The Government, seeking redress for the Magdalene women, found a religious community unwilling to contribute.
McAleese report into Magdalene laundries was published in early 2013.
State apology by Taoiseach Enda Kenny to the women who worked for no
pay in these institutions quickly followed.
Within days of the publication of the report, behind the scenes, the
government was writing to the four religious orders that ran the
laundries requesting that they contribute money to a redress fund.
What it found was a religious community absolutely unwilling to make
any form of financial contribution to the women who went through its
laundry doors and who worked for no pay.
In the same month as the apology, the private secretary to the
then justice minister Alan Shatter wrote to the orders — the Sisters of
Mercy, Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge, the Good Shepherd
Sisters, and the Sisters of Charity — asking them to make “an
appropriate contribution” to the redress scheme.
The tone of the letter was polite, thanking the orders for all their
assistance to Martin McAleese for the duration of the inquiry.
However, it was to the point in terms of the government’s view that
they should contribute to the cost of paying redress to the women who
worked in their laundries.
“The government also considered how the religious congregations who
ran these institutions could contribute to the process of healing and
reconciliation that is now required,” stated the letter.
“With that in mind, I have been asked by Minister Shatter to invite
your congregation to make an appropriate contribution to the ex gratia
fund as a reflection of your desire to participate in this process. I am
also writing in similar terms to the other congregations involved in
the running of these institutions.”
In the meantime, the government had arranged to meet the orders personally to broach the subject of a cash contribution.
On April 11, 2013, Mr Shatter, junior health minister Kathleen Lynch,
McAleese committee member Nuala Ní Mhuircheartaigh, and Department of
Justice assistant secretary Jimmy Martin met with representatives of the
The meeting took place at Beechlawn on Grace Park Rd, Drumcondra — the site of the High Park Magdalene laundry.
A note of the meeting records how the question of money was raised
with the 11 senior nuns across the four orders who were present.
“There was an informal and constructive discussion on the McAleese
report, the follow up, Judge Quirke’s role. It was pointed out to the
congregations that the question of them making a contribution to any
government fund would have to be addressed at some stage.”
It didn’t take long for the orders to address the issue. All four
quickly made it abundantly clear that they would not be contributing any
money for the redress fund.
At the end of June, the regional leader of the Sisters of Our Lady of
Charity, Sr Sheila Murphy, wrote to Mr Shatter thanking him for his
“availability and courtesy” in the previous months but making it clear
that the possibility of a financial contribution by the order was a
“We will not be making a direct financial contribution to the ex
gratia scheme. However, as outlined previously, we will be facilitating
applicants and State agencies who request any required information from
us,” she says in the letter.
“Again, I wish to assure you that our ongoing contribution to the
care and wellbeing of the residents here at Beechlawn will continue to
be our prime focus.”
That same month, Sr Mary Christian, the congregation leader of the
Sisters of Charity, also wrote to Mr Shatter thanking him for the
“courtesy and consideration shown us by you and your department
regarding the Magdalene commission report”, but also making it clear
that there would be no question of it contributing to the fund.
“I appreciate the trouble you took to keep us informed, coming to
meet us on numerous occasions and providing us with a copy of the report
at the first opportunity possible.
“Having considered the report, I wish to confirm that the Sisters of
Charity will co-operate with the release of relevant information to any
woman who requests same, we are prepared to meet with any past resident
of our Magdalene homes who so wishes and will continue to provide
services to residents in our care. Unfortunately, we are not in a
position to make a monetary contribution to the fund.”
Sr Bernadette McNally, province leader of the Good Shepherd
Provincialate, wrote to Mr Martin in June and said it could not afford
to pay anything and that this was not likely to change in the future.
“The Good Shepherd Sisters submitted a detailed account of their
finances to the Department of Education in September 2009. We indicated
that on the basis of the facts presented we were not in a position to
make further contributions. Unfortunately, we are still not in a
position to make contributions to any redress scheme and our financial
circumstances are unlikely to improve in the future.”
