I call Deputy Calleary who, I understand, is sharing time with Deputies Michael Moynihan and Eamon Ó Cuív.
Magdalen Laundries: Motion [Private Members]
"That Dáil Éireann:
notes the comprehensive and substantive report on Magdalen laundries completed by Senator Martin McAleese;
agrees that, given the evidence in the report, an apology should be given to the women of the Magdalen laundries by the Taoiseach, on behalf of the Oireachtas and all citizens of the State, for what they had to endure; and
further agrees to the establishment of a dedicated unit within the Department of Justice and Equality to co-ordinate remaining aspects of the State's response, including all forms of redress which should be provided."
In previous contributions relating to this matter I have acknowledged that the commissioning and publication of the McAleese report was a hugely important step on the part of the Government. I take this opportunity to again acknowledge that fact. It is, however, the aftermath of the publication of the report on which we must focus our attention and on the very less than adequate response on the part of the Government to what former Senator McAleese has outlined and to the testimonies of the survivors of the Magdalen Laundries, as provided by their various representative organisations, namely, Justice for the Magdalenes, Magdalene Survivors Together and the Irish Women's Survivors Support Network.
In order to fully understand and appreciate the horror experiences by those who spent time in any of the institutions to which I refer, people should read the testimonies of the survivors as well as the McAleese report. I wish to read into the record of the House, a quote from one of those testimonies. It reads:
When I went in ... of course, the first thing they did was cut my hair, took all my clothes. Told me I go by the name of Attracta, and I would be called by my number, 63, whenever they wanted me to do anything ... Then if you did anything wrong, you were put down in a hole. We used to call it the hole. It was a four by four room, but we called it the hole. There was nothing in it, only a bench - no windows. You were put in there; your hair was cut, more or less off completely. Your hair was cut, and you were there all day without anything to eat until they came down for you at five o'clock and took you up. Then you had to go into Sacred Heart room where the recreation was and kneel down in front of everybody in the room, kiss the floor and say you were sorry, and then the nun read the riot act to you.
I am sure none of us can imagine what it must have been like to undergo such an experience. I am also sure many of those who were in these institutions did not know why they were there in the first instance. I have no doubt that the memory of what they experienced lives on for these women. I believe the testimony from which I just quoted and I also believe the testimonies of those who outlined similar experiences.
The Government's amendment to the motion highlights a number of matters relating to the McAleese report and its findings and contains the first official acknowledgment of significant State involvement in the running of the laundries. The amendment highlights the fact that the report shows that the traditional stigmatising labels which were often attached to women in the Magdalen laundries were wholly unjustified; that the report acknowledges that women worked in the severe conditions for no pay; and that the report recognises that many women were not informed as to why they were admitted to the laundries, for how long they would be obliged to remain in them or when they could leave. Nobody will disagree with the findings contained in the report. Nobody can do so in light of the testimonies that have been provided for many years.
We are debating this matter because, on one hand, the Government has acknowledged and highlighted the horrific wrongs that were done but, on the other, it is having to be dragged - kicking and screaming - into making an apology and saying sorry. What we are seeking in this debate is for someone to use the five-letter word "Sorry".
I take this opportunity to acknowledge that Deputies McDonald and Maureen O'Sullivan, in particular, have played a strong role in highlighting this matter during the lifetime of the current Dáil. Many others have not done so. In the previous Dáil, former Deputy Tom Kitt and Deputy Ó Caoláin also highlighted this issue in equally strong terms.
As I prepared for this debate, I reflected on the contribution which I made last September to the debate on a motion tabled by Sinn Féin and in which I outlined my fears. At that time I stated that I had no doubt that former Senator McAleese would give the inquiry his full commitment. Dr. McAleese was an inspired choice to lead the inquiry. I have no doubt of the commitment of those in government who are working on this issue. However, I doubt the institutions of the State. When I hear reference to cross-departmental committees, I become worried because I am aware that the defensive mechanism which is in-built in the institutions of the State will kick in. There is some sort of innate inability to acknowledge the State's role in respect of this matter. We cannot acknowledge our debt to these women or admit or contemplate the fact that they and their families are still living the nightmare. The motion laid before the House last September put the machinery of the State on notice that this Oireachtas would not waver. As stated at that point, I am of the view that the Oireachtas has a moral mandate to deliver to these women and to account for the mistakes made by it and previous Administrations in refusing to acknowledge what was done to them.
The fears I expressed last September crystallised at 4 p.m. on Tuesday last in this Chamber. Those who survived the horror of institutions to which the motion before the House refers and are still living, the families of the women who have passed away, the many who have been forgotten, who have no families to defend them and whose interests are being looked after by the survivors' groups and the others who - as a result of the horror they experienced and the stigma they perceive to be attached to themselves - are still unable to admit to their loved ones that they were incarcerated in the laundries all woke up on Tuesday morning last hoping that their darkest hour was over and that dawn was about to break. They had participated, in all good faith, in a process that they believed - and were led to believe - would lead them to the beginning of a journey of personal redemption. Some of them travelled to Dublin in the hope that they would, having received a long-overdue apology, be able to engage in a little celebration on Tuesday evening. Many others did not travel to the capital because they lack the resources or the physical or mental ability to allow them to do so or because they now live far from Ireland. In this regard, I recall the woman described by Professor James M. Smith who woke in her bed-sit in New York last Tuesday morning and who waited to discover whether it would be her day.
However, on Tuesday afternoon at 4 p.m. the hopes were cruelly dashed as the faceless institutions of this State once again coalesced to destroy the dreams of these women as they had done previously while they were physically incarcerated.
I share a constituency with the Taoiseach. I know him to be very decent and caring, and that view is shared across the House. He has shown that in the Chamber on countless occasions, and he shows it on a daily basis. However, the statement he delivered on behalf of the Government and the Irish people in the aftermath of the publication of the McAleese report last Tuesday was amateur, heartless and unfair and, as a result, the physical incarceration of those women detailed in the report and in their testimonies continues in a mental way today. That is the reason we are here tonight and will be here tomorrow night. Whatever number of nights it takes, we will be here to demand justice. We are here as the elected voices of the people of Ireland to speak for the voiceless, the more than 10,000 women our predecessors incarcerated for reasons that were, in 99% of cases, unjustifiable. We are here as the faces of this State, those who went out and got a mandate, to stand up to the faceless people behind the scenes and behind the Government response and demand that they stand up for the voiceless and allow the women of the Magdalen laundries and other institutions to begin their journey of personal, physical and mental redemption.
