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What’s Wrong with the Magdalenes Redress Scheme?


What’s Wrong with the Magdalenes Redress Scheme?

 

Jun 28, 2013

From the link: http://humanrights.ie/law-culture-and-religion/whats-wrong-with-the-magdalenes-redress-scheme/

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?

7.      Eligibility.

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

Máiréad Enright lectures at Kent Law School. She is also a PhD candidate in the Centre for Criminal Justice and Human Rights, University College Cork. Her research interests are in gender and the law, law and religion, citizenship and the political dimensions of private law. You can contact her at M.Enright[at]kent.ac.uk or (+44) 1227 827996.

Author’s Website

 

Column: The Catholic Church owes the women of the Magdalene Laundries


Column: The Catholic Church owes the women of the Magdalene Laundries

The Catholic Church and the Irish State were both responsible for incarcerating women in the Magdalene Laundries – and so both must pay, writes Anne Ferris TD.

From the link: http://www.thejournal.ie/readme/column-the-catholic-church-owes-the-women-of-the-magdalene-laundries-975017-Jul2013/

IN APRIL 1955, a Scottish writer researching a book about Ireland talked his way into the Magdalene Laundry in Galway. First he had to obtain the permission of the Bishop of Galway, Dr Michael John Browne, the same man who a decade later would refer to the RTE broadcaster Gay Byrne as “a purveyor of filth” for the sin of discussing the colour of a lady’s nightgown on the Late Late Show.

True to form, Bishop Browne warned the Scotsman “if you write anything wrong it will come back on you” adding as a condition of entry to the laundry that anything intended to be published about the visit would have to be approved in advance by the Mother Superior of the Sisters of Mercy.

The Scotsman, Dr Halliday Sutherland, agreed to abide by the bishop’s stipulation and was granted rare access to a Magdalene laundry.  His subsequent account is worked into a single chapter in his 1956 book ‘Irish Journey’. To what extent it was censored by the Mother Superior, we will never know.

An ‘agreed’ year of unpaid domestic service

The day before he visited the laundry in Galway, Dr Sutherland visited the Mother and Baby home in Tuam. He noted that the accepted practice was that unmarried mothers in the Tuam home ‘agreed’ to provide a year of unpaid domestic service to the nuns, and that in addition to this servitude, the home received State support, via Galway County Council, to the tune of £1 per child or mother per week.

Sutherland was told that any child not adopted by the age of seven was sent to work in one of Ireland’s notorious Industrial Schools, no doubt a factor in the decisions of the thousands of Irish women who ‘agreed’ to the export of their children for Catholic adoptions abroad. Women who were re-admitted to the Tuam Mother and Baby Home on a second occasion were automatically sent to work at the Magdalene Home Laundry in Galway.  By directing the women to the laundry and the children to the industrial schools the State saved money and the Church made money.

Church and State incarcerated women: both must pay

Today, thanks to the Magdalene survivors groups we know what the women suffered and that the Mother and Baby homes were only one of many routes by which the Church and State incarcerated women in the Magdalene laundries and similarly operated religious institutions.  This is why in February of this year, after successive governments failed to engage meaningfully with the Magdalene survivors, the current Taoiseach made a formal apology to the women on behalf of the State.

This week the Government announced a redress fund for the survivors. It remains to be seen if the amount and means of payment will prove sufficient to compensate for the State’s role in this tragedy. No sum of money can take away the pain that these women have endured.  In my capacity of Vice Chair of the Oireachtas Committee for Justice, Defence and Equality I personally undertake to closely monitor the progress of any necessary legislation designed to effect the speedy and appropriate distribution of redress to the women concerned. But there can be absolutely no ambiguity regarding the financial contribution to be made by the Church. There is now no hiding from the enormity of what these women suffered in the so called ‘care’ of these religious institutions.

Stripped of personal liberty

On the day in 1955 that Dr Halliday Sutherland visited the Galway Magdalene he met some of its seventy-three unpaid manual workers who lifted and toiled in the heat and wet doing laundry work for businesses, institutions and homes in Galway.  One woman told him she had been there for 25 years. He asked another if she liked the laundry.  She answered “yes” but according to Sutherland she did not look him in the eye. Later, he said, a nun told him that she was a bold girl.

“On Sundays they’re allowed to use cosmetics”, the sister-in-charge told him.

But…“Are the girls free?” asked Sutherland.

“Yes” said the nun.

“Can a girl leave whenever she chooses?

“No, we are not as lenient as all that.” said the Mother Superior.

Anne Ferris is the Labour Party TD for Wicklow and East Carlow.  She is also Vice Chair of the Oireachtas Committee for Justice, Defence and Equality.

Force the Orders who ran the Magdalen Laundries to pay compensation.


Force the Orders who ran the Magdalen Laundries to pay compensation.

Why this is important

They have refused to make payment of compensation, leaving this to the Irish Government but it was they who exploited the women, they who ran the laundries and they who should pay for the abuse they committed. Letting them get away with not paying would be a true travesty of justice.
As the orders of nuns who were responsible for the abuses committed in the Magdalen Laundries have refused to pay compensation, a bill should be prepared and passed and their lands sequestered to make compensation available. The Irishi Government and the tax payer should not have to cover again, the wrongs they have committed. True justice demands accountability for only then will people truly learn the lessons they need to learn.

Depressing but not surprising: how the Magdalene Laundries got away with it


Depressing but not surprising: how the Magdalene Laundries got away with it

From the link: http://www.newstatesman.com/2013/07/depressing-not-surprising-how-magdalene-laundries-got-away-it

Inside a Magdalene Laundry. Photograph: Wikimedia/Magnus Manske

Inside a Magdalene Laundry. Photograph: Wikimedia/Magnus Manske

 

As a child, Anna Carey saw the dead-eyed women who had been forced to work for free in the laundries sit among the congregation at Mass, seen and yet ignored. Now, as the religious orders responsible refuse to contribute towards financial compensation, it’s not difficult to see how Irish society allowed these abuses to go on for so long.

I loved High Park when I was a kid. The rambling grounds of the convent were just across the road from the quiet Dublin housing estate where I grew up in the 1980s, and every Sunday my family went to Mass in the convent chapel. The chapel was a pretty little Victorian building; when I was very small, I used to jump slowly down the wooden steps of the choir stalls and pretend to be Professor Yaffle from Bagpuss.

Away from the cluster of convent buildings, the grounds were beautiful, with meadows full of wild flowers and a small herd of cows. We would go on nature walks, looking out for squirrels and gathering leaves and flowers. It was all rather idyllic, apart from the fact that we were playing in what had, for decades, essentially been a forced labour camp.

