, wages and other basic rights for most of her life. This extract recalls Samantha and Etta’s first meeting with Margaret in the Gresham Hotel when they were 23 and had traced her as their biological mother. (Samantha and Etta were adopted by a loving couple in Dublin and later moved to Sligo in childhood.)
Margaret was only 42 at the time but looked much older. She was carrying a handbag but it was completely empty, because she didn’t own anything nor did she have any money. Samantha recalls:
And, she was just lovely, and she was asking extremely innocent questions like, she, it was the first time she ever had coffee and it was very exciting for her to have coffee and she hadn’t seen brown sugar before either and obviously in the Gresham there was brown and white sugar cubes on the table and it was all very fancy to her. And she was just overjoyed to be there and absolutely wowed by everything.
She looked, she looked like a pensioner. I couldn’t believe she was forty-two, I kept looking, I kept looking into her face to find a forty-two year old and I couldn’t, because she had the face of hard work, that face that you see in so many women that have just had to work too hard and have never had a rest and have never had anyone to take care of them or tell them to put their feet up, and who have just, just worked too hard. Because, as I said on the radio a few years ago, this was slavery and I don’t use that term lightly and I’m not an emotive person but slavery is a form of work for which you get no pay and you can’t leave and these were the white slaves of Ireland and they were never emancipated. And nobody stood up for them until now, until you guys (Justice for Magdalenes) did.
Samantha Long was asked by Senator McAleese’s commission what she would like the State to do to redress any wrongs committed against the women in Magdalene Laundries. She answered:
I would like the state to apologise for keeping those young girls behind bars, literally and figuratively. I would like the church and state to apologise for forcing them to do slave labour.I would like the church, the state and society to redress their reputations and apologise for keeping them down, for denying them education, freedom, money, their babies and their lives, all of those things.
And I would like that the circumstances that they find themselves in, through the missing pieces that the rest of us get in life, because they had no education, so how could they make it?
They were sitting ducks, keep them down, keep them unaware of their rights, keep them without money, keep the roof over their head, feed them a little bit, keep them alive, just enough for work. Give them their wages now, give them their wages.
Irish religious orders confirm they will not pay Magdalene Laundry victims
In a completely enraging move, two of the four religious orders that once ran Magdalene laundries in Ireland have again refused to contribute any money toward compensating the surviving women.
Over a year after the Irish Taoiseach (Prime minister) Enda Kenny gave a heartfelt State apology to the tens of thousands of women who had been cruelly incarcerated in Magdalene laundries, the Irish government’s repeated attempts to hold the orders financially accountable have met with blank refusals.
All four orders, which include The Sisters of Mercy, Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge, the Good Shepherd Sisters, and the Sisters of Charity have, at various times, publicly refused to contribute financially to the proposed compensation scheme.
According to recent reports in the Irish press, the four orders, which ran the Magdalene laundries, made almost $415 million in property deals during the Irish economic boom. Given those eye-popping figures, the refusal to offer one thin dime in compensation can be seen in its proper light.
It hasn’t quite been two decades since the last Magdalene Laundry in Ireland closed in 1996. That’s well within the living memory of young adults. All those decades of unpaid drudgery, with moral opprobrium added on top, and the orders don’t feel they have a case to answer?
Clearly they are hoping that even now most Irish people would prefer to look the other way – exactly the way they used to when these for-profit gulags were in operation.
Recall that the Irish government had to be brow beaten for years by a group of committed former inmates and their offspring before they finally offered the women a full apology. That apology was only offered in February 2013, by the way.
So the deep Irish reluctance to face up to the legacy of exploitation and widespread physical and sexual abuse within the church has been one of the most remarkable aspects of the now three decade long crisis.
Instead of principled stock-taking, denial, defensiveness and withholding have been the standard responses.
What fascinates me is what happens to a nation that fails to confront its own traumas? Will it hand them on to the next generation without comment? These orders profited for decades from indentured servitude. The women they incarcerated had to pay their own way out.
Now, flush with cash from their extensive property deals, they are withholding all material support from the women they once treated as chattel.
It is estimated that 600 Irish women who were once incarcerated in one of the laundries run by the four orders are still alive. All of them are elderly. The orders may hope that time turns the page on their stories and the nation forgets them. Waiting out the clock, they may be right.
Criminal Good Shepherd Nun exposed but dares to proclaim punishment was forbidden
Saturday May 11,2013
From the link: http://www.vaticancrimes.us/2013/05/criminal-good-shepherd-nun-exposed-but.html
It has been some time since we last covered the issue of the Magdalene Laundries. Since we last posted, the organisation Justice for Magdalenes has ceased its advocacy work on behalf of survivors . It will carry on research work – in particular an oral history project – under the directorship of Katherine O’Donnell at UCD. Justice for Magdalenes are to be commended for their years of important work. At the Jim Kemmy Thirst for Justice Awards Clare McGettrick asked that the Magdalene women would be treated as ‘national treasures’ and not as ‘second best’. This week, Mr. Justice John Quirke published his recommendations for a statutory redress scheme. His recommendations have been accepted by the government. It is difficult to conclude that this is the best we can do. Here are 10 problems with the Quirke scheme. There are certainly others.
