Ireland and UNCAT one year on: Magdalene survivors still denied their right to an apology and redress

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.

Continue reading “Ireland and UNCAT one year on: Magdalene survivors still denied their right to an apology and redress”

Ireland and UNCAT one year on: Magdalene survivors still denied their right to an apology and redress

International Women's Day: Food for Thought.

On International Women’s Day, we offer 5 points of reflection on the state of women’s human rights in Ireland:

  1. A series of savage budgets has hollowed out welfare payments crucial to the survival of Ireland’s poorest women and their children and undermined service provision in areas such as family planning assistance and gender equality advocacy. Read the Centre for Economic and Social Rights report Mauled by the Celtic Tiger here and the NWCI’s 2012 pre-budget submission here
  2. In May last year, the UN Committee Against Torture recommended that Ireland institute prompt, independent and thorough investigations into all complaints of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment that were allegedly committed in the Magdalene Laundries. They also recommended that the state should ensure that all victims obtain redress and have an enforceable right to compensation. Justice for Magdalenes report that the government has decided to delay implementation of a restorative justice and reconciliation process  until the Magdalene Inter-Departmental Committee completes the task of ‘clarifying’ the extent of state interaction with the laundries. There is, of course, already ample evidence of that interaction. Apparently, the few elderly and often impoverished survivors of the laundries must wait for the end of this process until even the merest apology can be issued. Read more here.
  3. 20 years after X, and over a year after the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in ABC it is still not possible to access safe, legal abortion in Ireland. Read about the history of the struggle for abortion rights in Ireland here and support the Action on X campaign here.
  4. Irish immigration law still does not contain a ‘domestic violence concession’ providing an entitlement to the granting of an independent residence permit to an individual who is resident in Ireland on the basis of a family relationship and has an abusive partner .
  5. Two more men have been appointed to the Supreme Court. The Chief Justice will now be the only woman on the Court.
International Women's Day: Food for Thought.

Irish Legal History: Fathers of Nationalism & the Magdalene Laundries

 

On this day in 1901, the House of Commons debated the Factory and Workshop Bill. Many of the Irish MPs argued that the Magdalene laundries should be excluded from its remit, and from the regime of inspection which was designed to improve working conditions throughout Britain and Ireland. At the time there were 912 inmates in 10 Catholic Magdalene Laundries in Ireland (see the 1901 census return for High Park in Drumcondra here). Earlier that summer, the Leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, John Redmond (pictured left), had argued as follows for the exemption of Magdalene laundries  from the provisions of the Factory and Workshop Acts on June 11:

The claim we make is confined to those institutions, reformatory in their character, in which the labour employed is the labour of fallen women who have been taken by these charitable ladies, who have brought them into these institutions and provided them with work and with means of salvation from continuing in their evil courses […] I am sure that it is quite unnecessary for me to emphasise the fact that the kind of charity which is exercised by the ladies in these institutions is probably the noblest charity which anybody could possibly engage in. I do not think it is necessary for me to go another step further and say that this particular charity is not only the noblest that the wit of man can conceive, but it is also the most difficult of all charities to conduct. The great object of these ladies is to keep these girls in those institutions. The organisations I refer to are great societies like the Society of the Good Shepherd, which exists in every country in the world, has been employed for years and generations, and perhaps centuries, in carrying on this work, and it has, therefore, the most experience in the carrying on of this work. The members of this Society of the Good Shepherd are unanimously of opinion that the introduction into their institutions of an outside authority in the shape of Government inspectors would completely destroy the discipline of their institutions, and make their already almost impossible task absolutely impossible. When that is remembered, I think the House ought to hesitate before it forces upon these institutions provisions which, however necessary they may be in ordinary factories, are not suitable for, and ought not to be forced upon institutions of this kind. It is not as if any case had ever been made out in support of the inspection of these institutions. No one urges that they are insanitary, or that an improper number of hours is imposed upon the inmates. We all know that in these institutions there is inspection, although not Government inspection. There is an inspection by the superiors of the religious orders to which they belong, which makes it impossible either for insanitary arrangements to exist or improper hours of labour to be enforced.