Most importantly, we are here because we do not have time. These women do not have many years ahead of them to battle the State in courts or deal with their physical and mental issues. Many of them do not have the resources because their ability to earn a wage was affected by their time in those laundries. We do not have time. These women are coming to the end of their life's journey. They are physically infirm as a result of their experiences and they continue to suffer mentally. That is the reason that, as well as looking for an apology, we are proposing the establishment of a dedicated unit housed within the Department of Justice and Equality to begin co-ordinating a full State response on this area. There is no reason that could not have been established ahead of the publication of the report. There is no reason it could not have been established last Tuesday, because the Government recognises the wrongs that were done in its amendment. In the comments that followed the public outcry over the lack of an apology the Government recognised that wrongs were done, and if a wrong is done, one tries to repair it. To establish such a unit would in itself have been a statement of faith and a statement of intent.
That unit must examine many issues, but it must do so quickly. It must examine a health care response, because many of these women do not have the resources or the ability to access the health care they now require as a result of their time in these institutions. A social protection response is required, which will take time and must be detailed because there are pension issues and insurance issues as well as payments due from the laundries to these women. That must be got under way. There are physical and mental health issues that must be examined and dealt with.
Finally, we must consider an efficient and rapid system of redress, and not some long, combative process in which only the lawyer wins. There are models of fair processes available that respect dignity. The dignity that was robbed by this State can now be given back by saying one word, but that word must be followed up with practical responses. Everyone in the country needs to say one five-letter word that is seemingly impossible to say - "Sorry". It is seemingly impossible to acknowledge that the horrors outlined in the survivor testimonies, in the McAleese report and in the Government amendment were wrong. Reading the Government amendment - leaving aside the other two - one must say that what was done was wrong, and it was done by agents of the State. When one commits a wrong, one says "Sorry," but we still have to hear it.
Maisie has not heard it yet. She still suffers from nightmares 50 years on. In her dreams, she is locked in and cannot get out. She says she cannot believe it still haunts her at her age, but it never leaves her. Attracta has not heard it yet. Attracta says that she feels very bitter, and that Ireland has let her down. Her husband says she still cries at night and wakes up crying, and that it affected all of her life.
I will finish where I began. I acknowledge this was the first Government to bring all of this together and lay out the information. That was not done previously, and it is only fair that we acknowledge it this evening, but in commencing that process the Government created an expectation. The Government did not come cold to the full report last Tuesday. Dr. McAleese delivered it chapter by chapter to the Department, and information was available from Justice for the Magdalenes and from a range of institutions on the full implications of that report. Even if the Government had come cold to it last Tuesday morning the Taoiseach could have stood up here and said that he wanted to consider the report overnight and that he would come into the House the next morning and give a full response, and everybody would have agreed. That could have been done. He has shown, in the aftermath of the Cloyne report, that he can give a tough response very quickly. He could have done so here, but the way in which he dealt with the issue last Tuesday - I emphasise again that I do not make this criticism in any personal sense - extended the pain, misery and mental incarceration.
I gather an apology is on the way. That followed a range of meetings over the weekend and yesterday, and I gather those who were at the meeting yesterday felt it was worth their while to be there to give their stories to the Taoiseach. We will not get the apology until next week because it does not suit the Government to give it tonight. Why will it take two weeks for people who do not have two weeks?
I believe Maisie. I believe Attracta. I believe all the women. I can say I am sorry. I hope my Government is too, and I wish it would say it was.
I support the motion and I compliment the former Senator Martin McAleese on the report. I acknowledge that the Government commissioned the report and I welcome its findings. The report details the pain and suffering inflicted by the State on almost 10,000 women, but in the few minutes available to me I want to recall a conversation I had in July 1989, which was probably one of our last fine summers, with a man I had the privilege of knowing, who has since gone to his eternal reward, and for whom I had immense time. He outlined to me as we worked side by side the life stories of three people from the greater community from which I hailed, the reasons they were committed to the Magdalen laundries and the reasons they were kept there for specific times. He painfully recalled to me the horror story of one of those women whose life was destroyed. Another woman left for England and the other woman lived out her life in the United States.
With regard to the lady who lived her life in Ireland, I was told about the horror, pain and suffering inflicted on her throughout the 1950s. It stayed with her all her life. I remember the details given by the man in his stories. At the time, he would have been as devout and religious a man as any in a rural community. On that summer day 24 years ago he said "we thought we were practising as a Christian community at that time". The man said he hoped to God nothing like that was happening in Ireland today. I would have liked to have had the opportunity to discuss the report with him today or last week to determine his opinions thereon and on society as we reflect on the enormous suffering inflicted on the women by the State. One hopes that the institutions of State are not in any way, or for any reason, inflicting pain on women or men whom they perceive to be guilty. If the report is to do justice for the people referenced therein, a full State apology must be forthcoming.
I was a little upset today when I heard the Taoiseach state this is an ill-timed debate. This is a democratic Chamber and it is important that we bring issues such as this to the fore. If an elected representative feels strongly about any issue, he should bring it to the fore. I hope that all elected representatives in this Dáil will reflect on what is happening in institutions of the State today to ensure that nobody will be able to report in 25, 40 or 50 years that we were not prepared to stand up for what was right by the countless women who went through the Magdalen laundries.
Last Wednesday afternoon, I had the privilege of having lunch with a religious community in Dublin. We discussed the Magdalen laundry report. The members of the community almost begged that the Taoiseach, on behalf of the State, would issue an apology because it is so necessary. Some elderly members of the community recall the interaction with the Magdalen laundries. They were deeply upset by what was unfolding.
It is important that the State issue an apology and right the wrongs perpetrated on the women. We must think of the countless women who suffered enormously because of the State's and society's opinion that they were doing the right thing. The pain and suffering of the women whom I was told about in 1989 comprised a considerable burden on them and their families, as did the stigma. All I hope is that this report will bring some solace and hope to the women and that the State will be strong enough to stand up and say it is sorry for what happened to them. In some way, it should make their burden lighter.
