Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Government under pressure over Magdalene apology

http://www.scotsman.com/webimage/1.2775959.1360083860!image/2018932442.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_595/2018932442.jpgThe Government will seek a "clear strategy and a clear plan" as to how best to deal with the findings of the report into the Magdalene laundries, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said.

The Government came under renewed criticism today following the refusal of Mr Kenny to issue a full apology to the women who spent time in the laundries, despite the fact that more than a quarter were sent there by the State.

The 'Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen Laundries' was published yesterday by an interdepartmental committee chaired by Martin McAleese found the women were from many backgrounds.

Some were referred by courts, others released on licence from industrial schools before they reached 16 years of age, while some were young women over 16 years of age who had been orphaned or were in abusive or neglectful homes.

Responding to Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin during Leaders' Questions in the Dáil, Mr Kenny said he was "genuinely concerned about bringing reconciliation and closure to the women involved". 

The report exposed the truth and "in that regard the first and major issue of concern to the girls and women in the Magdalene laundries was the removal of the stigma".

He didn’t want to get into "adversarial diplomacy" on an issue as sensitive and evocative of bad memories for people.

The Taoiseach said the Government itself would reflect on the issue and he would "like the space to work with government by putting a process in place so that we can help these women reach closure".

Mr Kenny told the Fianna Fáil leader that his government "refused to actually investigate it then. This Government is dealing with it in the context of the McAleese report which sets out the truth here."

Mr Martin, who chaired the committee dealing with industrial school abuse, told the Dáil he was "sorry we didn’t deal with the Magdalene laundries at the time".

He said the committee led to a State apology to survivors of industrial schools. And he told Mr Kenny that the 1,400 page report published yesterday on the Magdalene laundries "doesn’t take any stigma away".

"The only effective way for the stigma to be removed by the State is to apologise with no ifs and no buts," he said.

Responding to questions from Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou McDonald, Mr Kenny said some of the information contained in the report had not previously been available. It was the "duty and responsibility of the Government to examine it and reflect on it and decide what is the best thing to do from here", he said.

“I am sorry that so many women worked and were resident in Magdalene laundries in a very harsh and authoritarian environment," Mr Kenny said in response to criticism from Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou McDonald. Ms McDonald told the Taoiseach that yesterday had been the time for the Government to apologise and to tell the women: "You were wronged."

Mr Kenny said he did believe the stories of the women and that the report was the truth about what had happened to them and about their lives and their experiences.

He believed the Government had a responsibility to act to "bring closure" to the women and he acknowledged that many of them were elderly and not in robust health.

The Taoiseach said it was a case of having "a clear strategy and a clear plan as to how best to deal with it and that is what the Government will do". There would be a further opportunity to discuss the report in two weeks, Mr Kenny added.

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said today the report was a "watershed" that had cast light on areas that had been in the shadows. 

However, he declined to comment when asked on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland whether it was wrong for the State to be involved with the laundries.

“I don’t want to use that type of language,” Mr Shatter responded when asked if it was “wrong for the State to collude with the enslavement of women and children?”

He also criticised opposition TDs who called for an apology yesterday before reading the report in full.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin said he thought the Government would be "compassionate" in its response.

The facts had been "long and late" coming but the Government had set up the inquiry within a few months of coming into office. He said Dr McAleese had been the right person to conduct the inquiry.

Labour Party TD Gerald Nash tweeted that a "full, sincere" apology was needed. His Labour colleague Aodhán Ó Ríordáin tweeted that it was “clear that the state owes the Magdalene women an apology”.

"Quick progress on this issue is important," he said.

The report, which investigated 10 Magdalene laundries run by four congregations found that:

* The number of women who spent time in laundries since 1922 was 10,012;

* Some 2,124 referrals were made or facilitated by the State - 26.5 per cent of the total;

* The average age at the time of entry was 23.8 years;

* The age of the youngest known entrant was nine and the oldest 89;

* More than a third of the women stayed for less than three months while 61 per cent stayed for less than a year;

* More than 7 per cent stayed for longer than 10 years.

The report found little evidence of sexual or physical abuse and no evidence of profiteering by the nuns who ran the laundries.

In his introduction to the report, Mr McAleese said: “The women who were admitted to and worked in the Magdalene laundries, whether for short or long periods of time since the foundation of the State, have for too long felt the social stigma of what was sometimes cruelly called the ‘fallen woman’.

“This is a wholly inaccurate characterisation, hurtful to them and their families, that is not borne out by the facts,” Mr McAleese added.

The total cost of the inquiry, which involved the production of a 1,000 page report, was just €11,000. 

The four congregations who operated the Magdalene laundries welcomed the report and expressed regret for the suffering of the women who stayed there. 

In the Dáil yesterday, Enda Kenny said he was sorry the stigma faced by laundry “penitents” had not been removed before now.

“To those residents who went into the Magdalene laundries from a variety of ways, 26 per cent from State involvement, I’m sorry for those people that they lived in that kind of environment,” he told the Dáil.

“I want to see that those women who are still with us, anywhere between 800 and 1,000 at max, that we should see that the State provides for them with the very best of facilities and supports that they need in their lives.” The Dáil would debate the report in two weeks, he said.

Justice for Magdalenes the survivor advocacy group said the Taoiseach’s statement fell “far short of the full and sincere apology deserved by the women who were incarcerated against their will in Ireland’s Magdalene laundries”.

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