Run by the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, High Park Convent was the site of Ireland’s largest Magdalene Laundry. Until well into the twentieth century, girls deemed to be “difficult”  – because they were sexually active, or sexually abused, or simply poor – were sent to laundries by their families or the state. Despite having committed no crime, they were not allowed to leave the institutions and were forced to work for no pay, making them literally slaves. Many women spent their entire lives there, remaining long after the actual laundries closed down. They had nowhere else to go.

I used to see some of those women at Mass, the ones left behind, although I was almost grown up before I realised who they were. They’d shuffle in behind the nuns and sit quietly at the back. Their eyes were vacant, and they seemed completely institutionalised.  I’m sure they weren’t as old as they looked. There was a large, empty building near the chapel which was still referred to as “the laundry”; it wasn’t until my late teens that I realised it was where those dead-eyed women had been forced to slave. The adults around me must have known, but nobody ever talked about it.

Then, in 1993, High Park hit the news. The nuns sold some of the grounds to a property developer for IR£1.5m, but the sold land included a mass grave containing the remains of 155 women, many of whom were unnamed. The scandal forced Ireland to confront just what had happened in those laundries, and ask why we’d tolerated them for so long. It didn’t stop shameless religious orders continuing to sell land for vast amounts of money – thanks to further land sales, High Park made €61.7m between 1999 and 2009, and today the former grounds are covered in houses and apartments. But while nuns made millions, former Magdalenes began a long campaign for justice.

This year, they finally got results. Following a demand from the UN Committee against Torture (UNCAT) in 2011, a government enquiry into the laundries was established. Released in February this year, the enquiry’s report has been widely criticised by UNCAT among others for being neither independent nor thorough enough. It did, however, officially confirm that not only did the state commit at least 2500 young women to the convents’ “care”, it took advantage of the slave labour, giving the laundries government contracts despite being aware that the institutions were breaking the state’s own labour laws. Taoiseach Enda Kenny offered Magdalene survivors an official state apology, and last month details were announced of a financial compensation scheme.

The scheme, which has also been criticised, will cost the state about €58m. You might think, what with the millions they earned from selling land, that the various religious orders would be paying for some of this. But yesterday it was announced that they are refusing to contribute. This is depressing but not surprising, as they’ve repeatedly failed to apologise for running their lucrative labour camps.

But that’s the thing about the Irish Catholic church – it never thinks it’s done anything wrong. Its officials always claim mitigating circumstances – things were different in the twentieth century! Nobody thought there was anything wrong with slavery, or raping children! This is nonsense, of course. But when I think of those old women at the back of the church, carefully ignored by the nice middle class families around them, I can see how Irish society allowed the Church to pretend it was true.

 

Magdalene laundries’ controversy – 20 years on


Magdalene laundries’ controversy – 20 years on

Updated: 16:12, Wednesday, 26 June 2013

RTÉ’s Religious & Social Affairs Correspondent Joe Little reports

From the link: http://www.rte.ie/news/special-reports/2013/0626/458949-magdalene/

It is 20 years since the State's Magdalene laundries became a source of public controversy

It is 20 years since the State’s Magdalene laundries became a source of public controversy

 

The Government has unveiled a package of financial and other supports for survivors of Magdalene laundries.

It was based on recommendations of Mr Justice John Quirke who was asked by the cabinet to devise eligibility criteria and other aspects of a non-adversarial scheme.

It’s 20 years since the State’s Magdalene laundries became a source of public controversy. In 1993 the exhumation, transfer and cremation of the remains of 155 former residents of a Magdalene laundry in Dublin by an order of nuns clearing its land for sale sparked public outrage.

Eighty of the women had not been identified because death certificates were missing or never existed in the first place.

Earlier this year a committee of civil servants independently chaired by Dr Martin McAleese said “the most likely reason” for the blunder was the absence at that time of catalogued records in the order’s archives.

He noted the concern and distress caused to – potentially thousands of – women who had spent some of their lives in the State’s ten Catholic Magdalen laundries. And he said the women’s pain had been shared by their families and the general public.

But exhumations were not the only focus of criticism. In the landmark ‘States of Fear’ television documentary series, produced for RTÉ in 1999 by the late Mary Raftery, forced labour and wrongful deprivation of liberty were identified as hallmarks of the laundry life.

Women told of how, as young girls, they were made to work without pay in sweltering laundries with no indication of when, if ever, they would be released by their families, the nuns and the State which together frequently conspired to keep them hidden from wider society behind high walls and locked gates.

Raftery’s work on the plight of institutionalised children here– she also co-authored ‘Suffer Little Children’ with the Trinity College Dublin academic, Eoin O’Sullivan – forced the State to apologise to thousands of survivors of industrial schools and reformatories.

But the survivors of Magdalene laundries were largely ignored despite the fact that laundries often shared campuses with the other kinds of Catholic-run residential institutions and took referrals from them when girls were nearing graduation age.

While the State paid €1.5bn on a Redress Scheme for the survivors who merited its apology – much of it on lawyers’ fees – “the Magdalenes” as they came to be known, were virtually ignored.

However, movies were made on their plight and the making of Steven O’Riordan’s documentary ‘The Forgotten Maggies’, (2009, TG4) brought together the nucleus of Magdalene Survivors Together, an organisation that represents about 80 women in their campaign for justice.

Simultaneously, the Justice For Magdalenes Campaign (JFM) lobbied the Government and the Catholic Church for apologies and restorative justice measures for the ageing cohort of survivors and their families.

In 2011, JFM’s a recently-graduated legal academic, Maeve O’Rourke, brought their case to the UN Committee Against Torture in Geneva.

It was moved to strongly criticise the Irish Government for failing to launch a prompt, independent and statutory investigation into the women’s claims and for failing to apologise to them.

The State’s representative testified that, from the limited evidence available, the Government was satisfied that the great majority of the women had been admitted voluntarily to the laundries and, in the case of minors, had been put there with the consent of their families.

Embarrassed by the findings in Geneva, the newly-elected Fine Gael-Labour Government promptly asked Dr Martin McAleese in 2011 to chair a group of civil servants from relevant departments to establish any State involvement with the laundries.

Report details State’s responsibility

Last February saw the publication of the 1,000-page McAleese Report. It found that approximately 10,000 women and girls had been put into the laundries between the founding of the State and 1996 when the last one closed.

It also found that the State was responsible for about a quarter of all referrals.

Many of the survivors who Dr McAleese met “experienced the laundries as lonely and frightening places” This was true, he added, particularly in the case of those who were put there as young girls”.

Dr McAleese noted that most girls were not told why they were put away. Possible reasons included poverty, the loss of a mother, disability, the risk of becoming pregnant, being sexually abused, and having had a second child outside marriage.

Girls committed by industrial schools – where they had been detained for some of their earlier years – were not told how long they would have to stay in the laundries. Dr McAleese added that the same open-ended policy was applied to those admitted by families and charities.