Tá áthas orm go bhfuil deis agam cúpla focal a rá ar an ábhar seo. What happened was wrong and should not have happened. We must deal with the issue in hand and then examine the issue to which my colleague Deputy Michael Moynihan alluded. We must ask whether anything happening today is wrong and not being dealt with. Every generation believes it has got it right and that the previous generation was wrong. It seems to be part of the human condition to be complacent about one's own generation and to be very critical of previous generations. I have no doubt that, within society, there are issues we choose not to address because it is not popular to do so. I believe wrongs are being perpetrated on people in a totally different way but this does not in any way excuse what happened in the past, particularly in the case of the laundries.
I welcome the report. What has happened in the past few weeks has happened and I accept that the Government needs time to produce a detailed response. I will be happy if the Taoiseach comes to the House next week with a considered response.
The report was commissioned to find out the State's involvement in the Magdalen laundries. I am disappointed that a number of laundries, including one in my constituency, were not investigated for one reason or another. As far as I am concerned, it is not a question of how people ended up in the laundries. It would be very wrong if the Government, in its response, differentiated between the means by which women ended up in them. Whatever form of redress is put in place should be made available to all on an equal basis. Let us be honest about it, we can try to separate the State from society but what occurred was part of a wider societal attitude and not confined to religious orders. Therefore, the duty of care should apply to all equally. I hope the Government will see it that way.
Over many years, I have been averse to getting the law in where the State should move. Over the years, while in and out of government, I have been critical of circumstances in which a Government or Departments wound up defending the indefensible. I refer to where advice was given that the legal route was the best way to go for fear of a challenge. My experience tells me that, in most cases, it would have saved the State money to have dealt with such issues on an ex gratia basis. The Sinnott case is an example. There are other cases in the Supreme Court in which the person in question, irrespective of the law, had a moral right to something. We wound up defending a legal right. In the Sinnott case, the Supreme Court became involved when matters got so out of hand because of wider issues that had nothing to do with the case.
When I was Minister for Social Protection, Opposition Deputies raised an issue with me about coal miners who got pneumoconiosis and who had not been given any assistance as a consequence. In fairness to the officials in the Department, they looked within the law and found a way, through the disablement benefit schemes, to pay the miners retrospectively.
It kept out the solicitors, legal fees and the risk of legal fees for the people who had a difficulty. Most of them would accept that it was better to get the money without hassle than to be waiting for long convoluted processes to get fair play. Therefore, I hope that after yesterday's discussion the Government will come to a fair and equitable resolution, which will be easily accessible and available, and that we will not waste either the State's money or the money of the people who have suffered in this case in arguing legalities. I hope no difference will be made between those who were sent to these laundries due to State actions and those who were not.
A significant number of people went to the laundries over the years, but the number of them alive now is very small. It is time to deal with this issue. As somebody who has served in the Government, it is a deep regret of mine that we did not deal with this issue and bring it to finality. I hope it will be now. My colleague, Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl, mentioned the symphysiotomy and thalidomide cases earlier. I hope those cases, too, can be brought to closure. It is time we dealt with these remaining issues and brought them to closure. It is up to us as a society, because money is finite, to make the decision that priority should be given to dealing with this issue in a fair and open way.
People were deprived of their liberty, had to work for no wages and were part of what could be called, at the very least, a Dickensian system that unfortunately existed too long in our society. It is important, therefore, that we deal with this issue and recognise that the human rights and freedoms that are fundamental to the standards in our society were denied. I hope that next week will bring closure for the people who have suffered and a recognition by the Government and society that this issue will be dealt with, even if it is late in the day. If it is dealt with in that way next week, if an apology is given and if there is a comprehensive response to the report, taking account of the long meeting the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste had with the victims yesterday, I will acknowledge that although it was not handled in a very sensitive manner last week, the important thing is not to be partisan about it. All Members should agree to work together and agree that this is a priority action. If that means we must prioritise resources, which is always a hard decision, that must be done.
Mar adúirt mé, is dóigh liom gur ceist an-tábhachtach í seo. Ach ba mhaith liom ceist chomhthreomhar léi a ardú. Is í sin, sa sochaí ina bhfuil muid, is cinnte go bhfuil cearta daoine á shéanadh. Is fada mé ag labhairt faoi seo. Ní mar a chéile iad, ach de bharr nach bhfuil siad mar a chéile, ceapann daoine go bhfuil sé ceart go leor neamhaird a dhéanamh.
There is another issue I wish to raise which is not in any way equivalent, because every one of these circumstances is unique. The excuse for having unfairness is using past precedent. However, while I accept it is not the same, one issue that always concerns me is the attitude in our society towards prisoners and detention, and the societal attitude that anybody who advocates for somebody who is in detention is in some way condoning people breaking the law. I do not condone people breaking the law, but I do not believe that gives any right to society to have anything other than the highest prison standards. Over many years we have tolerated overcrowded prisons and conditions in prisons that are unsatisfactory. We are also creating an attitude in society that those who question that should be questioned as to why they raise the issue. I fear that 20 years hence, when people correct our copybook, some of these issues could be the ones brought to the fore.
I am very concerned about the structure of the society we have created, where children are still treated very poorly in many communities. We know, for example, that children go to school hungry every day and that we have created ghetto societies through the planning laws. That creates a new type of disadvantage and just because it is not behind high walls does not mean that people are not suffering in a way they should not suffer in our society. I was shocked at the decision of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to effectively scrap the RAPID, revitalising areas by planning, investment and development, programme. The concept of that programme is to reach the most vulnerable communities in our society, the communities where children have a high risk of growing up to become drug addicts through no fault of theirs. The idea was to give a strong voice to those communities at the centre of government. The Minister did not want to hear and does not want to know. Within this city there are many people living in comfort who do not want to know about the disadvantages of the most disadvantaged communities. They never visit them and do not want to know about their problems. Those problems do not rate highly on the political agenda here.