Continue reading “Irish Legal History: Fathers of Nationalism & the Magdalene Laundries”

Irish Legal History: Fathers of Nationalism & the Magdalene Laundries

Committee Against Torture Observations Published.

As several newspapers have noted today,  the UN Committee against Torture has released its Concluding Observations for Ireland (all documents are available here). This is the Committee’s response to Ireland’s first periodic report. Fiona detailed the core issues on which the Committee was expected to focus here. We hope to have fuller posts on some of these issues in due course, and of course, welcome guest commentary from others researching in relevant areas.

Continue reading “Committee Against Torture Observations Published.”

Committee Against Torture Observations Published.

Weekend Reading: Human Rights Developments

This is a busy time of year for human rights reporting. In addition to those we have already highlighted, a number of important reports of interest to the wider Irish human rights community have been published recently:

 

Weekend Reading: Human Rights Developments

Justice for Magdalenes: Official Response to IHRC Findings

We are pleased to welcome this guest post responding to recent developments (post) from two HRinI alumni-James Smith and Maeve O’Rourke-on behalf of Justice for Magdalenes

Justice for Magdalenes (JFM), the survivor advocacy group, warmly welcomes the Irish Human Rights Commission’s assessment of the possible human rights violations arising from the treatment of women and young girls in Magdalene Laundries. The Commission’s recommendation that the government initiate a statutory inquiry into this issue represents an important milestone in JFM’s ongoing campaign for justice. The Magdalene Laundries were omitted from the Residential Institutions Redress Act (2002), and the subsequent redress scheme.  JFM initiated its campaign to bring about an apology and a distinct redress scheme in the wake of the Ryan Report’s publication. The government has steadfastly denied culpability for these abusive institutions: Batt O’Keeffe contends that the “state did not refer individuals to the Magdalen Laundries” (September 2009), Mr. Cowen asserts that the “position of women in [Magdalene] laundries was not analogous with that of children in residential institutions” (April 2010), and Dermot Ahern claims, repeatedly, that “the majority of females who entered or were placed in Magdalen Laundries … did so without any direct involvement of the State.”

The archival material submitted in support of JFM’s submission to the IHRC (also made available to the departments of Justice, Education and Health) reveals that the Irish courts routinely referred women to the Laundries. There was never a statutory basis for doing so. In 1960, the Minister for Justice approved the use of the Sean McDermott Street Magdalene Laundry as a remand institution. The Department of Finance approved capitation payments in such cases. Department of Health records expose a “special provision” whereby women giving birth to a second child outside marriage could be transferred to a Magdalene Laundry. Continue reading “Justice for Magdalenes: Official Response to IHRC Findings”

Justice for Magdalenes: Official Response to IHRC Findings

'Justice for Magdalenes' Inches Closer?

Yesterday the Irish Human Rights Commission responded to a request for an enquiry from Justice for Magdalenes with a recommendation that the government would immediately establish a statutory enquiry to investigate the treatment experienced by women there, together with the state’s role in sending women to the Magdalene Laundries. Women who were abused in the Magdalene Laundries, including by being forced to engage in heavy labour, have been omitted from the statutory redress system since its establishment by the Residential Institutions Redress Act, 2002. The main findings of the IHRC were:

1.      That for those girls and women who entered ‘Magdalen Laundries’ following a Court process, there was clear State involvement in their entry to the Laundries; Continue reading “'Justice for Magdalenes' Inches Closer?”

'Justice for Magdalenes' Inches Closer?

O'Rourke on Redress for Survivors of the Magdalene Laundries and Bethany Home

We are delighted to welcome back Maeve O’Rourke for her second guest post on HRinI. Maeve’s first post, on Slavery, Forced Labour and the Magdalene Laundries is available here. You can find out more about Maeve on our Guests page.