“To add to this confusion,” the report continues, “most found themselves quite alone in what was, by today’s standards, a harsh and physically demanding work environment. The psychological impact on these girls was undoubtedly traumatic and lasting.”

The report’s impact was blunted somewhat by the finding that 61% of residents had spent less than one year in the institutions. It was as if some sections of public opinion were disappointed that the picture painted by the report did not live up to the stereotype of laundry life portrayed by film-makers in particular.

But this was based on information concerning only 42% of admissions, those for which duration is known. The report in fact finds that the average duration of stay of those particular admissions was 3.22 years.

While some former residents who met the committee said the laundries were “their only refuge at times of great personal difficulty”, “the majority described the atmosphere in (them) as cold, with a rigid and uncompromising regime of physically demanding work and prayer, with many instances of verbal censure, scoldings or even humiliating put-downs.”

However, the vast majority told the committee that the ill-treatment, physical punishment and abuse that had been prevalent in the industrial school system was not something they experienced in the laundries.

Critically, although the laundries were owned and run by four religious congregations of nuns, the State was directly involved with the institutions. The McAleese Report detailed four cross-overs in addition to the previously mentioned responsibility the State bore for about a quarter of all fully recorded admissions:

State inspections and State funding of the laundries; State involvement in the routes by which women left the institutions; and its role in death registration, burials and exhumations.

Almost immediately after the report’s publication last February, the four Catholic congregations that had run the Laundries expressed their regrets for how they had treated women and girls in their care and apologised with varying degrees of intensity.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny also expressed regret for what had been revealed but stopped short of making an unequivocal apology to the women. But two weeks later, on the 19 February, he apologised unreservedly on behalf of the State to the survivors.

In a well-attended but hushed Dáil, his voice broke with emotion as he apologised for the hurt the women had endured in the laundries and for any stigma they suffered as a result of their time there. Dozens of survivors were moved to tears as they looked on from the visitors’ gallery.

Mr Kenny said that he wanted to initiate a process to help and support the women in their remaining years, and announced that the retired High Court Judge John Quirke had agreed to review how the Government could provide support to the women.

Shortly afterwards, the Department of Justice invited survivors of the laundries – and of a Catholic residential training centre for females in Dublin’s Stanhope Street – to register their intent to seek State support. So far more than 750 have done so. Meanwhile, Mr Justice Quirke began devising the eligibility criteria for the general scheme of supports and a payments system.

The Government had already decided all assistance should be given on an an ex gratia basis, that is, out of a sense of its moral obligation rather than because of any legal requirement.

The judge has been asked to estimate how much his proposed payments will come to. He’ll define their “nature” and “amount” and propose a method for deciding on payments “in an effective and timely manner that ensures the…. Fund (is) directed only to the benefit of eligible applicants and not on legal fees and expenses”.

Critically, his terms of reference also oblige him “to take into account relevant criteria including work undertaken by the women”. He has also been asked to examine “other matters as considered appropriate, to contribute to a healing and reconciliation process”

Judge Quirke will advise as well on help-in-kind for former residents who need it. Examples given are medical cards and other public health supports like mental health and counselling services and other welfare needs.

He’ll tackle the complex and thorny question of double-payments: how the government should respond to women who have already received money from the now defunct Residential Institutions Redress Board in recognition of abuse suffered in an Industrial School but where the payment included “a sum specifically due to their direct transfer to a Laundry and time spent there.

He has been asked to propose ways of ensuring that former residents living in the UK won’t lose existing entitlements to benefits and supports if they receive a payment from the Fund.

And finally, he will suggest ways of ensuring that “payments or supports or assistance” provided here are disregarded when Social Welfare entitlements and/or income tax liability are being determined.

The report, and the Government’s response to it, are scheduled to be launched in Dublin at 3.30pm today by Minister for Justice and Equality Alan Shatter and Junior Minister Kathleen Lynch.

Magdalene survivors to receive €11,500 to €100,000


Magdalene survivors to receive €11,500 to €100,000

By Joe Humphreys Wed, Jun 26, 2013, 20:24

From the link: http://www.irishtimes.com/news/magdalene-survivors-to-receive-11-500-to-100-000-1.1443375#.UcsskVXU5Fo.facebook

Government provides at least €34.5 million to compensate women held in laundries

Survivors of the Magdalene laundries are to receive lump sum payments of between €11,500 and €100,000 for their time spent in the institutions, the Government has announced.

Under a new compensation scheme, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said approximately 600 women were expected qualify for the ex gratia payments, and “crucially payment of these sums of money is not dependent on proof of any hardship, injury or abuse”.

Members of one group representing survivors have rejected the offer. Magdalene Survivors Together want all the women detained to be given a basic payment of €50,000 and one member has called on the Government to go back to the drawing board.

While Mr Shatter said it was impossible to give an accurate prediction of total costs as the number of validated applicants had yet to be established “my officials estimate the total cost of these lump sum payments would be in the range of €34.5 million to €58 million.

A woman who spent any time of three months or less would receive a lump sum of €11,500, and the amount then increases. For one year it will be €20,500 and for five years €68,500. The maximum payment is €100,000 for women were in a laundry for 10 years or more.

Women who are entitled to more than €50,000 through the scheme will receive a €50,000 lump sum, plus an annual payment calculated from the remaining sum, which would be paid weekly.

Allowing for this condition, “one off payments in the range would total €24 million to €40 million with total weekly payments amounting to €70,000 to €1.26 million annually.”

To minimise further legal costs, Mr Justice Quirke, president of Law Reform Commission, recommended that before accepting any payment, the woman should agree not to make any further claim against the State and should have access to independent legal advice.

Mr Shatter said it was in discussions with the Legal Aid Board on how to provide that advice.

Mr Shatter has met the four religious congregations which ran the laundries and told them they are expected to contribute to the compensation. “There will be great disappointment within Cabinet if the congregations fail to make a contribution,” he said. Mr Shatter would not put a figure on how much they are expected to pay. During talks with the orders, some nuns said they still care for more than 100 Magdalene survivors at their own expense. “They are making a contribution by providing them with accommodation and supports,” he said. “Of course they are going to incur expense and work has to be done in providing us with the verifying records that are necessary.”

Women who were held in one of the Magdalene laundries rejected the offer and called on the Government to go back to the drawing board. Members of

Magdalene Survivors Together want all the women detained to be given a basic payment of €50,000 for the emotional and psychological damage suffered, with additional compensation sought for work at the laundries. They also want all the money paid in one bulk, instead of an initial lump sum followed by weekly amounts making up the balance.

Maureen Sullivan, the youngest known survivor admitted to one of the laundries, said women were forced to work from morning till night — washing floors from 7.30am, in a laundry throughout the day, and then making rosary beads at night. “I think they totted it up all wrong,” she said. “They need to go back to the drawing board.”