As we deal with the Magdalen laundries issue in so far as that can be done, and nothing can undo the past, it is important that we resolve to examine where the new injustices are in our society - where there are humans, there will always be injustice - and ask ourselves if we are really serious about tackling them. The Ministers of State present, Deputy Seán Sherlock and Deputy Kathleen Lynch, come from a tradition of fighting for the less well off. However, I get every indication from this Government that the areas of high concentration of disadvantage do not really count, that the right of those communities to speak for themselves does not count and that programmes which ensured they had access to their own funds to make their own decisions and in which they had a seat at the table where they could be heard and not lectured to, do not appear to count. I hope that 20 to 50 years hence we will not have left a situation in which people will say that this society knew what was going on in the last decade and this one but, as it did in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, created a taboo about certain issues so they could not be discussed and decided to close its eyes to very serious injustice beneath its nose.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:
“welcomes the publication of the final report of the inter-departmental committee chaired by former Senator Martin McAleese, which was set up by Government to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen laundries;
— the current Government was the first Government to take action on this important issue by commissioning the McAleese report;
— Government honoured its commitment to publish the McAleese report at the earliest opportunity in the interests of the women who were admitted to, and worked in, the Magdalen laundries run by the religious congregations and to facilitate the consultation with them which is now ongoing; and
— publication of the report itself has addressed a number of issues of major concern to the women concerned:
— it is the first time we have an authoritative account of the Magdalen laundries;
— it acknowledges for the first time significant State involvement in the Magdalen laundries;
— it demonstrates that for the first time they have been listened to and that their story has been believed, recorded and given official recognition to their stories and voices;
— it shows that the traditional stigmatising labels that were often attached to women who were in the Magdalen laundries were wholly unjustified;
— it acknowledges that women worked in the severe conditions for no pay, and records their memories of emotional and psychological abuse as well as the memories of some women of other ill treatment, and that their daily lives in the laundries had the imprint of a severe monastic structure where they were viewed as penitents; and
— it recognises that many women were not informed of why they were admitted to the laundries, for how long they had to stay there, and when they could leave;
further notes that the McAleese report runs to over 1,100 pages, and tells a complex story spanning decades since the establishment of the State and onwards, that it is the result of an unprecedented trawl of State records and that much of the information in the report has never previously been made public;
— the publication of the McAleese report and that the women and their representative groups have been given time and space, as a matter of fairness, to reflect fully on the substance of the report; and
— the fact that the Taoiseach and Tánaiste continue to meet with as many of the women as is practicable, so that their stories can be heard and their views can be taken into account;
— Government’s major concern is to contribute to a healing and reconciliation process with a view to bringing closure for the women concerned and that the women deserve the best supports that the State can provide; and
— the report will be fully debated in the Dáil next week;
and expresses confidence that, after having met with as many of the women concerned as possible and having listened to their views, the Taoiseach will respond to the significant issues identified in, and arising from, the McAleese report, with a view to a resolution of all issues ina fair and compassionate way.
With regard to the last contribution, I wonder how many people did know what was happening.
As a child growing up, if one did anything out of the way, one was threatened with being sent to one of these institutions, so it always strikes me as incredible that people did not know what was happening. There was more knowledge than people are prepared to admit.
I am here today on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, to address the motion before the House. The Minister regrets his absence this evening which is due to his presiding as Minister for Defence over the EU Council of Defence Ministers meeting at Dublin Castle on foot of our EU Presidency responsibilities. As someone committed over a number of years to getting at the truth of the issues surrounding the Magdalen laundries, the Minister would have very much liked to contribute to this evening's debate. He has assured me that he will be here tomorrow evening and will contribute then.
Due to the Government's concern that the full story of the Magdalen laundries should be known, the Minister and I undertook shortly after taking office the necessary preparatory work to propose to Cabinet the terms of reference for a fact-finding committee on this issue. We proposed former Senator Martin McAleese as the committee's independent chairperson. It was the Government's commitment to addressing this longstanding and serious issue that resulted in it the taking of these steps. The Government fully supported the establishment of the committee. Last week, the Minister announced Government approval for the publication of the final report of the interdepartmental committee, independently chaired by former Senator Martin McAleese, to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen laundries. The report is extensive and detailed and runs to over 1,200 pages. It spans the decades from the establishment of the State onwards.
Early in his introduction to the report, former Senator McAleese states in what are telling words:
Many of the women who met with the committee - and particularly those who entered the Magdalen laundries as young girls - experienced the laundries as lonely and frightening places. For too long, they have been and have felt forgotten.
That is one of the great tragedies of the Magdalen laundries. We must acknowledge that the hurt that many women felt during their time there was exacerbated by the failure of others over many years to listen to their stories or to seek out the truth of what happened to them.
The decision by the Government to establish a committee to look at the issue of the State's involvement with the Magdalen laundries was a clear recognition that that failure had to be addressed and the truth had to be found. Indeed, when the truth was found, it had to be told. I suspect the last thing any of the women who were admitted to and worked in the laundries need is for their plight to become a matter for political point scoring in the House. It is therefore a matter for regret that Fianna Fáil put down this motion in the full knowledge that the House was due to debate the report shortly after the Government had an opportunity to devise a comprehensive response having considered it fully and spoken to the women directly concerned. People can judge for themselves the fact that Members opposite are condemning the Government for failing to do in hours what they themselves chose not to do during 14 years in government. There was one honourable exception in Fianna Fáil, former Deputy Tom Kitt. I feel I need to say that.
The Government received the report last Tuesday and was briefed by Dr. Martin McAleese on it. One option was to delay publication of the report until we had time to consider it fully but in fairness to those who were admitted to and worked in the Magdalen laundries, it was decided that it should be published immediately. The Government indicated that it needed a short time to formulate a detailed response and suggested, against that background, that it be debated in the House within two weeks of its publication. It would have represented a great disservice both to the women affected and to Dr. Martin McAleese if we had attempted to respond comprehensively in hours to a complex report running, as I have said, to over 1,200 pages. Whatever the portrayal of that approach in the meantime, we adopted it solely to do the right thing by those who were admitted to and worked in the laundries.
