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Magdalen Laundries

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 13 June 2013

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Questions (3)

Mick Wallace


3. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to set up an independent inquiry body to investigate all complaints of abuse in relation to the Magdalen laundries, as recommended by the United Nations Committee against Torture and re-emphasised by UNCAT vice-chairperson (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28436/13]

View answer

Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Justice)

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.

The Minister is aware that Felice Gaer of the UN Committee against Torture was not impressed with the report into the Magdalen laundries. She has asked Ireland to clarify whether it intends to set up an independent inquiry body with definite terms of reference, as well as statutory powers to compel evidence and retain evidence obtained from relevant religious bodies.

The Minister told me in reply to another parliamentary question recently that he would decide in the next few weeks as to whether the former residents of the Magdalen laundry at Summerhill, County Wexford, would be included in the redress scheme. Has he met or is he prepared to meet any of the former residents or their family members to discuss their experiences before he makes his decision?

I welcome the Minister’s assertion that he has no reason to doubt there was a commercial laundry attached to Summerhill. A constituent, Annette Larkin, told me there were many similarities in the treatment of the girls at Summerhill and those in other Magdalen laundries. The girls at Summerhill also suffered loss of identity, had their personal belongings removed, their hair cut short and were made to wear the same clothing. Another resident, Mary, stated:

Life in the laundry was hard with no education. We worked in groups but we were not allowed to speak to each other while working. If you were found to be speaking, you would be punished. We would also be punished for not working hard enough or for crying.

Another former resident, Theresa Larkin, pointed out that the priority at Summerhill was for laundry to be cleaned. There were no classrooms, pens, copies or books.

Is the Minister prepared to meet some of the former residents before he makes his decision on Summerhill?

Having met many of the former residents of the Magdalen laundries prior to the setting up of the McAleese inquiry and subsequent to the publication of its report, I know the majority of former residents welcomed the report and regarded it as an accurate account of events that took place. They also welcomed the Taoiseach’s announcement in acknowledging the failures that occurred over the years, as well as the Government’s appointment of Mr. Justice Quirke to produce a report on how we deal with the issue of making appropriate payments and taking other actions to provide for the assistance of and acknowledge the work done by those who were in Magdalen laundries. I anticipate in two weeks we will be publishing that report, together with the Government’s response to it, setting out the future action to be taken.

Including the Summerhill institution remains a matter under consideration.

I accept some of the former residents were happy with the McAleese report as not all of them suffered abuse and difficult conditions. Others were not happy with the report, however. We know 700 pages of documented evidence did not feature in the final report.

Will the Minister guarantee that the compensation scheme will be transparent? Will there be an appeals process? Will it be independently monitored? Will institutionalised survivors be afforded independent representation?

I am sure the Deputy does not expect me to pre-empt decisions yet to be made by the Cabinet. A comprehensive, sensitive and considered report has been received from Mr. Justice Quirke which addresses the many issues involved. I look forward to my Cabinet colleagues dealing with that report and there is ongoing work on it. When a decision is to be made by Cabinet on it, I hope it will be widely welcomed and be seen as this Government keeping faith with the manner in which we approached an issue that was ignored by a succession of Governments over decades.