Government orders limited Magdalene Laundries inquiry

 

THE GOVERNMENT has ordered a limited investigation into the treatment of women and girls in Magdalene laundries.

The form of the investigation, an inter-departmental committee chaired by an independent person, falls short of the statutory inquiry demanded by the UN Committee against Torture and the Irish Human Rights Committee.

The remit of the committee has been confined to asking it to “clarify any State interaction with the Magdalene laundries and to produce a narrative detailing such interaction”.

The Government believed it was essential “as a first step” to establish fully the true facts and circumstances relating to the Magdalene laundries, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said in a statement last night.

The statement made no reference to another key demand of the UN, the IHRC and groups representing former residents, the payment of compensation, but did promise to put in place a “restorative and reconciliation process” involving the religious congregations that ran the laundries and former residents.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny told the Dáil last May the Department of Justice was considering a reparation scheme for former residents.

Mr Shatter and the Minister of State at his department, Kathleen Lynch, are to meet the congregations and ask them to make their records available to former residents.

They will also be asked to provide information on the number of former residents still in their care.

The decision to set up an inter-departmental committee on the matter was taken at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting. It was agreed that the committee would make a progress report within three months.

Last month, the UN Committee against Torture recommended that the Government set up a statutory investigation into allegations of torture and degrading treatment against women and girls committed to the laundries and forced to work without pay.

The committee said the perpetrators should be punished and redress provided to the women.

The group’s report criticised the State for failing to regulate or inspect the laundries, which were run by four congregations: the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, the Religious Sisters of Charity, the Sisters of Mercy and the Good Shepherd Sisters.

Mr Shatter said the Government welcomed last week’s indication by the four congregations of their willingness to bring “clarity, understanding, healing and justice in the interests of all the women involved”. Consideration was being given to the appropriate independent person to chair the inter-departmental committee, he added.

Last May, speaking at a hearing of the UN committee in Geneva, Department of Justice secretary general Seán Aylward said the State couldn’t “rewrite its history” with regard to the Magdalene laundries.

The first Magdalene laundry opened in Dublin in 1767 and in the 20th century 10 laundries were in operation throughout the State. Most closed in the 1960s and the last one shut its doors in 1996.