I listened with interest last week to contributions from across the House regarding the Magdalen laundries. I have had an involvement with the issues of women who were admitted to and worked in the laundries for more than ten years. I visited with them in the United Kingdom on a regular basis - most recently in December 2012 - and tried to offer what advice and support I could. I recall a particular meeting in 2003 at the Lazy Daisy café in Notting Hill where a number of concerns were expressed on the provision of services to Irish victims of abuse now living in the United Kingdom. I wrote to the then Minister for Education and Science in November 2003 to outline the simple and reasonable requests of those people. A great deal could have been done to improve their circumstances. These were straightforward matters such as the extension of a free-phone helpline to the United Kingdom, updates in the form of a newsletter, the provision of a fax and computer, the right to choose one's own counsellor or therapist given the somewhat incredible proposal that nuns and other clergy would be involved in providing counselling, assistance with a telephone, a speedier response to queries and a comprehensive media information campaign which could reach these very scattered people.
All of the requests were met with deafening silence by successive Fianna Fáil Governments. As such, I find the hypocrisy of the motion galling. I quote from a letter I received yesterday from Councillor Sally Mulready on behalf of the Irish Women Survivors Support Network. The network represents the largest group of women that met with the McAleese committee. In the letter, the network commended the work of the committee and Sally Mulready went on to say:
On a political level, I find it mildly surprising that the main Opposition party Leader can without shame and with significant amnesia express his disappointment at the failure of the State to apologise over the State's culpability. The Opposition party were in government for 14 years and throughout kept people like me away, refused to listen and blocked our path at every turn. Now in opposition and on behalf of his party the Opposition Leader rushes to accuse others. I think Mr. Micheál Martin TD should reflect on the years and years of misery and rejection they inflicted on the women by refusing all communication with us. The women as a consequence remained out in the wilderness for years trying to find a path to justice. I am afraid his apology is hollow.
For 14 years, the Fianna Fáil-led Government chose to neglect completely the tragedy of the Magdalen laundries. The Irish Women Survivors Support Network and others were stonewalled and fobbed off for years when all they wanted was recognition and an acknowledgement of the wrong done to them. The current Government acted quickly to set up an inter-departmental committee chaired by former Senator Martin McAleese and we are currently reflecting on the contents of the report of that committee. It is a bit rich for Fianna Fáil to adopt a holier-than-thou stance when it had every opportunity to act on the matter but deliberately chose to do nothing. Perhaps Deputy Micheál Martin or another Fianna Fáil Deputy might answer the simple question of why they choose to do nothing. I was also interested to note the contributions in the last week from Sinn Féin. It seems the party has come very late to this issue as I see no mention of the Magdalen laundries on their website prior to May 2011. Sinn Féin's actions seem to be an effort to score political points. I appeal to them not to make a political football of this issue and to allow appropriate time and space for the matter to be properly debated.
It should be absolutely clear that there is no hesitation on the part of the Government in making a considered and appropriate response to this report. We will try to do this in a way that recognises the full complexities of the issues that arise and meets insofar as possible the needs of the women who worked there. That is what justice demands. That is why we sought a short time to prepare a comprehensive response to the report. It is also the reason that before finalising such a response, we want to listen to the women concerned. We would have been rightly criticised in the House for any response to the report which was produced in a short period of time. Given the length and complexity of the report, it is understandable that much of the instant comment in the wake of its publication was not based on a full reading. I thank and applaud the bravery of the women who came forward to tell the stories of their experiences in the Magdalen laundries and of the effect on their lives. There was nothing new in it for me. I had heard it before and every time I hear it again, I continue to be horrified.
Like the Minister, Deputy Alan Shatter, I hope publication of the report and the recognition of their experiences will be of some comfort to the women involved and possibly even help to bring some closure on what they endured. I thank Dr. Martin McAleese for chairing the committee.
It is difficult for people my age and younger to comprehend that places such as these laundries existed as institutions. It is extremely difficult to believe that people ended up in such places, stigmatised by society, forgotten, and abandoned in some cases by family. For too long Governments have not adequately addressed the plight of the women in question. This Government, following an agreement in 2011 set up the independent committee, chaired by Dr. McAleese to establish the facts and level of State involvement. It is unfortunate that within hours of its publication some in this House expected that the Government give a full State apology. This ignores the complexities of the issues and the length of the report which was to be considered and the individual cases within that report.
I acknowledge the generous amount of time that the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste gave yesterday to hearing the important stories of victims, stories that need to be heard. I commend the Government, the Taoiseach, the Minister for Justice and Equality and for Defence, Deputy Shatter, and the Minister for State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, on their work and welcome the publication of the report. I also welcome the Taoiseach's immediate response on the report's publication and his intention to have a full Dáil debate on this issue next week. This will be an important part of the resolution process in this most difficult part of our nation's history.
The effects on those housed in the laundries are felt today. Testimony from one Galway survivor states that she still suffers nightmares 50 years on. There are plenty of examples of emotional and physical abuse, of seclusion and humiliation of women in some previous reports. Those reports have also shown how a frenzied public morality combined with a dominant religious force and indifferent governments transformed nineteenth century refuges into twentieth century prisons and labour camps. The purpose of the report was to document the extent of the State's collusion in the laundries. It is accepted in the report that up to 25% of entries had some kind of State involvement. Amongst the remaining 75% of entries were those from families, from the Church or self-admission, amongst many others. The report highlights that those who entered the institutions were expected to work without pay in what were cold harsh places and that some girls were placed in these institutions from industrial schools or by their own families without any understanding of why they were there or how long they would remain.
The report points to the laundry facility in Forster Street in Galway, founded in 1824, the running and operation of which the Sisters of Mercy took over in 1845. It had a capacity of 110 individuals and various occupancy rates, from 110 in 1951, to 73 in 1954 and 18 in 1984 the year of its closure. There were gaps in the information in the records of the Galway Magdalen laundry. When I spoke on this issue in the House last October I reported having seen copies of the 1911 census which showed women of all ages, all Roman Catholic and from nearly every county, in the laundry in Galway. In 2009 a sculpture was dedicated in Galway to those women who endured life in the Mercy laundry. The statue is of a woman in institutional garb holding a sheet aloft to symbolise her enforced endless hours of work, a simple but provocative sculpture. The survivors deserve closure and I am confident this closure will come very soon.