But Sally Mulready of the Irish Women Survivors Network, which represents around 60 UK based survivors, said it welcomed the scheme as a “fair, fast and just settlement, without endless lawyers and legal costs”.

She particularly welcomed the provision for enhanced pension which was fitting recognition of the time women spent working in the laundries.

The Sisters of Mercy ran two laundries, one in Dun Laoghaire which closed in 1963 and one in Galway which closed in 1984. It said its archives will be open for women to check how long they spent in the institutions.

The congregation also said it supported the possibility of mediation between nuns and surviving women. “We will welcome the opportunity for such interaction mindful that all Sisters who held positions of responsibility and worked in Galway or Dun Laoghaire are now deceased,” they said.

Other recommendations made by Judge Quirke include:

* Magdalene women will be granted free access to services — including GP, hospital care, drugs and dental counselling — by way of an enhanced medical card.

* All Magdalene women who have reached pensionable age will have income equivalent to the state contributory pension.

* Those who have not reached pensionable age will have income of 100 euro per week.

* All cash payments will be exempt from income tax and other taxes and will not be taken into account in means testing for social welfare or other benefits.

* A dedicated unit will be created to provide advice and support, assistance in meeting with religious congregations and social opportunities to meet other such women.

Magdalene Laundries: Women who have lost their way


Magdalene Laundries: Women who have lost their way

By Rachael Romero – posted Thursday, 20 June 2013

From the link: http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=15148

The Washington Times article: “A Magdalene Laundry survivor speaks out,” reminds us that Magdalene Laundries were not only in Ireland but replicated all over the world.

Was the Irish State’s recent apology for their complicity with the church in the enslavement of young women for years inside the notorious Magdalene Laundries, (or workhouses for girls, many of which were run by Good Shepherd nuns) – and subsequent calls for restorative justice for survivors – the impetus for the Good Shepherd Sisters in Australia putting a new spin on the history they share with Irish nuns?

By recasting themselves online as seekers of justice they hope you don’t know of their role in more than a century of hidden imprisonment of vulnerable girls in Australia’s infamous Magdalene Laundries. When they say their doctrines promote freedom, do we infer that hypocrisy is their policy as a means to deceive and deflect criticism? Their new website says they’ve commissioned Anti-Slavery Australia to route out “hidden exploitation.” The Australian Good Shepherd’s historical perpetration of “hidden exploitation” in Magdalene Laundries no doubt informs their expertise. Disclosure: As a recipient of ‘hidden exploitation’ in their hands, so does mine!

In 1967, inside the dark-walled Dickensian world they ruled supreme, the Good Shepherd nuns suggested that I might just as well give up school. I was just fourteen. It occurred to me that school was mandatory till age fifteen so I claimed it not only as my right, but also as a way to get a few hours out of forced labor in their thundering, antiquated laundry. How had I come to this dreadful place?

Like so many others I’d run away from home following a particularly brutal and life threatening attack by my father, (who had abused me physically, psychologically and sexually for years). Having turned myself into the Welfare I was subsequently dispatched (under the signature of my parents) to endure extra-judicial imprisonment and forced labor in a Magdalene Laundry run by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in suburban North Plympton, South Australia (1941-74.)

There, I was treated as defiled and forced to work in the laundry under the blind eye of the State of South Australia and the noses of god-fearing South Australian citizens. Out-of-sight-out-of-mind.

I was just one of tens of thousands of vulnerable girls stigmatized as “fallen,” herded like sheep to the slaughterhouse that was the Catholic solution. Those in charge of the Convent of the Good Shepherd were carrying out a mandate to get wanton, lost girls and women off the streets where they might contaminate society. The nuns’ constant vilification branded us-as livestock are branded-by fire. We were treated as mere objects of contempt, there to earn our wretched keep in Magdalene Infernos around the world.

The advocacy group, Justice for Magdalenes, brought the issue to the attention of the United Nations Committee Against Torture eventually resulting in the Irish State’s recognition of culpability this year. (Australia has yet to address this, other than the 2009-sweeping apology to all of those mistreated in care during the last century.) Imagine my disbelief when I find the Good Shepherds using words like: Hope, Action, Justice to obscure their unpardonable history as slave-drivers of the most vulnerable girls society could serve up to them, presumably hoping to gain cred by awarding the writer Sushi Das (well placed as the Opinion Editor of The Age,) an award-on International Woman’s Day.

Have the Good Shepherds Nuns “lost their way?” Their idea of themselves as altruistic shepherds saving young “fallen” girls from themselves by herding them into hard labor was and is condescending, antiquated, disingenuous and the results have been horrific and gravely injurious. Why don’t they come clean about their dirty laundry? I believe the church is afraid that survivors seeking restorative justice will cause the revelation of hard facts resulting in potential donors to beginning to see their current Anti Slavery crusade as same old sanitized with PC language.

On their newly branded Good Shepherd website, Noelene White writes: “…the work of Good Shepherd Sisters and mission partners […], isn’t that different to what Good Shepherd has done since the Order began in France in 1835.” [Italics mine]

I suggest that the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Good Shepherd nuns’ arrival in Australia be seized as a time for the Good Shepherd Sisters to explore how they lost their way and an opportunity to taste the penitence and humility they so zealously forced upon those in their care. Let their archives be opened and those pitiful records studied. Let there be restorative justice for all those who suffered in the Good Shepherds’ Magdalene Laundries worldwide!

Give the laundry girls their compo


Give the laundry girls their compo

Rights watchdog: State acted wrongfully

SURVIVORS of the Magdalene Laundries should get compensation including unpaid wages, pensions and rehab, a watchdog has insisted.

In yesterday’s follow-up report to Martin McAleese’s laundries probe, the Irish Human Rights Commission said the State failed to protect women and girls sent to the institutions.

And IHRC commissioner Professor Siobhan Mullally said the McAleese inquiry fell short of drawing conclusions on the State’s obligations.

She added: “The State acted wrongfully in failing to protect these women by not putting in place adequate mechanisms to prevent such violations, and by failing to respond to their allegations over a protracted period.”

Prof Mullally said compensation must now match the human rights violations and their ongoing impact.She called for lost wages, pensions and social welfare benefits to be taken into account — as well as rehabilitation supports such as housing, education, health, welfare and help to deal with the psychological scars. Sinead Lucey, senior inquiry and legal officer of the IHRC, said women were subjected to a form of forced labour — and that the State profited from this.She said: “Not only did successive Irish governments not outlaw and suppress such practices, as they were required to do, but the State itself availed and benefited from such forced or compulsory labour when it entered into commercial contracts with the laundries on the basis of being the cheapest.

“But the crucial factor here was the workers were unpaid.

“The State must never be complacent in the way it treats those at risk of discrimination.”

