Inquiry needed to compel congregations to reveal truth about treatment of Magdalenes
Orders still refusing to contribute to reparations scheme
The exterior of the former Sisters of Our Lady of Charity Magdalene Laundry on Sean McDermott Street in Dublin’s north inner city. Photograph: Julien Behal/PA Wire
The Sisters of Mercy, Sisters of Charity, Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, and Good Shepherd Sisters will not apologise to survivors of the Magdalene laundries. As stated on RTÉ’s The God Slot programme (8th March), the nuns claim there is nothing to apologise for – they provided refuge to women abandoned by their families, the State and Irish society.
Neither will the congregations make a financial contribution to the Government’s reparations scheme, which was founded on the tenets of restorative justice. In holding to this position, the orders expose the Achilles heel of the Government’s Magdalene policy over the past two years – a policy dependent on the congregations’ voluntary co-operation.
Co-operation voluntarily given does not compel the nuns in any legal sense. Their negative response invalidates the Government’s assertion that survivors are being afforded restorative justice. There is no justice without the nuns’ apology and/or financial reparation.
Minister for Justice Alan Shatter told the Dáil the nuns seek reconciliation with survivors. But the legal definition of reconciliation “ordinarily implies forgiveness for injuries on either or both sides”. Instead, the orders expect an amnesty for gross human rights violations.
The Minister also relayed the nuns’ justification for refusing a financial contribution: they “continue to care for approximately 130 elderly and frail women”. These women are survivors of the Magdalene laundries and as such are also victims of forced labour, arbitrary detention, and cruel, degrading treatment or punishment. Moreover, the justification implies that caring for these women is an act of charity. It is not.
Mr Justice Quirke’s report points to the fact the congregations get HSE funding to offset the cost involved; they also control the women’s social welfare payments: “Some Congregations . . . are concerned that where payments are made to Magdalen women in their care, this could have an adverse effect in terms of funding for their ongoing care. A similar concern arises that any payments made under the Scheme . . . would adversely affect the entitlements of those Magdalen women.” (page 17).
The contention that the provision of “care” offsets a moral and ethical obligation to contribute to reparations seems, at best, disingenuous in this light.
One might well ask how the Government arrived at this impasse. The seeds were sown in the decision to establish an inter-departmental committee to establish the facts of State involvement with the laundries (June 2011).
The Government chose not to institute “a prompt, thorough and independent” investigation as called for at the time (and repeatedly since) by the United Nations Committee Against Torture, the Irish Human Rights Commission, and Justice for Magdalenes, among others.
The inter-departmental committee was intended as a fact- (never a fault-) finding vehicle of investigation. Church and State would co-operate to establish the facts of State involvement alone. The congregations’ culpability for abuses in the laundries fell outside the committee’s remit.