Magdalene survivors ‘should be compensated’

Apartments are seen on the site of the former St Mary's Laundry and burial plot off Grace Park Road in Drumcondra.Apartments are seen on the site of the former St Mary’s Laundry and burial plot off Grace Park Road in Drumcondra.

The Government should establish a compensation process which includes the provision of pensions, lost wages, health and housing services and redress to women admitted to the Magdalene laundries, the advocacy group Justice for Magdalenes has said.

The group made its comments following the publication of a report into State involvement in the laundries which found that over a quarter of the 10,000 women referred to the laundries between 1922 and the closure of the last laundry in 1996 were made or facilitated by the State.

“Magdalene survivors have waited too long for justice and this should not be now burdened with either a complicated legal process or a closed-door policy of compensation,” a spokeswoman for the group said in the wake of this afternoon’s publication.

Justice for Magdalenes has welcomed the findings of the inquiry, which it said, showed that the State was “directly and fundamentally involved” in the Magdalene laundries.

“It can no longer be claimed that these institutions were private and that ‘the vast majority’ of the girls and women entered voluntarily as has been claimed,” the group said.

“The State gave lucrative laundry contracts to these institutions, without complying with fair wage clauses and in the absence of any compliance with social insurance obligations. The State inspected the laundries under the Factories Acts, and in doing so, the State oversaw and furthered a system of forced and unpaid labour, in violation of countless legal obligations,” a spokeswoman for the group said.

Justice for Magdalenes notes that the statistics contained in the report omit the records of two Sisters of Mercy-run Magdalene Laundries in Galway and Dún Laoghaire.

“The figure of just over 10,000 girls and women confined in this system is therefore in need of significant upward revision,” the spokeswoman said, adding the report does not provide information on how 1,987 of the overall figure, were referred to the laundries.

The group added that there were aspects of the report that need substantial clarification and that it was currently in dialogue with Dr Martin McAleese and his team on a number of findings.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) said the State had failed in its responsibility. “It was the State’s responsibility to prevent the indentured servitude and unlawful incarceration of these women and girls, to whom it owed a duty of care,” director of the ICCL Mark Kelly said. “It failed in this responsibility, and the ICCL believes that there is compelling evidence of State acquiescence and active complicity in the laundries system.”

Colm O’Gorman, executive director of Amnesty International Ireland, said that the scale of the human rights abuses revealed in the report demand urgent action from the Government.

“Its first response must be an immediate apology and reparations for what these women endured,” he said. “It is 20 months since the UN committee instructed Ireland to ensure that all Magdalene abuse victims obtain redress and have an enforceable right to compensation. It is more than two years since the Irish Human Rights Commission made the same call. The longer this goes on, the more likely it is that more survivors of the Magdalene laundries will die without ever seeing justice.”

He added that a fully independent investigation into the allegations of arbitrary detention, forced labour and ill-treatment needed to be set up as soon as possible.

The country’s largest trade union, Siptu, also called for financial compensation to the survivors and their families for the forced labour the women endured and from which religious orders and other businesses profited.

“The scale of the abuse of women in the Magdalene Laundries can no longer be denied following the publication of the inter-departmental committee report on State involvement with these institutions this afternoon,” Siptu equality and campaigns organiser Ethel Buckley said.

“Siptu supports calls for these women to receive adequate compensation for the abuse which they endured as workers condemned to forced labour.”

PAMELA DUNCAN

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