Last Wednesday in the Dáil, Dermot Ahern and Séan Haughey both repeated the government’s decision not to apologise or provide redress to the survivors of Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries or Bethany Home. The reasons they gave are difficult to stomach. It is an increasing disgrace that the survivors of such terrible abuse in Magdalene Laundries and Mother and Baby Homes are having to beg for recognition when we should be overwhelmingly grateful that they still have the will to tell us the real story of Ireland’s past. In the grand scheme of things, the cost of compensating the survivors of these institutions and of documenting their suffering would be small, while the benefit to Irish society and to future generations of examining what it was that allowed such abuse to take place to Irish women and their children would be priceless.

The government does not seem to understand, or care, that the child abuse in industrial and reformatory schools was not some blip in our nation’s history Continue reading “O'Rourke on Redress for Survivors of the Magdalene Laundries and Bethany Home”

O'Rourke on Redress for Survivors of the Magdalene Laundries and Bethany Home

Guest Contribution: O'Rourke on Slavery, Forced Labour and the Magdalene Laundries

We are delighted to welcome this guest post from Maeve O’Rourke (left) who is a Harvard Law School Global Human Rights Fellow for 2010-2011 and a graduate of UCD and HLS.

It is now a year since the advocacy group, Justice for Magdalenes, provided the Dail with draft language for a redress scheme for survivors of Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries. Still, the government denies any state liability for the Magdalene Laundries abuse, maintaining that the laundries were private institutions, never regulated or inspected by the State. Flying in the face of the government’s argument is a series of international legal obligations upon the Irish state to prevent and suppress slavery and forced labour by non-state actors, beginning in 1930.

The very fact that the Magdalene laundries were not subject to regulation or inspection, when the State was aware of their nature and function, was a gross violation of the State’s duty to protect its citizens from such fundamental attacks on human freedom and dignity as slavery and forced labour. In the Ryan Report and the broadcast media, survivor accounts of Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries tell of abuse that matches up with a definition of slavery given by the UN Secretary General in reference to the League of Nations 1926 Slavery Convention: absolute control over a person, their labour and the product of that labour. The accounts further conform to the definition of forced or compulsory labour under the 1930 International Labour Organisation Forced Labour Convention: all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily. Continue reading “Guest Contribution: O'Rourke on Slavery, Forced Labour and the Magdalene Laundries”

Guest Contribution: O'Rourke on Slavery, Forced Labour and the Magdalene Laundries

A light at the end of the tunnel for Madgalene Laundries survivors?

The Irish Times reports that the government will consider new evidence detailing State involvement in the referral of women to Magdalene laundries in the 1960s before it decides whether to provide redress to former inmates.

The decision yesterday by Minister for Education Batt O’Keeffe follows an admission by Department of Justice officials this week that women were transferred following court appearances to a church-run asylum on Sean McDermott Street, Dublin, during the 1960s.

According to a Spokesman for the Minister, “the information now being referred to by the group wasn’t available when the Minister for Education and Science issued his letter on September 4th, 2009,”

Significantly, a Department of Justice spokesman confirmed yesterday they now knew and accepted that a number of women charged with criminal offences were remanded in one Magdalene laundry under arrangements made by the Department of Justice. The spokesman also asserted that a number of women convicted of criminal offences were also given the alternative of going to prison or a Magdalene laundry by the courts.

These revelations are consistent with claims made by Justice for Magdalenes, a group representing survivors, which have previously been discussed on this blog.

Bearing in mind the acknowledgement by the Deparment of Justice that the state did in fact play a role in relation to the referral of women to Magdalene laundries, it seems incumbent on the Minister to revisit his conclusion that former residents are not eligible for compensation from the Residential Institutions Redress Board due to the fact that the state was ‘not complicit’ in referring women to the laundries.

A light at the end of the tunnel for Madgalene Laundries survivors?