Magdalene analysis: promise of ongoing care most valuable to survivors

Pension and medical cover may be worth more than lump sum

Thu, Jun 27, 2013, 11:05

At last. It has taken so long to get this far and mainly due to State resistance. But people should not get carried away. There can be no doubt the lump sum to be awarded to the Magdalene survivors will be very welcome.

But probably the most welcome recommendation of all from Justice John Quirke is the ongoing care promised to the women by the State through pensions and medical cover.

Over time, it will be far more valuable to them than that lump sum. It will still be there when the lump sum is gone.

Good deal

The experiences of those who have received lump sums from the Residential Institutions Redress Board underscores this. The average payment there to date has been €62,860, with the largest award being €300,500.

By December 21st of last year, the Redress Board had dealt with 15,397 people who had been in orphanages, reformatories and/or industrial schools as children and, to date, its awards have cost the State an estimated €1.5 billion.

It may not seem so, but that was a good deal from the State’s perspective. It has no further responsibility for the care of those surviving men and women.

Meanwhile, the award of sizeable lump sums has been disastrous for some former residents of the orphanages, reformatories and/or industrial schools. It added to addiction problems while others accumulated attentive relatives and new friends until the money ran out.

But, it also must be said, it has helped to transform the lives of many in a positive way.

Fairest way

However Justice John Quirke and his committee have learned from the Redress Board experience.

Wisely, his emphasis has been on the ongoing care of women who had been in the laundries. It may also have been easier for his committee to make such a recommendation as such care for a projected 700 plus women will cost far less than it would ever have for those 15, 397 people who had been in residential institutions as children.

Justice Quirke’s decision that each woman’s circumstances will be individually addressed is also the fairest way of approaching things. But it may be hampered by lack of records where some of the 10 launderies are concerned. Two of them had no records.

And, while it is expected the State will not be mean-spirited in dealing with the women, it is unlikely to be foolish either.

For instance, it is known that some few women have
exaggerated the length of their stay in a laundry. But, in general, this is a non-issue.

It has also to be remembered that lump sums to be awarded the women will be calculated on the time spent in the launderies. This means the amounts will not be huge for the majority.

Former senator Martin McAleese’s report, published last February, found that 35.6 per cent of the women spent less than three months in a laundry, 47.4 per cent less than six months and 61 per cent less than a year.

In the majority of cases, the lump sums to be awarded will, therefore, not be significantly more than €11,500.

Time matters most

But now, and as has always been the case with this tragic issue, time is what matters most. These payouts much be progressed speedily so that the many elderly women
concerned, and 14 per cent of them are over 80, will be able to spend their remaining years in some comfort.

It will also come as a relief to the women that they are not being pressured to take part in a forum of reconciliation.

For many of them, the thought of meeting members of the religious congregation which ran the laundry where they had been detained is something to be avoided at all costs, however well-intentioned the purpose.

It would be too distressing. Most of the women simply want to get on with their lives and leave it all behind for once and for all. Who can blame them? Who has a right to insist otherwise?

And there was consolation too in the Quirke report for members of the McAleese Committee. Its findings on conditions in the launderies have been upheld by Mr Justice Quirke’s committee.

The McAleese committee was criticised by some for finding that, while conditions in the launderies were “harsh and physically demanding”, and the psychological impact on these women was “undoubtedly traumatic and lasting”, the majority of women who spoke with the committee said the ill-treatment, physical
punishment and abuse prevalent in industrial schools was not something they experienced in the launderies.

The McAleese committee spoke to 60 former residents of the laundries and 58 women in nursing homes under the care of the religious orders.

Subsistence

Also criticised in the McAleese report was its finding that five of the 10 launderies, for which records were available, operated on a “subsistence or close to break-even” basis.

This was supported in the McAleese report for two of the laundries concerned by accountancy firms Robert J Kidney and Co and Noel Delahunty and Co.

The Irish Times has learned this finding of “subsistence or close to break-even” for all five launderies for which financial records were available, was also made by the accountancy firm Pricewaterhouse Cooper. It looked at the records at the request of the McAleese committee.

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