The UN Committee against Torture, UNCAT, issued its concluding observations on Monday, 6 June 2011, following Ireland’s first examination in Geneva, under Article 19 of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Its concluding observations covered a wide range of areas which impact on the remit of several Departments.
The committee recommended on Magdalen laundries:
The State should institute prompt, independent, and thorough investigations into all allegations of torture, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment that were allegedly committed in the Magdalen Laundries and, in appropriate cases, prosecute and punish the perpetrators with penalties commensurate with the gravity of the offences committed, and ensure that all victims obtain redress and have an enforceable right to compensation including the means for as full rehabilitation as possible.
The interdepartmental committee chaired by the former Senator, Mr. Martin McAleese, was not established in response to that recommendation and was never intended to be a criminal investigation but was a necessary preliminary step in establishing general facts. The Government is satisfied that the McAleese report provides an independent, comprehensive, factual account of the Magdalen institutions. Some of these institutions had ceased operations nearly 50 years previously and there was no reliable account available of their operations. It brought into the public arena a considerable amount of information not previously known. It also showed that many of the preconceptions about these institutions were not supported by the facts.
With regard to prosecutions, the only mechanism to prosecute and punish perpetrators for offences committed in this jurisdiction requires a criminal investigation, a decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions to prosecute and then a criminal trial. The law does not provide for any other type of inquiry to lead to criminal prosecutions. Any complaint of criminal behaviour made by any individual to the Garda regarding Magdalen laundries are matters that can be investigated by the Garda.
The rapporteur for the follow-up on concluding observations of the UN Committee against Torture has written recently seeking clarification and further information on several matters, including matters relating to Magdalen laundries. It would be unfair to the UN committee to suggest that such a committee would come to conclusions without hearing from all sides. Rather, my understanding from the letter is that it has received information from non-governmental sources that raises issues. It is now seeking clarification and further information from the State so that it can consider the matter in a fully informed manner. A detailed response to the queries raised is being prepared and will be forwarded to the rapporteur through the correct channels in due course.