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch and the Minister for Justice, Deputy Shatter, for their work in setting up this committee. I also thank Dr. McAleese and the committee for the hard work they did in producing this report. We need to make a special mention because it is difficult to get all groups involved to contribute to a final document. We know from previous reports like this on institutions how difficult it is to get co-operation from all sides. Dr. McAleese managed to do this and I thank him for his perseverance in that matter.
It is difficult to be involved in debates such as this because one feels great sorrow for the women who spent any time, however short, in the laundries. I am sorry also for the children who were sent to these institutions and for the years they lost to them. My words here have limited power so instead I want to use the words of somebody who was there. I will read a testimony from a survivor. I got the testimony from the Justice for Magdalenes group. Maisie K. survived a Sisters of Mercy laundry and had this memory:
I sat on the stairs at the end of the ironing room. There was another stairs. There was a packing room at the end of the ironing room that led to the Forster Street entrance where the public would come in for packages. And I had enough and I just wanted to get out and I could not understand it why the door would not just open up and let me out if it was only to go out and come back again. But she came down anyway and she was like a devil and she said "What are you doing here? Get back to work." And I said "I won't. I want to get out of here. Why can't you let me out? This is wrong." She was sneering at me and the next thing I knew she gave me a fist into the face and I went backwards on the steps and she said "Get out." So she pushed me out and I went back to the tables. She went off and said nothing. “You do not leave that table,” she said and went. The following day I was called into a room with two nuns and she was there with a scissors in her hand. I knew what it meant and I kicked up hell. They forced me on my knees and she cut my hair. She did not cut it to the bone but left me with nothing only bits sticking out here and there.
I believe Maisie as well as the testimonies I have read in the report and seen in the documentaries. It was not the women’s fault that they were there. As the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, said earlier, there should be no stigma attached to anyone who spent time in these institutions. I believe we need an official State apology to every woman who was sent to the laundries. Anything less is not good enough. I have known the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, a long time and I know her record on this matter. I also know the long-term record of Fianna Fáil. However, I know who I trust in this matter, and that the Minister of State will do the right thing.
This is another part of the dark past of our country. It seems to be running in a cycle, whether it is child abuse or this horrific legacy issue of these institutions and how they were governed. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, and commend her on for pushing this matter for many years, long before I entered the House. Fair play to her as it is one of those issues for which there are no votes. We have got this far as we always wanted an inquiry that would be published.
Fianna Fáil has done itself a disservice by prostituting the issue this evening to get some gain out of wrong-footing the Government. There are occasions when one does not do that and this is one of them. Given the history of this issue and what happened over the past 80 years, Fianna Fáil had ample opportunity to do something about it but it turned its back on the Magdalen survivors. For a party that, with the exception of the Communist Party in China, has been in power longer than any other political party, it could easily have resolved the matter. If it had been done a generation ago, this report would not comprise 1,000 pages but 10,000 pages because most of the survivors would have been still alive.
In the late 1970s I found myself living in London. Before then I had never heard of the Magdalen laundries. However, I heard stories from women and their daughters in Irish pubs about these laundries and I could not understand why they were so dark. People who had been in these laundries ran out of this country quick enough such was their experience of them. I do not blame them for that. Cases such as these were repeated in other cities such as Birmingham and Manchester.
These institutions were referred to as laundries but after reading this report one cannot describe them as such. They would more accurately be described as prisons because the women were not paid nor could they leave of their own will - the criteria of prison conditions. This was a form of female slavery in this Republic. There is also cruelty detailed in the report which is not as sharp as that described to me by those I met across the water. It is a myth for anyone to suggest the Catholic Church, which managed these institutions in collaboration with the State, did not make money from their operation. It made lots of money, a point those who went across the water 30 years ago would say as some of them had worked in the laundries’ accounts sections. The laundries made money, which we must redress. This report contains the truth but there is more to come. This generation of politicians must put its hand, recognise the women are telling the truth and show them the due respect by bringing this matter to a conclusion.
"We could not believe she was only 42 because she looked so old-fashioned. She was wearing one of those polyester dresses. These were her good clothes and she had a handbag. When she opened it there was nothing inside. It was just for decoration because when one is going to something fancy one should have a handbag. She looked like a pensioner. She had the face of hard work, the face that one sees in so many women who have just had to work too hard and never had anyone to take care of them. She was just lovely and she was asking extremely innocent questions. It was the first time she ever had coffee, which she found exciting, and she had not seen brown sugar before. Obviously, in the Gresham there was brown and white sugar cubes on the table which was all very fancy to her. She was overjoyed to be there and absolutely wowed by everything."
This is Theresa’s impression of Anne, her natural mother, at their reunion. Incarceration in a Magdalen laundry deprived Anne of her daughter, Theresa of her mother and a young woman of her liberty and the endless possibilities of life and love. I believe the women of the Magdalen laundries. Anne’s testimony did not find its way into the McAleese report. I am challenged to take a leap of faith to accept the full extent of the awfulness, the human tragedy and suffering experienced in these religious and State-supported pain factories as covered in this report, welcome as it is. The State must sincerely and fully apologise. So too should those religious orders and the church hierarchy which presided over these shameful operations. Services must be provided and an efficacious and appropriate recompense and redress process must be agreed with the survivors. The women who were sold out by the State and the church, which professed to love them and respect their God-given dignity, must not be sold short now. I know the Minister of State and the Government knows this. I urge those in positions of responsibility to take swift action to address this issue and close this sorry, sad and heart-breaking chapter of recent Irish history.
I am sharing time with Deputies Ó Caoláin and McLellan.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
"We all kind of had to stick together in case we got a beating. We all stuck together. Another died and the girl that ran away, she got a beating. We never saw her again. She was the same age as ourselves. She wanted to get out and they beat her. We used to hear her screaming but we did not know where to go, like, because when you are in the dormitory at night you were locked in. The nun had her own room there and she used to open this thing – it was like a little hatch – and look out to see you were in bed. How could you get out?"
