The publication of the Quirke report and the Government’s acceptance in full of all of the recommendations contained in it marks the culmination of a process I initiated in March 2011 following my taking office as Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence. It reflects my promise to the women who resided and worked in the Laundries to see justice done.
The process I initiated resulted in an unprecedented trawl of papers and records held by the State and State agencies to assist in establishing the facts about the Magdalen laundries and gave everyone a unique opportunity to detail what they knew. The work of the Inter-departmental Committee chaired by Dr. McAleese provided the platform for the apology made by the Taoiseach on 19 February 2013 and for the Government decision to ask Judge Quirke to devise a scheme.
It is clear that Judge Quirke focused on the needs of the women he met during the examination he was asked to conduct by the Government. The recommendations contained in his report, which the Government approved in full, centre around the provision of payments and benefits best suited to meeting these individual needs.
His most immediately significant recommendation in the report is that the women in question should all receive cash payments in the range €11,500 (duration of stay 3 months or less) to €100,000 (duration of stay of 10 years or more). If the cash payment due is above €50,000, Justice Quirke recommends that it should paid in the form of a lump sum of €50,000 plus an annual payment related to the notional remaining lump, sum to be paid weekly. The amount to be paid depends on the duration of stay of a resident in a Magdalen home.
The traditional approach in this jurisdiction has been for the payment of a once off lump sum. Judge Quirke in his report took a different approach and recommended a lump sum payment combined with a series of ongoing benefits and payments. As regards income payments in particular he stated:
"The Commission is concerned to protect, for the benefit of those vulnerable women, the resources which they will acquire when they receive monetary payments arising out of the proposed Scheme. It has been necessary for the Commission to seek to balance the needs and interests of those elderly vulnerable women with the needs and interests of the many other Magdalen women who are younger, healthier, more energetic and more independent. In order to achieve that balance the Commission has taken the view that the needs and interests of the Magdalen women would be best addressed by making any ex gratia payments in excess of €50,000 payable to the women as tax free weekly income for the remainder of their lives."
His other recommendations cover a range of issues including:
- the provision of an extensive range of community based health and social services to each individual woman;
- all Magdalen women who have reached pensionable age should have an income equivalent to the State contributory pension;
- all Magdalen women who have not reached pensionable age should have an income of at least €100 per week;
- cash payments should be exempt from income and other taxes and should not be taken into account for the purposes of means testing.
Mr Justice Quirke is to be thanked for taking on this task. The report itself is very thorough and impressive. I know that he consulted widely on the issue. He and the people who assisted him did an excellent job in devising a scheme that meets the particular needs of the women in question and which the Government had no hesitation in approving Judge Quirke's recommendations are interconnected.