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Magdalen Laundries

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 13 June 2013

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Questions (8)

Mary Lou McDonald


8. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he has received Mr. Justice John Quirke’s recommendations taking into account the findings of the Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen laundries in view of details supplied; his views on the United Nations Committee against Torture’s opinion (details further supplied); and if he will clarify if the Magdalen fund or commission will be placed on a statutory footing with independent statutory powers, be transparent, be subject to an appeals process and be independently monitored. [28248/13]

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Oral answers (28 contributions) (Question to Justice)

I can confirm to the House that Mr. Justice Quirke forwarded his report to me on 30 May 2013. I expect it will be considered by Government within the next two weeks and that the report and the Government's response to his recommendations can then be published. I do not believe that it would be helpful to pre-empt the publication of the report or the consideration of the matter by Government by going into any detail at this stage. However, if the Deputy is advocating that any fund or commission should be placed on a statutory footing with independent statutory powers, I presume she is doing so in the knowledge that the preparation and enactment of legislation and the establishment of a new independent body would take several months at a minimum.

I have already set out the position on the letter recently received from the rapporteur for the follow-up on the concluding observations of the UN Committee against Torture, UNCAT. The UN committee 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 that impact on the remit of several Departments.

The committee recommended in respect of the Magdalen laundries that "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, Dr. McAleese, was not established in response to that recommendation and was never intended to be a criminal investigation. It 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 almost 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.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

It also showed that many of the preconceptions about these institutions were not supported by the facts.

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. Irish 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 in respect of the Magdalen laundries are matters that can be investigated by the Garda.

The rapporteur is 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 the committee has received information from non-governmental sources that raise issues and it is now seeking clarification and further information from the State in order that it can consider the matter in a fully-informed manner. As I have stated, 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 has referred to no pre-emption in respect of the report from Mr. Justice Quirke. I put it to the Minister that there was a level of pre-emption from somewhere within Government, because details of at least elements of that report and its recommendations were, it seems, comprehensively leaked to RTE last weekend. This has caused serious upset among many women who have contacted me and who are survivors of these institutions. The Minister has known all along that the survivors are in many cases elderly and some are in poor health. Therefore, time is of the essence in dealing with these matters.

The Minister asserted that the McAleese report was not established to meet the recommendations and requirements of the UN committee against torture. I put it to the Minister that if the McAleese report was not designed to do that then where is the mechanism to meet these requirements? In its observations of May 2013, to which the Minister referred, the UN committee was particularly critical of the McAleese report. It stated that the report lacked many elements of a prompt independent and thorough investigation. It stated that the inquiry did not conduct a full independent investigation into allegations of arbitrary detention, forced labour or ill-treatment. It further stated that it was concerned that as a consequence Mr. Justice Quirke's work was premised on incomplete investigations carried out by the McAleese committee and it called for clarification on whether the Quirke investigation process and the system envisaged in his recommendations would have independent statutory powers, whether it would be transparent and whether it would have an appeals process.

The Minister has one minute to reply. Deputy Wallace wants to ask a question on this matter as well.

I can inform the Deputy that I had no hand or part, nor did anyone in my Department, in the RTE report. The Deputy should not believe all reports of alleged leaks she hears on RTE, nor should she believe everything she reads in our newspapers. I can inform the Deputy that the particular report, which I heard, does not bear any relation to the detailed and comprehensive recommendations and the considered approach taken by Mr. Justice Quirke to this issue.

It would be most unfortunate if any former resident of a Magdalen laundry took that report seriously as the outcome of the deliberations of Mr. Justice Quirke. I cannot help it if rumours are generated, or if the media claims to have some sort of scoop on a certain matter in advance of the publication of a report. There is nothing I can do about that. I can tell the Deputy that these particular reports should not be treated with seriousness. My concern on this issue has always related to the former residents of the Magdalen laundries. I wanted to ensure we got to the truth of what occurred. Dr. McAleese did that in a considered and comprehensive way. He had access to documentation that was never previously available when reports were being done. He did an extraordinary and comprehensive job. It is unfair-----

Thank you, Minister. Deputy Wallace wants to ask a question.

I am going to deal with the issues that have been raised. It is unfair to Dr. McAleese to suggest that he did anything less than a comprehensive job in addressing the issues and the plight of the women in the laundries. I know from all my experience of meeting the women in question that they have a substantial appreciation of the work done by Dr. McAleese. They appreciate that the Government has taken a particular approach to this matter. When Mr. Justice Quirke's report is published and the Government's response to it is announced, I hope it will receive substantial support from all sides of this House.

Do I get an opportunity to respond?

The trouble is that from the outset of Question Time this afternoon - throughout Priority Questions and these Other Questions - all Deputies have exceeded by 100% the time limits I asked them to observe. It is not fair on me, on the Deputies, or on the whole forum for questions and answers.

What about Dáil reform?

That is not my job, Deputy Collins.

I know it is not. It is the Government's job.

I ask Deputies to think about what I have said.

The Government's approach to Dáil reform is a joke.

There are 15 minutes left on Question Time. If Deputies want to be tight and efficient about things, they should omit the preambles and epilogues and confine themselves to questions.

I know they will say that I offend-----

Tell that to your colleague over there.

Please, now. Let us all subscribe to what I have said. I ask Deputy Wallace to keep his contribution tight.

I will be very brief. Did the Minister give Mr. Justice Quirke any guidelines to ensure that any proposed support scheme would pass muster in the context of the concerns of the UN Committee against Torture?

There is a good example for the Minister.

The Deputy will have full sight of Mr. Justice Quirke's report when it is published. He can then make his own judgment on the content, the substance and the benefits of what is proposed.

Does the Minister accept that the UN Committee against Torture was critical not of Dr. McAleese but of the McAleese process? Does he accept that the committee views the report as incomplete because it does not pass muster in terms of the committee's recommendations? I would like to mention three of the key exclusions from the proposed redress scheme - the Summerhill centre in County Wexford, the Sisters of Mercy laundry in Clifden and the St. John's school and laundry in Birr, County Offaly. There could be others, which is the difficulty when one has an incomplete process.

I ask the Minister to keep his contribution tight.

I have the greatest respect for the work done by Dr. McAleese. As I said in my response, it was welcomed on all sides of the House.

What about the UN recommendations?

The questions raised by the UN rapporteur are being considered and will be responded to.

I want this rhythm to continue when we move on to Question No. 9.