Call for full Magdalene inquiry


The Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) has called on the Government to immediately establish a statutory inquiry into the treatment of women and girls in Magdalene laundries.

At a press conference in Dublin this morning, it also said appropriate financial redress should be made available to survivors.

In a statement this afternoon, the Government said it regretted that relevant departments were not offered an opportunity by the commissions to contribute to its “considerations of this matter to facilitate a fully balanced evaluation of all the facts”.

The Government was “conscious that the Magdalene laundries were run by a number of religious congregations” and noted the IHRC would not conduct an inquiry itself.

Possibly anticipating this question, commission chief executive Éamonn Mac Aodha said at the press conference that an inquiry by it could not deliver the apology and redress sought from the State for the women and girls involved. “We do not have those type of powers,” he said.

The Government said it has asked the Attorney General and relevant Departments to consider the IHRC's report.

Last June, the Justice for Magdalenes group (JFM) asked the commission to conduct an inquiry into the treatment of women and girls in Magdalen laundries. The commission agreed to the request and said it would examine the human rights issues arising from its investigation.

The principle findings from the commission was that there was

clear State involvement in the cases of girls and women who were sent to the Magdalen laundries following a court process.

It found that questions arose as to whether the State’s obligations "to guard against arbitrary detention were met in the absence of information on whether and how girls and women under court processes resided in and left the laundries”.

It also found that the State may have breached its obligations on forced or compulsory labour under the 1930 Forced Labour Convention “in not suppressing/outlawing the practice in laundries and in actually engaging in trade with the convents running the laundries for goods produced as a result of forced labour”.

It also found that the State may have breached its obligations “to ensure that no one is held in servitude insofar as some women and girls in the laundries may have been held in conditions of servitude after the State assumed obligations under Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights in 1953.”

“We are dealing with a small and vulnerable group of women who the Government admitted as far back as 2001 were victims of abuse, but who have received no proper recognition for the hurt they experienced and continue to experience,” IHRC Commissioner Olive Braiden said. "They were omitted from the Residential Institutions Redress Scheme based on the argument that there was no State responsibility, although it is clear that the State and Irish society in general bears responsibility for the way they were treated."

Commission president Dr Maurice Manning said the State cannot abdicate from its responsibilities in relation to the treatment of women and girls in the laundries. “To vindicate the human rights of the women concerned, the Government must immediately establish a statutory inquiry mechanism to gather the evidence necessary to establish the facts behind the treatment of these women,” he said.

The Justice for Magdalenes group welcomed the report's findings and recommendations.

Spokesman Prof James Smith spoke of survivors of the laundries as an ageing and vulnerable population at home and abroad.

“The time to act is now,” he said. “The Government must move beyond its ‘deny ‘til they die’ policy. Only then will it disprove one Magdalene survivor’s telling observation: ‘they’re hoping that in 10 years we’ll all be under the sod and they can relax’.”

JFM has written to the four religious congregations which operated the Magdalene laundries three times in the past year. To date, none of the congregations has indicated a willingness to meet the group.