1. Even an excellent redress scheme is only part of the answer.
Doing restorative justice also requires us to look beyond the immediate context of the Magdalene laundries. In a really creative and thorough report the Irish Human Rights Commission stresses that the Government must also take steps to prevent the repetition of the sorts of abuses suffered by the Magdalene women ; for instance
- revisiting legislation on the detention of adults with learning difficulties and mental health problems.
- legislating against forced labour.
- strengthening gender equality legislation.
- safeguarding the rights of adopted persons to information on their family of origin. (See news of a recent High Court case considering illegal adoptions here).
- reconsidering the state’s obligations to ensure non-state actors obligations with human rights principles.
- improving state record-keeping practices.
- reforming the burial and exhumation laws, the inadequacy of which was exposed by the High Park scandal. The orders’ records of death and burials continue to provoke disquiet among activists.
2. Quirke is based on McAleese. McAleese wasn’t good enough.
I blogged on the McAleese report soon after its publication . UNCAT has confirmed that the Interdepartmental Committee was not an independent inquiry of the sort required to meet Ireland’s obligations under international human rights law. McAleese must be followed by an independent inquiry with full statutory powers to compel and retain evidence. The accuracy of the McAleese Report is put in doubt by Quirke. For instance, while the McAleese report suggested that 61% of women admitted to the Laundries remained there for less than a year, the Magdalene women who presented evidence to Quirke’s team gave testimony indicating that this figure is closer to 9%. A new inquiry must also revisit McAleese’s findings on physical abuse within the Laundries, which are grossly at odds with the testimony collated by Justice for Magdalenes (This is, of course, unsurprising because the Interdepartmental Committee ignored JFM’s submissions of that testimony). The Quirke redress scheme is based on McAleese’s findings. In consequence, it does not purport to offer a remedy to women who suffered physical abuse in the Laundries.
3. The redress offered under the scheme is inadequate.
As well as making arrangements for healthcare provision, the Quirke scheme offers tax-free ex gratia payments to women based on the length of their documented service in the laundries. Representative groups are divided as to the adequacy of this element of the scheme.The scheme provides for a top figure of 100,000 euro in redress; the figure available to a woman who has spent 10 or more years in a laundry. Very few women fall into this category. The majority of women who spoke to Mr. Justice Quirke’s team had been in a laundry for 1-5 years. Most of these women are 66 or over, in ill-health, badly educated and living in relative poverty. A woman of 66 who had been in a laundry for 4years, would receive:
- Weekly payments equivalent to the state contributory pension, if she is not already in receipt of that pension.
- 32,500 euro in general damages. General damages provide redress for “the harsh and physically demanding work required of the women and the traumatic, on-going effects which their incarceration and misery within the laundries has had upon their security, confidence and self-esteem”, as well as for the women’s educational deficit and current poor living conditions. General damages are capped at 40,000 euro. A woman who spent, say, 20 years in a laundry is not entitled to more.
- 24,000 euro in respect of the labour undertaken in the laundries. No woman will receive more than 60,000 euro in respect of labour in the laundries, whatever her length of service.
A woman in this category will not receive a 56,500 euro lump sum. 50,000 euro will be paid as a lump sum, with the remainder to be paid in weekly installments for the rest of the woman’s life. The woman in our example would receive a weekly income of 239 euro, which represents the combination of her state pension, assuming she is receiving it for the first time (230 euro per week) and the remainder of the redress due to her which is to be eked over the remainder of her life at a rate of 9 euro per week. The absolute maximum ‘top up’ to the state pension which any woman will receive under this scheme is 130 euro per week. This life income will not pass to dependents when the woman dies. When we take account of the age and ill-health of the majority of Magdalene women, it seems clear that many will die before they have been paid the full redress due to them under Quirke’s formula. This is an especially troubling prospect for women who spent longer periods of time in the laundry, who are entitled to larger sums under the scheme.
4. Redress is not the same as compensation.
The Quirke scheme does not purport to offer compensation of the kind that would be available in a personal injuries claim. This scheme is not tailored to women’s individual injuries and experiences. It is a broad brush scheme based on broad brush assumptions. While a remedy in a personal injuries claim aims to put the claimant in the position she would be in had she not been wronged, this scheme aims only to “reflect the wish of the Irish community to reduce the hurt and pain suffered by the Magdalen women by providing them with monetary payments and with sufficient health and other State benefits to ensure that the remainder of their lives will be made as comfortable as is reasonably possible.”
