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.
Magdalene laundries’ controversy – 20 years on
Updated: 16:12, Wednesday, 26 June 2013
RTÉ’s Religious & Social Affairs Correspondent Joe Little reports
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
By Joe Humphreys Wed, Jun 26, 2013, 20:24
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.