Moral onus on nuns to compensate Magdalenes, says Shatter
Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald says congregations’ response is ‘despicable and unacceptable’
Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has said he is disappointed with the response of the religious congregations regarding former residents of Magdalene laundries and urged them to reconsider the approach they were taking. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times
The four religious congregations that ran the Magdalene laundries had a “moral and ethical’’ obligation to contribute to the fund to recompense former residents, Minister for Justice and Defence Alan Shatter told the Dáil.
“As I stated, the majority of people outside the House would expect such a contribution and many of the former residents expect such contributions,’’ he said.
“I do not believe anything can be achieved by me as a Minister being abusive of those who are members of these congregations.’’
The Minister said he hoped – bearing in mind the congregations’ position, their background and ethical understanding of the world – that this moral obligation would be recognised. “I cannot play my role as Minister for Defence and arrive with the tank outside the gates of one of these congregations and demand they provide funding.’’
Mr Shatter said he was disappointed with the response of the congregations and urged them to reconsider the approach they were taking. “There is an issue when they say, as they have, they want to effect a reconciliation with so many of the women, but the good faith or bona fides of this approach is tested by the manner in which they respond.’’
Mr Shatter said the congregations had co-operated in accessing records and continued to care for approximately 130 elderly and frail women, but that was not enough. He added that on reflection many members of the congregations might recognise that they would like to approach the matter in a manner whereby the wider public regarded them as accepting some level of responsibility for the difficulties which occurred in the lives of those women.
The Minister was replying to Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald, who said that unlike the Minister, she did not find their response disappointing. “I find it despicable and unacceptable.’’
She said people throughout the country expected much more from the congregations.
“I do not believe they should be given a bye ball on the basis they have co-operated with access to records and gave Dr McAleese full co-operation,’’ she added.
“One would expect no less, given the scenario and what was being investigated.’’
Ms McDonald said it needed to be stated very plainly to the congregations that the women and girls of the Magdalene laundries were abused comprehensively, that the State had acknowledged its involvement, and that the congregations themselves had a moral, ethical and social duty to pay into a very modest compensation fund.
It would be a travesty of the most basic sense of justice for a Government and Cabinet, which agreed the congregations need to come forward and contribute to the fund, to stand back and laud the same congregations for doing no less than they should in terms of documentation, she added.
Ms McDonald said it was clear that the Minister had been given the brush-off by them. “Surely he is not considering for a second this will be the end of the matter?’’
Earlier, Mr Shatter said the full cost of the scheme was difficult to estimate. It would depend on the number of women who applied and the duration of their stay in a Magdalene home. The current estimate was between €34.5 million and €58 million.