Good Shepherd Sisters denying history


Good Shepherd Sisters denying history

By Adele Chynoweth – posted Wednesday, 19 June 2013

From the link: http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=15140

The recent claims, by lawyer and lobbyist Bryan Keon-Cohen, that the Catholic Church is a law unto itself in its resistance of governmental responses to child abuse, could be applied to Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand.

On the 22nd of this month, Good Shepherd, an organisation established by the Good Shepherd Sisters has scheduled a Festival at Abbotsford Convent in Melbourne in order to celebrate 150 years since the Good Shepherd Sisters arrived in Australia. The problem is that the summary, by Trish Carroll, Good Shepherd Mission Leader, of the history of the organisation, conveniently excludes the work of the Sisters in the twentieth century. So allow me to fill in the resounding gap.

There are no precise figures for the number of girls who slaved in the eight Magdalene laundries, run by the Good Shepherd Sisters, in twentieth century Australia because Good Shepherd has not released their records. We do know, as a result of the Federal Senate reportForgotten Australians (2004) that the Good Shepherd laundries in Australia acted as prisons for the girls who were forced to labour in workhouses laundering linen for local hospitals or commercial premises. The report alsodescribed the conditions as characterised by inedible food, unhygienic living conditions and little or no education. In 2008, in Federal Parliament, Senator Andrew Murray likened the Convent of the Good Shepherd ‘The Pines’, Adelaide to a prisoner-of-war camp.

Post-war Australia was categorised by a new era of nation building led by the conservative Robert Menzies as Prime Minister. There was a perceived need for strict discipline for juveniles. Children could be placed in juvenile detention centres despite not having committed a criminal offence. Further, during this period there was a concern that ‘sexually depraved girls’ could be a cause of delinquency and therefore needed to be separated from the mainstream. As a result of these attitudes, many vulnerable children were criminalised.

Rachael Romero, at the age of 14 in 1967, was incarcerated in ‘The Pines’ for running away from her violent father who had sexually abused her. Rachael could not speak about it publicly for forty years because the Good Shepherd Sisters had branded her as ‘fallen’ and so Rachael had felt besmirched as a result of the abuse that she had endured. Wendy Sutton was admitted to ‘The Pines’ at the age of 13 having suffered physical abuse at the hands of her stepfather and having been sexually molested by a friend of the family.

Janice Konstantinidis was sent, by whom she describes as her ‘sadistic alcoholic father’ at the age of 12 to work in the laundry at Mount Saint Canice, run by the Good Shepherd Sisters in Tasmania. Janice remembers the girl who broke her back in an escape attempt by jumping through a window. The girls were told later that after being discharged from hospital that she was sent to Lachlan Park Hospital, a secure mental asylum.

Maureen Cuskelly was sent to Abbotsford Convent at the age of three because her mother was suffering from a mental illness. Later at the age of 13, in 1968, she was sent to work in the laundry at St Aidan’s Bendigo, run by the Good Shepherd Sisters. When she left, at the age of 17, her hands were damaged from years of repetitive sheet folding, in the afternoons, and her being forced to clean floors with an industrial polisher every morning.

The Good Shepherd Festival at Abbotsford this month also includes a ‘ReunionAfternoon Tea for all former residents of Good Shepherd institutions’.

I asked Maureen if she would be going, “I don’t know about that. There is not one plaque at Abbotsford about us. It’s all about them. They make me so mad. There has been no apology. No acknowledgement”.

“I went to a reunion before and they say ‘The nuns did their best at the time’. But they didn’t do their best. They were cruel. We were always hungry and cold. Girls were beaten or locked on their own in dark cells. But the worse thing they did was not let me see my brother and sister in the other section of the Convent. I got punished for waving at them”.

The Senate Inquiry into Forgotten Australians (2004) revealed that the abuse of children continued throughout institutions because a nation espoused an uncritical admiration of the work of charities and churches. Who was watching those charged with the care of Australia’s vulnerable children? We can take account now. Many Forgotten Australians have fought emotional adversity and physical scars or injuries to participate in a society that abandoned them as children. Our history needs to acknowledge the causal factors that produced such adversity so as to deflect the shame and stigma from survivors. Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand, whose slogan is “Justice, Compassion, Reconciliation, Respect, Dignity” can assist this reparation by focusing less on their public relations campaign, more on writing an authentic record and through the initiation of a genuine reconciliation process with former child slaves of their twentieth century laundries.

Maureen reminds us the significance of the current Good Shepherd’s edited history, “They’re burying what they did. They’re burying our history. They’re burying the truth”.

Sisters of no mercy


Sisters of no mercy

From the link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2003/apr/12/religion.childprotection

In the pre- and post-war period, orphans were often sent to homes run by religious orders, such as the Sisters of Nazareth. There they found a disciplined regime which, they say, tipped over into violence. Now, decades later, more than 500 former inmates are suing the nuns for damages. Beatrix Campbell reports

Fred Aitken is 70 years old and still he is haunted by sounds – the racket of children “banging their heads against the walls of the dormitories”. The walls were in a gothic mansion called Nazareth House, an orphanage in Aberdeen where Aitken was dispatched when he was six. There, he says, nuns regularly beat him and made him witness the violent degradation of other children. Sleep was routinely interrupted by their constant checks for children wetting their beds and the beating that followed. One bed-wetter was held out of the window by her ankles as punishment. “You woke up to this thrashing. Nuns with leather straps hanging from their waist beside their rosary beads. The strap was socially acceptable. The excuse is that it was normal in those days.”

Aitken, who now lives near Chester, was taken to Nazareth House after his mother died in the 1930s. He ran away constantly, and in his early teens one of his older sisters, then living in one room, took him in and tried to take care of him. He avoided school, sauntered around shops, cinemas, anywhere warm, until he was picked up and sent to an approved school for “delinquents”. He joined the RAF and although other young men lay in their beds weeping for their mothers, Aitken thrived: the military were “the first people who treated me as a human being. I was clothed, fed, paid a weekly wage. And they didn’t beat me.” Even then Aitken was shadowed by unhappiness. In the 1960s, when he was in his 30s, he sought help. “I told a doctor about the nuns. The man said he thought I was fantasising.” It was only 30 years later, when other Nazareth House survivors began to speak out about their experiences, that his childhood and its bleak effects could no longer be dismissed as his imaginings.

The Poor Sisters of Nazareth were founded in the mid-19th century in Hammersmith, London, to take care of the young and the old. For more than a hundred years, Nazareth Houses all over Britain were home to thousands of children. They aren’t children’s homes any longer. These days the nuns look after old people. And the Poor Sisters aren’t poor (the order has £154m in the bank) – they’ve been rebranded and they’re simply Sisters.