The Good Shepherd Sisters ran Magdalene laundries in Limerick, Cork, Waterford, and New Ross.
Sr Margaret Casey, congregational leader of the Sisters of Mercy,
emailed Mr Martin on July 1, 2013, confirming the order would assist
women seeking their records and care for women in their care but that it
would not contribute financially.
“We have continued to provide care towards women who spent time in
our care in many different contexts. We will continue to do so in future
in quiet ways and in accordance without our mission. We will not
contribute financially to the State scheme but will lend our support in
other ways outlined above,” she said.
After this first set of refusals, the government felt compelled to
write to the orders a second time in July 2013. The tone was much more
forthright and the orders were told the government felt the
congregations had a “moral obligation to make a reasonable
Another letter was written in January 2014 by Mr Shatter’s then
private secretary, Christopher Quattrociocchi. This time the government
hoped that a recent intervention from the Vatican would sway the
congregations from their refusal to contribute financially from the
He wrote: “In the Holy See’s written response to the UNCRC, December
2013, it was stated that ‘the Holy See is encouraged by the statement of
apology offered by religious orders that were investigated by the State
“The Holy See is also heartened by the openness of the religious
sisters to engage in discussions about issues of compensation and their
willingness to pay a part of a compensation package developed by State
“In light of this statement by the Vatican, the minister is inquiring
if you have reconsidered your position with regard to making a
financial contribution to the scheme and he would be grateful if you
would revert back to him on this issue as soon as possible.”
Both entreaties received equally terse responses from all four orders.
In February, Sr Christian of the Sisters of Charity, responded by
simply enclosing the order’s previous refusal to contribute any money,
which it stated was “for easy reference”.
“The position of the Sisters of Charity is as stated in that letter,” she said.
The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity responded in August 2013 and April
2014 stating that its decision not to contribute was “arrived at after
consideration of the findings of the report of the inter-departmental
committee to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalene
laundries, known as the McAleese report, and careful reflection of our
current and ongoing responsibilities to those residents who remain in
Sr Casey of the Sisters of Mercy wrote to Mr Quattrociocchi stating
that its position had not changed since the previous time it had written
to the department.
“As stated in that letter, the experience of our congregation in
seeking to make fair and just contributions towards other State schemes
has convinced us of the incompatibility of such schemes with our work as
a congregation. I regret to inform you that because of this, and for
other reasons, we maintain our stance of not contributing financially to
this State redress scheme,” she wrote.
Sr Casey also stated that “both the minister and the government will
have been well aware of our intent in advance of the announcement of the
Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Mr Shatter said he was “enormously
disappointed on a personal level” that the congregations were unwilling
to provide any money to the redress scheme.
“My view was, as minister, they should make a contribution towards
the scheme. I met with them to discuss that. We had pleasant
engagements, nothing harsh was said. They listened with courtesy and
then said they wouldn’t be contributing. I did all I could to bring
about a voluntary contribution to the scheme but, in the end, they were
“I was enormously disappointed on a personal level that they didn’t
positively respond. I had hoped that a contribution could be made and I
said and did all I could to encourage a positive contribution. I
believed there was a genuine possibility that they would.”
However, Mr Shatter praised the orders for their assistance to the McAleese committee in terms of providing access to records.
“The congregations were very helpful and co-operative in providing
crucial and essential records with regards to survivors who had been in
their residential ins. It’s important to note that this was crucial to
the compensation scheme in that it allowed for the validation of claims
by survivors seeking redress for their time spent in an institution.
“It was very important that they engaged with this aspect of the
scheme and also that they engaged with Senator McAleese. So, it’s
important to state that there was substantial co-operation on issues of
enormous importance and that work laid the foundation for the scheme.
“It would have been extremely difficult, if not next to impossible, to properly implement the scheme without that,” he said.