Statutory investigation into Magdalene laundries still needed, says report

Cause of women who had been in the laundries has been advanced ‘significantly’

Members of Magdalene Survivors Together  react to the publication of the Magdalene Report; in the foreground is an old Magdalene Laundry ledger. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Members of Magdalene Survivors Together react to the publication of the Magdalene Report; in the foreground is an old Magdalene Laundry ledger. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Wed, Jun 19, 2013, 01:00

Nearly three years ago, in July 2010, the Justice for Magdalenes (JFM) organisation requested that the Irish Human Rights Commission conduct a formal inquiry into the Magdalene laundries. JFM believed that the State was complicit in placing women and girls in the laundries where they suffered human rights abuses and it provided the commission with a large amount of information to support its case.

Request
The request led to the production of the commission’s Assessment of the Human Rights Issues Arising in Relation to the Magdalen Laundries, submitted to government in November 2010. Its main recommendation was that a statutory mechanism be established to investigate State involvement in Magdalene laundries and to provide appropriate redress where such State involvement was identified.

However, as commission acting chief executive Des Hogan put it yesterday, “while a statutory inquiry has not been established, other important developments have taken place which have significantly advanced the cause of the women who resided in the Magdalene laundries”.

These included a recommendation, published on June 6th, 2011, by the UN Committee Against Torture (Uncat) that the State “institute prompt, independent, and thorough investigations into all allegations of torture, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment that were allegedly committed in the Magdalene laundries”. The Uncat recommendation followed a detailed presentation to it shortly beforehand in Geneva by JFM.

State involvement
On June 14th, 2011, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter announced the setting up of an inter-departmental committee, chaired by Senator Martin McAleese, “to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalene laundries”. The departments were Justice and Equality; Defence; Health; Environment, Community and Local Government; Education and Skills; Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation; and Children and Youth Affairs.

The committee investigated 10 laundries operated in the State from 1922, until the last one closed in 1996, by four religious congregations. It also examined the State’s role in the 1993 exhumation and cremation of remains of women buried near Dublin’s High Park laundry.

The committee’s report was presented to Government on February 5th last. On February 19th, Taoiseach Enda Kenny apologised in the Dáil on behalf of the State to women who had been in the laundries.

That same day it was announced that Judge John Quirke would review the McAleese report findings. His recommendations were received by Government on June 5th last.