Now the Sisters of Nazareth – the order also has houses in Australia, South Africa, the United States and Ireland – are the subject of an international campaign to call them to account for a regime of violence. In a symbolic trial in Aberdeen in 2000, one nun, known in her childcare days as Sister Alphonso, was convicted of cruel and unnatural treatment. And 40 nuns belonging to the Poor Sisters of Nazareth and the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul are named in a civil action by more than 500 people, mostly middle-aged or elderly, who are claiming compensation from the orders. It is to be a test case, in which 11 former inmates will appear in court, and is expected to be heard in Scotland later this year.

Ranged against them are the Catholic hierarchy, the asylums’ insurers, who insist that there must be no admission of liability, and a sceptical hauteur that flourishes across the political and legal establishment. It was voiced at the highest level last year when the reforming Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, claimed that many convictions of people accused of abusing children in institutional care were flawed and that the law was in need of review. Archbishop Mario Conti, Scotland’s most senior Catholic churchman, has accused the former Nazareth House inmates of being seekers not of justice but of “pots of gold”.

Six years ago, Joseph Currie was wandering past Nazareth House in Aberdeen, the place where he, too, spent his childhood. In the grounds, he noticed that where once there were playing fields there was now a children’s nursery. Currie was horrified and took himself to the police to tell them about his memories of the place he remembered as the “House of Hell”.

Currie, now in his early 50s, lives in a Glasgow tenement. Everything in his flat is neatly arranged – his shoes, his clothes, his videos, his crockery, his correspondence. Every surface is wiped clean. This is not the work of an obsessive, he says, just typical of an orphan. The military and emergency services found those abandoned, bereaved children attractive recruits because, though they lacked education, they knew how to iron their shirts, polish their shoes and obey orders.

On the shelves around his Victorian tiled fireplace Currie displays old toy fire engines – it was his boyhood ambition to be a firefighter. On the mantelpiece there is a fading photograph of him in a grey bow tie with the queen of the Eurovision Song Contest, Katie Boyle. They’re at the annual bash of the contest’s fan club. Currie is one of the organisers. He is a fast-talking, busy man, a retired postman, “a bit of a cheeky chap, straight to the point”, he says of himself. But though he is active in progressive politics and his music club, says, “I’m also very lonely, I have to admit that.”

He was put in Nazareth House when he was two. According to his social services records, his family was “destitute” and his mother admitted selling a pair of shoes for food. Joseph had been left alone in verminous conditions. But there was worse to come. He remembers Nazareth House as dour and cruel. For years after he left in 1967, he tried to put the place out of his mind. But that walk beside his old home provoked a rush of recollections. “As a precaution, in case I died,” he made a tape-recording and put two pieces of paper in an envelope. The papers showed a copy of a newspaper photograph of Aberdeen’s Nazareth House. He had put a cross by one of the windows in the eaves. On the other piece of paper he mapped all the features of the room behind that window, its pipes, floorboards, walls, doors, a cupboard. He sent the envelope to Cameron Fyfe, a Scottish solicitor, with a note naming the boy with whom he had shared that room. His map also showed a plywood panel, a false wall, and behind that panel, he said, were some significant documents.

Joseph Currie, the orphanage child, had something important to say, but there was no one to tell it to. So he wrote to God. Now, 30 years on, he wanted the police and his solicitor to find those hidden documents because, he believed, they would confirm his recollections of his time at the orphanage. Currie took Cameron Fyfe, other lawyers and Nazareth House officials to the building, to the locked door of his former bedroom. When finally a key was found, they went in: the room was almost as he had left it, and behind a plywood panel there were his childhood documents, exactly as he had predicted.

One of them, dated Sunday April 2, 1967, pledges: “I will keep these promises seen here.” The boy forswears spending his pocket money, bad language and playing at fire engines, but the letter begins with “No Dirt At All”, the ‘No’ underlined many times. “The real meaning of ‘dirt’ was sexual abuse,” Currie says, “I felt dirty. It started when I was about eight. A man who came in as a volunteer to help bath the kids started molesting me in the bath and in the toilets.”

Currie also told his priest about the “dirt” in confession, “but he was deaf and he would say ‘speak up’. I’d come out and all the other boys would be laughing.” He told a teacher about his embarrassment and she suggested that he could go into any church. “So I went to St Mary’s Cathedral in Aberdeen and I said, ‘There’s this man comes to the home and plays with my private parts.’ The priest asked me his name and whether he was still doing it. He said, ‘Pray for him my son.’ He knew the guy because he came to Nazareth House. I thought maybe he’d do something about it. But it didn’t stop the man coming in.” The priest to whom he made his confession, he says, was Father Conti.

Archbishop Conti has strongly denied Currie’s claims, indeed he denies that he ever, “either in the context of confessional or outside the confessional, received any complaint of any kind of abuse relating to the care of children in Nazareth House”. The archbishop also accused Currie of being unreliable. Currie had likened some of his childhood documents to a diary, but the archbishop insists, “only three sheets of paper were found, two containing aspirations Joseph had listed for himself and the other listing the timing of the Benny Hill show on TV”.

Currie is one of the more than 500 bringing the action against the Sisters of Nazareth and the other orders. His childhood memories of the orphanage are filled with emotional and physical terror. He had lost his family, and letters from his siblings and his mother were never given to him. For a minor misdemeanour, children had to kneel down and face the wall of the main corridor while nuns passed. “Some would smack you as they came by. You’d hear their footsteps but you didn’t know who they were. It was a form of mental torture.”

Another inmate, Helen Cusiter, returned to Nazareth House six or seven years ago, to visit a woman who was working there. An unexpected encounter with one of the nuns she’d known when she was at the orphanage – Sister Alphonso – changed her life.

“I started screaming. She asked me to go upstairs and tell her how I was getting on. She started to tell me how wonderful it was working with the old people, but her hands were shaking. She asked, ‘What do you remember about your childhood?’ I said, ‘Every bit.’ She said, ‘I was young at the time and I was just following orders.’ She never said, ‘I’m sorry.’ ”

Cusiter fled home from that meeting with the nun. “I had a panic attack – I thought I was having a heart attack. Then there were all these flashbacks.” Her days and nights were haunted. Her own fond family life with her husband and children was swamped by her fears: “What if I was in a crash with my husband and Sister Alphonso got my children? What if I ended up in Nazareth House as an old person?” She became imprisoned in the safety of her own home. She was overwhelmed by shame – ashamed of leaving other children behind, of failing to protect them from harm.

Eventually, four years after her encounter with Sister Alphonso, she went to a solicitor. “He sat, feet on the table, and said there were several options. ‘Is it money you’re after?’ I said no.” Instead she decided to go to the police. “I was passed to the child abuse unit at the age of 39.” That was in 1996. Grampian police advised her to get a lawyer and began to interview other residents, crosschecking dates and names to verify the growing archive of allegations against the order.

Cusiter became one of the former inmates whose evidence initiated the unprecedented criminal prosecution in Scotland in autumn 2000, when Sister Alphonso, appearing as Marie Docherty, was convicted of four charges of cruel and unnatural treatment. Sheriff Colin Harris ordered that several other charges be rejected and said that he would only admonish, rather than imprison, her because of her age and her health.

