We are very pleased to welcome this guest post from Maeve O’Rourke of Justice for Magdalenes.
This morning, Justice for Magdalenes (JFM) published our NGO follow-up report to the UN Committee against Torture (CAT), setting out our views on the government’s failure to implement the Recommendation on the Magdalene Laundries which CAT made in its Concluding Observations on Ireland last June.
CAT’s Recommendation called on the government to “institute independent and thorough investigations” into the Magdalene Laundries abuse, to “prosecute and punish the perpetrators” in appropriate cases, and to “ensure that all victims obtain redress and have an enforceable right to compensation, including the means for as full rehabilitation as possible.”
CAT included this Recommendation as one of four issues for one year “follow-up”, meaning that the government is due to submit a report now, one year on, explaining the action it has taken to implement the Recommendation. NGOs also have the opportunity to make follow-up submissions, and JFM has sent its report to the UN today. The government has not yet submitted its follow-up report, however, and JFM is calling on the government to do so immediately.
JFM’s follow-up report states clearly that the government has failed to implement the Recommendation. Magdalene survivors have still received no apology or redress, and there has been no independent investigation, with statutory footing and powers to compel evidence, into the full extent of the Magdalene Laundries abuse.
We state in our report that we acknowledge the steps that the government has taken since last year’s Recommendation. We recognise the work that Senator Martin McAleese’s Inter-departmental Committee, established to “clarify” the extent of State involvement in the laundries, is undertaking and we are not calling for it to stop. However, we stress, as we have stressed to the government repeatedly before, that there is already enough evidence of State involvement in the Magdalene Laundries for the government to issue an apology and start to provide redress to the women now. Magdalene survivors have no more time to wait.
Our report explains why the Inter-departmental Committee process does not amount to the “prompt, independent and thorough investigations” required by CAT’s recommendation, nor the “statutory mechanism” recommended by the Irish Human Rights Commission in 2010. JFM reserves the right to call for such an independent, statutory inquiry. Our report also sets out JFM’s Restorative Justice and Reparations Proposals, which we submitted to the Minister for Justice and Minister for State with responsibility for Disability, Equality, Mental Health and Older People on 14 October 2011. In addition, the report contains a summary of all of the evidence of State involvement with the Magdalene Laundries which JFM has submitted to the Inter- departmental Committee so far.
Last Thursday at an Ad Hoc meeting in Leinster House , JFM presented this summary of the evidence of state involvement with the Magdalene Laundries which JFM has submitted to the Inter-departmental Committee to TDs and Senators from all political parties. Click here for a copy of the summary document, compiled by James M. Smith, Boston College & JFM Advisory Committee Member; Raymond Hill, Barrister, Monckton Chambers; and Claire McGettrick, JFM Co-ordinating Committee Member.
As explained in the summary document, the evidence falls into three broad categories:
(1) The State was involved in sending women and young girls to the institutions and ensuring they remained there, including through the involvement of members of An Garda Siochana in returning escapees. This was done to deal with social problems;
(2) The State also provided the religious orders with direct and indirect financial support: direct financial support from “capitation” (per head) grants for certain of the women and girls incarcerated in the Magdalene Laundries; and indirect financial support in terms of valuable state contracts for the cleaning laundry; and
(3) The state failed entirely to supervise the religious orders’ operation of the Magdalene Laundries by allowing women and girls to be incarcerated illegally, and allowing them to be forced to work in servitude for no pay. It failed to enforce its own health and safety legislation, failed to require girls of school-going age to be educated, failed to ensure that social security contributions were paid in respect of women and girls in the laundries and it failed to ensure that any woman or girl who died was issued with a death certificate.
Today, JFM will submit the first tranche of newly gathered survivor testimony to Senator McAleese, totalling 519 pages. As Claire McGettrick, JFM Advisory Committee member, explains: “In the testimonies already gathered, all survivors told us that they could not leave the laundries, that the doors were locked and the windows inaccessible.If they did try to leave they were returned by the Gardaí, while others decided not to try to escape because they knew the same fate awaited them. They all told us they could not complain, in most cases they remarked that there was nobody to complain to; while others begged to leave, often on a daily basis, but all were refused. Every single survivor confirmed that they were never paid, that no inspections were ever carried out and that no government official ever came to check on them.”
As James Smith, JFM Advisory Committee Member, states in our press release accompanying the publication of our follow-up report to CAT: “While JFM will continue to cooperate with the Interdepartmental Committee, we assert that there is ample evidence of state involvement with the Magdalene Laundries to warrant an apology, pensions and restoring lost wages to this group of aging and elderly women. They need help now while still alive to benefit from it.”
JFM will present a courtesy copy of our follow-up report to Ms. Felice Gaer, Director of the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights and Vice- Chairperson of CAT, at an event co sponsored by JFM and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) in Dublin this afternoon.