Friday, April 29, 2011

Decision due soon on Magdalene homes report

THE GOVERNMENT will make a decision after Easter on a report on women who spent time in the Magdalene laundries, according to Minister of State Kathleen Lynch.

Ms Lynch, Minister of State for Disability, Equality and Mental Health, said she had spoken to Minister for Justice Alan Shatter and that a decision on the recommendations contained in an Irish Human Rights Commission report last year would be made after the Easter recess.

Magdalene homes were institutions for “fallen women” who broke the conventions of society by bearing a child out of wedlock. Some of these women have made allegations of abuse against these mainly church-run institutions, the last of which in Dublin was shut in 1996.

The commission recommended the Government establish a statutory inquiry into the treatment of women and girls in the laundries. It also recommended that redress be provided as appropriate. 

The laundries did not come under the Residential Institutions Redress Board.

Ms Lynch said she did not know what decision would be reached by the Government in relation to the report, adding the issue of women who spent time in the Magdalene laundries had to be dealt with.

“We can’t deny them until they die. We have to find a way to deal with this whole issue . . . a solution which is satisfactory for the women involved and for the State.”

Previous governments held that the Magdalene aundries were privately owned and operated, meaning they did not come under State responsibility, something which the advocacy group Justice for Magdalenes disputes.

“The fact that the laundries were private institutions did not absolve the State of responsibility to protect the women and girls within the laundries from the abuse they endured at the hands of religious orders,” said Prof James Smith, of the group and Boston College.

The United Nations Committee Against Torture will next month examine a submission made to it by the advocacy group, which claims that Magdalene laundry survivors continued to suffer due to the government’s ongoing failure to apologise, investigate and compensate them.

The submission claims Ireland has a legal duty under the Convention Against Torture to promptly and impartially investigate allegations of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and to ensure redress for the victims of such treatment.


THE FORMER Magdalene offers her apologies. Her real name cannot be printed, she explains. 

Despite the passing of more than 50 years – and the fact she now lives more than 3,000 miles away from the Irish village in which she grew up – she fears her story will bring shame on her relatives.

“Even to this day there are some of the older people my age who would say, ‘You must have done something to deserve to go in there’,” she says.

Róisín (not her real name) was “not quite seven” when her mother died. Her father remarried and, when she was 14, brought her to the nearest Magdalene laundry.

“At 14 I was in front of a great big mangle – I had blisters on my hand from the hot sheets coming out of it,” the now 76-year-old recalls. “It was slave labour. If there was a holiday coming up we’d have to work six and seven days a week and late at night.”

She recalls one occasion when a nun accused her of talking out of turn. Róisín denied it and called the nun a liar. “She put me in this room . . . and that was it for 48 hours; no food, no water, no toilet.”

After four years she was allowed to leave. Because she did not receive a high enough level of education to become a nurse, she left for England, where she began her training, later travelling to the US, where she qualified.

Róisín says she was neglected by the State as a child because she was essentially enslaved in the laundry, adding that, at the very least, the State had a responsibility to inspect such institutions.

“The Government are burying their heads in the sand . . . They are dilly-dallying, because in 10 years’ time we’ll all be dead and this will no longer be hanging over their heads. I’m not looking for any huge sum of money or looking to drain anyone. I’m just looking for compensation for the four years I was there and I would like those four years to go towards my pension.”