Cusiter recalls a particular incident when Sister Alphonso came for her while she was playing on swings. “She took me off by the hair, twisted me round and threw me against the church wall,” she says. “She broke all my front teeth, my face was a mashed mess, the other kids were all screaming.” Helen Howie, a 77-year-old woman who had been raised in the orphanage and later worked there as a helper, still remembers the blood on Cusiter’s face. “Sister Alphonso didn’t use leather straps, she used her fists, she had some strength.” When the child was taken to the dentist, he asked, “What’s all this bruising?” She fell, he was told.

Cusiter was eight when her mother disappeared and she and her five brothers and sisters were taken from Glasgow to Aberdeen’s Nazareth House. There were separate quarters for boys and girls, and the siblings were allowed no communication, though they would see each other across a crowded church on Sundays and on the school bus. After leaving Nazareth House, the six were never again in the same room together. Helen’s younger brother grew up a distressed, drifting young man. “Most of the time he was like a recluse. Finally, he took his own life. He told me he’d been sexually abused by a priest. He’d never told anyone. It was so tragic.”

Of her time at the orphanage, Cusiter remembers the raucous insults that came from the mouths of the supposedly pious sisters: “They’d say, ‘No wonder your mother left you… whore… freak… Glasgow trash… I’d have left you… you’re just Glasgow tinks.’ ”

Like other inmates, Cusiter vividly recalls night-time. “They’d come round the beds and make sure you were in the right position – flat on your back with arms crossed out of the covers (otherwise you’d be touching yourself). If you were lying on your side, you’d be yanked back. They’d lift the covers to see if your bed was wet. If it was, then you’d be yanked out, called all filthy names.”

Some former residents say they were sexually abused – Cusiter remembers a driver who “would touch up the boys and the girls” and, she says, a child would often be used to keep watch while one of the handymen pursued his sexual relationship with a nun – but most of the cases against the Sisters of Nazareth concern physical violence. Mealtimes, predictably, were the occasion of routine power struggles between nuns and children. Cusiter says she was force-fed: “She’d be pulling your head back, then she’d hold your nose so you couldn’t breathe, until your mouth opened, and she’d shove food in. Then you’d choke and the food would end up on your plate again and she would force-feed you your own vomit. That started from the moment I went in there.”

Other inmates have similar memories. A retired telephonist living in an elegant Glasgow apartment block for senior citizens recalls that “several of the children were force-fed. One of them was my sister. She was three or four years old. I saw it.”

She had been sent with her sisters to Glasgow’s Nazareth House from their home in the Highlands after their mother was diagnosed with tuberculosis, a disease that was still “like a death knell in the 1950s”. She was eight. Her first night was marked by her younger sister’s screams as she was taken off to a separate dormitory. She, too, remembers the nuns’ nocturnal inspections.

“Wetting the bed was a nightmare – they’d strip the covers off and the child would be made to stand with the wet sheets for hours, to set an example. They stood there like ghosts, covered in the wet sheets. My sister didn’t wet the bed at home, but one night she was crying and came to us and said she’d wet the bed. So we swapped our sheets for her, rinsed the wet one out and went to dry it on the radiator. But it was off. So we sat on the sheet to dry it – we were only children. My sister got caned on the hands and the back for that. The nun would roll her sleeves up, so she got a real good whack. I felt she took relish out of that.”

Punishment was perpetually lurking: “You never knew when or what. There is still never a day when my sister does not fear being punished for something. We were just miserable people, that was all.”

Enduring companionship between friends and siblings seemed to be discouraged. Sometimes companions simply disappeared. The retired telephonist has never forgotten the summer of 1955 when the children of Cardonald Nazareth House in Glasgow went to Aberdeen on an exchange. This was their holiday. “We were taken to the beach, it was so grey and wild and windy, we were frozen.” The girls were told to change into their swimsuits while the nuns huddled together in a beach hut. “My sister and her friend Betsy Owens were playing with a beach ball. It blew into the sea and they went into retrieve it, a stupid plastic ball – of course, they wouldn’t have dared do otherwise. Betsy was drowned. We saw her being brought out of the water.”

Her younger sister has never forgotten that day: she could scarcely swim, but managed to grasp a long log. “I held on tight but the waves kept dashing me against the wood and my leg was badly gashed. Eventually I was rescued by a small boat, but it was terrifying.” Her big sister saw her being lifted out of the water, “all cut and bleeding. One of the nuns said: ‘You watch you don’t get blood on your dress or you’ll catch it.’ My sister and I have tried unsuccessfully to follow this up. There was no record of Betsy after that incident, nothing. No prayers. No mass. Nothing.”

The Edinburgh lawyer representing Nazareth House, Dr Pamela Abernathy, insists, “No one still alive who was intimately connected with Nazareth House at the time has any recollection of such an incident, nor are there any records of the death of any child during that period.”

When the retired telephonist recently began to make inquiries about Betsy Owens, the order responded by denying any knowledge that she herself had ever been there that summer. They said there were no records of her presence. It seems that, she, like Betsy Owens, might never have existed. But in her collection of personal records, there is the evidence: a telegram adorned with top hats and lucky horseshoes, addressed to her at Aberdeen’s Nazareth House on August 3, 1955, saying, “Happy Birthday Darling, from Mummy.” She was there.

This woman, like Currie and Cusiter, has joined the civil action against the Sisters of Nazareth because they believe it is the only way of calling the order to account. She and her sisters were in Nazareth House for just 18 months – they left when their father, who regularly made the long trek across the country to see his daughters, suddenly arrived in his work clothes to take them away. To this day, she doesn’t know what had so alarmed him – all visits were patrolled by nuns who remained in the room, like sentries. The children didn’t speak about what had happened, “none of us did, believe it or not”. But it left the family with inconsolable sadness. “We had wonderful parents. Right to her death, Mum kept saying, ‘If only I hadn’t got ill.’ She thought it was her fault. It broke her heart.” Her father took the child to the local priest “to explain what he’d discovered and how angry he was for his children, but the priest never took it up”.

Her own efforts to challenge the hierarchy of the church have been distressing and her association with the public campaign against the Sisters enraged other members of her congregation. “I was spat on. After we pray, we shake hands, but one woman refused and said I was bringing the church down. I said, ‘No, this is about crimes against children.’ ”

She is outraged by suggestions that her motivation is securing compensation. “I didn’t want money. We have tried every way to get the church to accept what happened, but they’ve done nothing. Nothing. These are major things, the experience was a severe danger to people’s lives.” She points out that “15 members of my group have taken their own lives. I am all right, I’m surviving. I don’t need financial help. Money would never take away what happened – God’s representatives on earth behaving in such an appalling manner.” She had worried about what had happened for years. “I need answers, not just about Betsy but about the whole damned thing. I telephoned Cardinal Winning, and asked him to do something about all the things that were coming to light about Nazareth House. He said very little, I would have liked him just to say sorry. He wasn’t prepared to accept that it was the truth. I felt terrible all over again.”