That is the testimony of Kate, a survivor from a Good Shepherd laundry. I believe Kate’s story as well as all those of the Kates, the Marys and the other women who were incarcerated and brutalised in Magdalen laundries. I also know the State was complicit in this barbarity. This was illegal and not just wrong, awful and heart-breaking. It broke the 1926 League of Nations slavery convention, the 1930 International Labour Organization forced labour convention and the European Convention on Human Rights, ratified by this State in 1953.
It breached Article 40 of the Constitution, Bunreacht na hÉireann, and the 1956 UN Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery. It was, therefore, illegal in its time. It would be wrong for anyone in the Chamber or any member of the Government to try to pretend that the difficulty we have with what happened in the Magdalen laundries derives from looking at the issue through a contemporary prism. The law was breached and the women concerned were brutalised. The activity of holding women against their will was as illegal then as it is now. The State's complicity is writ large but not only since the McAleese report because we knew the story of the Magdalen laundries before the report was published. It was spelled out in the Ryan report in 2009.
The Minister of State said when introducing the Government amendment that she was driven by sensitivity and complexity. I put it to her that in the days since the McAleese report was published the Government has effected a strategy of minimisation which we have seen again this evening. The Minister of State referred to the various routes of entry of the women concerned and the differing lengths of time spent by them in the laundries. These are all factors and facts, but they miss the essential truth, that is, that they were brutalised and had their rights denied and that the law was broken with the active connivance of the State. That is not at all complex; in fact, it is very simple. It is simple to understand the terror Kate must have felt as a woman held in one of these institutions.
When the apology comes - I realise it will come - we need to be clear that we are not looking for some maudlin, sentimental "Sorry" from the Government benches. We need an apology that openly and fully recognises the failure and culpability of the State and the consequent suffering of the women concerned. We need such an apology and then we need redress. I understand consideration must be given to the precise mechanism of redress. However, it must be inclusive of every woman and girl who spent any time in a Magdalen laundry. I include the institutions in Stanhope Street and Summerhill, two Magdalen laundries in all but name that were excluded from the McAleese report's terms of reference.
I have no interest whatsoever in this issue as a political football. However, I put it to the Minister of State that I am not impartial; I am partial because the women concerned and any Minister, in all honesty and truthfulness, would recognise that much. I put it to the Minister of State that it would be a profound tragedy if the Government were to succumb to the wishes of bureaucracy or the Civil Service which will, on its terms, move to try to protect the State. This story is not really about the past, although it happened in the years between 1922 and 1996. The real story of the Magdalen women is in the present, about who we are now, how we view women now and how we recognise and make some amends for the women who were failed comprehensively by the State.
I support the motion, but I regret that it has been made necessary by what I can only describe as the wholly inadequate response of the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice and Equality to the publication of the McAleese report last week. There is no excuse whatever for the mean-spirited and defensive utterances of the Taoiseach and the Minister. No doubt, they would prefer if we thought of it as an initial response drawn up by civil servants who were conscious of possible legal implications and liabilities for the State. However, this was not a standard cut and paste script delivered by a Minister of State in response to a mundane Topical Issue. It was supposed to be a response to a long-awaited report on a decidedly important matter that had exposed the neglect of the State in its duty of care to women and children for several decades.
I listened with despair to the Taoiseach and the Minister citing statistics from the report regarding the committals to the Magdalen laundries, as if these somehow absolved or partially absolved the State from its responsibilities. They seemed to seize eagerly on the rather questionable finding in the report that the laundries had not made a profit. So what? If that were the case, would it in any way absolve either the State or the religious orders which ran these hellish institutions? No, it certainly would not.
I salute the dignity of the survivors of the Magdalen laundries and their representatives who had to face further disappointment, on top of all the hurt and pain, delivered by the Government's response. They did not allow this to outweigh the significance of the McAleese report which has shown beyond any doubt whatsoever that the State was deeply implicated in the scandal. The report confirmed what most people already knew and accepted from the testimony of the survivors, that is, that the State bore a significant responsibility. The laundries could not have operated without State approval, encouragement and support during the years. This is not something confined to a distant era; it went on well into our time. Only a few years ago the State was in denial when summoned before the UN Committee against Torture, the landmark ruling of which advanced the case of the survivors significantly.
I recall raising this matter on several occasions. The Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, has suggested Sinn Féin only recently noted this issue. I refute this absolutely and it is terrible that she would try to cast such a slur. I remind her that in July 2011 I hosted a briefing for her and other Deputies, Senators and their support staff in Leinster House in order that they would know the full story of the Magdalen laundries. Some of those who spoke at that event are in the Visitors Gallery and I salute them for their tenacity during all this time. I said at the time that it was the hard work of Justice for Magdalenes that conclusively disproved the State's claims that the women concerned had been in the institutions voluntarily or solely at the behest of their families. That fiction was firmly laid to rest thanks to documents uncovered by Justice for Magdalenes. I acknowledge the great work of and the stoic pursuit of this issue by Justice for Magdalenes.
In July 2011 I described the Government's promise of a long-overdue investigation as welcome. However, I also said at the time that it was regrettable that the Government did not see fit to issue an apology with its announcement, something with which the Minister of State would have wholly concurred.
On 25 September last year we in Sinn Féin tabled a comprehensive Dáil motion on this matter, calling again for a proper acknowledgement by the State. Now we have the McAleese report which is damning. Its findings show that 8.1% of the women concerned were sent to these so-called laundries from the criminal justice system, of whom the large majority were referred for petty or minor offences. In some cases, the Garda brought women to the laundries on an ad hoc or informal basis. Clearly, the justice system and the Garda were deeply involved. Equally clear was the involvement of the Department of Education at the time. It is not only a matter of the figures included in the report. I cannot for one moment remove from my assessment the notion that priests and members of religious orders were in some way separate from the State. It was a single mass entity, channelling the women concerned into the institutions. Shame on all concerned.
I note that the Taoiseach has today castigated the proposers of the motion. Fianna Fáil certainly is deserving of severe criticism for its inaction on the issue while in office. However, the Taoiseach has no grounds whatsoever for the attack made today, given his decision to give what I can only describe as an offensive response last week following publication of the report. He could easily have issued a simple and forthright apology on behalf of the State and in so doing he would have been speaking on behalf of all of us.