Page 36 of the Report quotes Stephen Winter:
“In a restorative approach, monetary payments as sist the faultlessly burdened by significantly increasing the material resources available for ongoing development at both individual and community levels. But this is not their only restorative purpose. By recognising past failures, monetary redress payments play a role in expressing state sincerity. In terms of sincerity, individual payments fill an expressive gap in the depersonalised context of state redress… The voluntary character of the ex gratia payments may appear to support this expression of state sincerity. Not bound by the courts to deliver through an adversarial process pitting the state (yet again) against its victims, the payments’ discretionary quality expresses the sincere nature of the state’s reconciliatory intent.”
It is not clear that payments which appear to be patently inadequate can perform this function of sincerity. Simon McGarr (@Tupp_Ed on twitter) notes that Frank Shortt, who successfully sued the state for 27 months false imprisonment (a good analogy for the experience of the many Magdalene women who were illegally detained in the laundries) was awarded millions of euro in damages. There is a danger that if the state is perceived to have downgraded the Magdalene women’s financial entitlement, then the restorative expression of sincerity will begin to look more like risk management.
5. The redress scheme is run on heavily paternalistic principles.
As discussed above, where a woman is entitled to more than 50,000 euro under the Quirke scheme, part of the ex gratia payment will be received as a life income, which cannot then be passed on to a woman’s family as an inheritance. Women are not gaining an asset and do not have full control over the payments received. This provision is made in order to ‘strike a balance’ between the needs of ‘vulnerable’ women who fall within the scheme and those who are more capable of managing their own affairs. Why both groups of women should be treated identically is not clear.
6. Women living in the care of religious orders are not properly provided for.
Little of substance has been said about the position of those women who live in institutions run by the former Magdalene orders. What supports will be put in place to ensure that they have appropriate advocacy, that the money they receive under the scheme is properly used, and that their decisions are properly respected? Many of the orders with whom these women live, and lived under the laundries regime, are funded in respect of their care as ‘service-providers’ under the terms of the Health Act 2004. How will their payments under the scheme interact with that funding?
The Quirke Report stresses that the scheme’s administrator (as yet unidentified) must apply ‘a fair and robust eligibility or qualification process so that eligible applicants will have access to institutional and other relevant records and receive such additional and other co-operation and assistance from State and other agencies as they may require in order to enable them to properly record and verify the work which they have done and the periods(s) o f time which they have spent within the laundries.’ Eligibility may pose a significant hurdle. For instance, the records of the Magdalene Laundries in Galway and Dun Laoighre are not available. Other Magdalene women contend that the records of their period in the laundries are inaccurate, unreliable and in some cases have been deliberately altered. The religious orders still retain control of their records of women’s incarceration.
8. The waiver.
Women participating in the scheme are required to waive their entitlement to sue the state or its agencies in respect of their period in the Magdalene Laundries. Of course, the state is very well protected in this regard both by the statute of limitations and the principles on vicarious liability. Nevertheless, as the IHRC notes in its report at p.104 , many Magdalene women have, in principle, a claim against the state for breach of constitutional rights. This should not be lightly removed by an administrative scheme.
9. It is important to decouple remedies from an aggressive and slow adversarial process, but there is still room for responsibility.
Mr. Justice Quirke says of his scheme that:
(i) it will exclude mutually antagonistic roles and positions and will avoid invasive and painful inquiry and interrogation
(ii) it will not require the individual assessment of any of the Magdalen women and
(iii) it will be a speedy procedure as part of a final process of healing, reconciliation and closure and, in consequence,
(iv) it should reflect the expressed wishes of an overwhelming majority of the 337 Magdalen women who actively participated in a consultation process with the Commission.
These are all laudable goals in the context of this redress scheme. However, it is important to recognise that the desire to avoid antagonism and delay can only take us so far. In particular, this scheme cannot do all of the work of ‘healing, reconciliation and closure’. As Katherine O’Donnell said on Wednesday’s Late Debate on RTE radio, taking the Magdalene women’s experience seriously means taking the time to do justice. Doing justice will necessarily entail further interrogation of the state’s involvement in the laundries. Closure cannot mean concealment.
10. The religious orders which held women in Magdalene Laundries may not contribute to funding the redress scheme.
At the launch of the Quirke Report, the Minister for Justice suggested that the religious orders which were involved in the running of Magdalene Laundries should contribute to the redress scheme. However, two orders have said that they do not plan to contribute. The religious orders are relying, in this regard, on the McAleese Report’s finding that the Magdalene Laundries were not profit-making enterprises. I criticised this finding here as based on incomplete and highly subjective evidence. Findings in relation to the laundries’ finances fell outside the terms of reference of the McAleese Report. The Inter-Departmental Committee, as Simon McGarr notes on Twitter, nevertheless included figures on the laundries’ finances for reasons of ‘public interest’. It is extremely disturbing to see these findings used to avoid participation in the redress scheme. The Quirke report raises, and not for the first time, the question of the State’s apparent inability to hold church organisations responsible for human rights abuses. The Irish Examiner reminds us that several religious orders implicated in the Magdalenes scandal amassed large sums of money in property deals during the economic boom.
Written by Máiréad Enright