Kathleen Batey, a 47-year-old cleaner living near Newcastle United Football Club’s mighty stadium, is not one of the campaigners seeking legal redress. She has never consulted lawyers, nor sought compensation from the church. “I don’t want their money,” she says. “I just want it out of my mind.” And, like all of those involved in the civil action, she wants to have her story heard.

Kathleen Batey’s back is lined with a ladder of scars – they are the relics of her life at Nazareth House in Tyneside, received, she says, when nuns took off the belts buckled round their habits and beat her. She was sent to the orphanage, with her brother, when she was five – her grandmother had just died, her mother had left, and her father felt he could not take care of the children. She remembers Nazareth the house as “spooky, horrible”. She, too, remembers children being force-fed, and also being required to work. “There was a big polished floor, it was really polished. They’d cut up woollen jumpers and we had to put them on our feet and we had to skate on the floor and make sure the shine came up. If you did it wrong, you got a clip.” Or worse. “The nuns would take off the belt and just hit you with it. It was just the routine.”

The punishments accelerated, she says, after she and her brother began running away. In vain, they’d find their father, but before long the police would turn up to take them back. Their father didn’t stop them: “I thought there was nobody. Dad didn’t want us, nobody loved us, no one took care of us.” The violence in the orphanage didn’t seem exceptional to her, just part of life.

What often makes detection of childhood abuse difficult for the police is that it’s an adult’s word against a child’s, and there often isn’t any surviving physical evidence (a sign, say the sceptics, that abuse didn’t happen or that it didn’t cause any harm). This may be qualified in cases of alleged institutional abuse because there is sometimes a chain of corroboration. Cameron Fyfe says there’s no great problem of proof in this case: individuals who have not seen each other for years, who may scarcely remember each other, are corroborating each other’s narratives. They are recalling what were, after all, very public regimes of pain and punishment.

The survivors have to get past the argument that the religious orders merely delivered the discipline that was standardised, sanctioned and universal in those days. The Sisters of Nazareth lawyer, Dr Abernathy, points out that Nazareth Houses were overseen by local authorities and by the government. There were frequent visits by “children’s officers, town councillors, inspectors, including doctors and psychologists from the home and health department”.

None the less, there have been scandals and debates within the church about the ill-treatment of children for decades. Eoin O’Sullivan, the Irish historian of Catholic orphanages and schools, cites a very public challenge to the church by Father Flanagan, the priest whose humane childcare was the model for Spencer Tracy in the film, Men Of Boys Town. This embarrassed both church and state in the 1940s. “Violence was an intrinsic part of the culture of these institutions,” O’Sullivan says; they were committed to the “destruction of will”. He has unearthed state archives revealing many complaints about cruelty and inspectors’ concerns about “dangerous and undesirable punishment”. Violent discipline, he says, was not uncontested.

Father Tindall, the church’s child protection coordinator in the north-east of England, ventured: “Too much of the organised culture of the church was very disciplined and rule-bound, and gave an opportunity for people under pressure to use the language of discipline to be punitive.”

What was it, though, that caused such cruelty by women? Sister Margaret McCurtain, a glinting Dominican scholar and one of Ireland’s best-known Catholic reformers, suggests the “sexual oppression of nuns could emerge later in the form of cruelty”. She also comments that the very notion of charity was “a virtue that never brought with it affectivity.” Feminist scholar Ailbhe Smyth adds, “Christianity tells us that we have to help the poor, but we don’t have to like them. It is a Christian duty, for your greater glory, not theirs. There is, in this context, an absence of any recognition that tenderness should be the norm in relations between adults and children.”

The orphanage survivors’ civil case must show that their complaints refer not just to rogue nuns but to a regime for which the order itself was responsible. Cameron Fyfe insists that similar stories have surfaced against the Sisters of Nazareth in Australia and Ireland, where their practices, such as the response to bed-wetting and the force-feeding, “were very similar and esoteric”. Fyfe argues that the cultures of orphanages and schools tend to be specific and different – he also represents clients who were in the hands of the de la Salle monks in Britain, against whom there are more allegations of sexual abuse than there are against the Nazareth House nuns.

The Nazareth House children face another difficulty: the time bar. “After a real struggle, we have persuaded the legal aid board to support 11 test cases,” says Fyfe. All of these concern allegations of ill-treatment after 1964. The current limit on cases before that date is being challenged in the courts, and members of the Scottish parliament are mooting a change in the law. If that fails, Fyfe intends to take the challenge to the European Court of Human Rights.

Cases are being compiled in England, too, though there seems to be some reluctance to prosecute physical abuse. Sex with children is a crime, but “reasonable chastisement is still a lawful reason for inflicting pain on children,” explains David Spicer, a barrister and former chair of the British Association for the Study and Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect.

Dr Abernathy denies the allegations of cruelty and abuse, and argues that for 130 years the Sisters of Nazareth “devoted their entire lives to the care of orphans, abandoned children, children from broken homes and in many cases children referred from the courts. Many of these unfortunate children suffered consequential emotional disturbance, and some of them no other institutions would accept.”

Francis Docherty is 58 and runs a helpline, Historical Survivors of In-Care Abuse, whose cases include people as old as 95 who are still suffering, still searching for their lost brothers and sisters, still trying to sort things out. He was brought up in Smyllum Park orphanage in Lanark, run by the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul. “The horrifying thing was that being hurt by implements was bad enough, but to see a holy person, a righteous person with – I don’t want to exaggerate – a face full of hate, an angelic, holy face turning into a face of horror, a woman crunching her teeth in hate, going berserk, screaming while you are pleading for mercy, the wee leather boots just booting into you. Bruises go away, but the horror stays in your mind.”

Docherty, too, has joined the action against the Daughters of Charity and the Sisters of Nazareth. “This isn’t revenge against the Catholic church, we just want them to come out of denial. They’ve always ruled by fear. It’s their power mania. These people told you that you were the scum of the earth. Maybe you started to believe it.”

Docherty worked for most of his life as a driver, and for as many years he has been “in and out of Alcoholics Anonymous. I haven’t taken a drink for more than five years,” he says. He is never surprised by attempts to discredit people like himself. “We’ve had a lifetime of being accused of being liars and cheats, searching for a pot of gold.” Archbishop Conti has not only accused the victims of seeking pots of gold, he has told them that, “on your part, there is a need to forgive”. That’s not up to the Archbishop, says Docherty. “It’s up to us whether we want to forgive. Give us an apology. All we want is for the Catholic church to change its ways and let us live in peace.”