I welcome the dialogue now under way between the Taoiseach and Tánaiste and, albeit, some of the survivors and their representatives but, make no mistake, the only acceptable outcome will be a full and unreserved apology and a comprehensive redress scheme. There should be recognition of the unpaid and unpensioned work done by the women, of the injustice done to them and the need for the State to support their health and social welfare needs.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this exceptionally important and pressing issue. This is perhaps one of the most important, if not the most important, issues to come before the House since the foundation of the State. I say this because the Magdalen laundries, the way in which they were run and the total denial of the rights and well-being of the incarcerated women shed an important light on the dysfunctional nature of the State's apparatus.
I have spoken before in this House of the State's historical disregard for women and the institutionalisation of their secondary status in virtually every area of life. It is clear, however, that even within the confines of the patriarchal, myopic and claustrophobic Ireland of the 1930s through to the late 1980s, there existed a sub-group of women that were even more constrained and oppressed than women in the general society. These are the Irish women who were incarcerated and detained in the Magdalen laundries. They are in essence the super-exploited in that their treatment, while mirroring certain aspects of the ways in which women were treated in general, was nevertheless special and strikingly different. It was special in terms of the State's central role in their banishment. It was strikingly different in terms of the levels of violence, terror and brutality which the incarcerated women had to endure.
Terror and the threat or fear of violence was central to the running and reproduction of the entire Magdalen system. This was in every sense of the word a system that was maintained by terror. Put another way, terror was central to it functioning. However, terror has no purpose in and of itself. At the root of this system was the ever pressing need to maintain a constant supply of unfree or slave labour. Irish women and girls were the raw material that was fed into a corrupt, cruel and inhumane system. This system was overseen by the various religious orders and sanctioned by the State through its institutions, including the courts, the Garda and local government officials.
In this sense the State was actively and consciously involved in maintaining and reproducing a system of slave labour in so-called modern Ireland. Thus, while I welcome Senator McAleese's report, it nonetheless must be stated that rather than being some aberration on the periphery of Irish society, the Magdalen laundries were in fact deeply embedded in the dysfunctional and deadly web that bound church and State together for so long. It is time for the State to come clean, acknowledge its central role in this system and apologise unreservedly to all the women, dead or alive, who passed through or lived lives of painful desperation in this arch of terror. Sinn Féin supports the Fianna Fáil motion and I would urge all other Deputies to support it in the interests of justice and because it is the right and ethical thing to do. This Parliament owes it to all the Magdalen women to finally right a terrible wrong.
This motion deals with the ladies of the Magdalen laundries and our priority should be to address their issues rather than allow them to become a political football. I acknowledge Deputy Calleary for tabling the motion but we did not need another Private Members' debate on the matter given that we debated it some time ago. The time for talk is over and action is now needed for the ladies concerned.
There is no doubt that an apology is long overdue. An apology was given in 1999 to the survivors of the industrial schools, prior to the establishment of the inquiry and redress scheme, and a further apology issued in 2009. The Taoiseach missed a great opportunity on the release of the report to start the healing process by apologising on behalf of the State and every man and woman in this country. The laundries and industrial schools form a shameful part of our history. Most countries have histories which include shameful incidents and there is precedent elsewhere for offering apologies. It has been suggested that there are legal reasons for not apologising but what about the moral grounds for an apology?
Regardless of the controversy over the report, it found that there was State involvement and forced and unpaid labour. The women worked for State agencies and abuse occurred. The UN Committee against Torture previously produced a critical report on these matters. We need to start with a meaningful apology and move on to a transparent and non-adversarial compensation process to deal with pensions, health, housing and other issues arising for the women to ensure their needs are not lost in a complicated legal process. A dedicated unit is required to be established within the Department of Justice and Equality to work with the ladies and their support groups.
There is disquiet around aspects of the report, such as the lack of mention of physical abuse. The testimony submitted by survivors is not acknowledged in chapter 19. The length of stay in Magdalen laundries is not addressed and certain laundries were omitted from the inquiry. I believe the women but time is running out for them. Tá súil agam go ndeanfaimid an rud ceart, ag tosnú anois.
I thank former Senator McAleese and his team for producing this report. I completely accept its findings and believe the women and their stories. This is a sad chapter in our history. I thank Deputy Calleary for tabling the motion but we would not be discussing the matter tonight if the Taoiseach had acted properly last week when he had the opportunity to apologise unreservedly to all the women concerned and their families. He could have apologised on behalf of every man, woman and child in this country. He has a mandate as Head of Government to issue such an apology. He failed to grasp that opportunity, however. When one compares the utterances of the Minister for Justice and Equality as Opposition spokesman with what he says now, one cannot but think he is playing politics.
The report was delayed and took longer than expected to complete, even though only a small minority of the women were interviewed. As senior departmental officials were on the committee of investigation, they did not have to wait to read the report. The Government should have been man enough to apologise before the report came before us. I salute the undying dignity of the Magdalen survivors and welcome those who are in the Gallery tonight. It behoves us to introduce a proper redress scheme, pay pensions for the labour they carried out and look after their rights and housing.
Our State does not have a good record in dealing with sensitive cases like these. We all proclaim to be horrified at the mistreatment of children but not long ago nearly every Deputy except me took part in a referendum and a charade in which the Supreme Court found that the Government stole €1.1 million of the money allocated for a proper referendum campaign. Nothing has changed. We might say we are in modern Ireland but slavery and ill-treatment of young women and boys are ongoing. We cannot be washing our hands as if we are all new people with new thinking. This is going on under our noses and the Government is complicit in it. It is not acceptable that mandarins in the Department of Justice and Equality could tie the Taoiseach up in knots and prevent him from saying what he wanted to say. I believe he is a decent man.
I am not lessening the plight of these women when I say that all of them had families, some of which were not poor. They too had responsibilities. We all know of cases in our communities when this was allowed to happen with the complicity of State authorities. We cannot blame the State for everything, however. We all have to take responsibility. I knew of people and cases which were hushed up when I was a young fellow. The State put more than one quarter of them in directly but families and people must also look into their hearts. We are still doing that with immigration and what we voted for in the middle of the night last week.