Magdalene Laundry compensation case adjourned
Ombudsman says Minister for Justice cannot claim it must follow its recommendations
The judge, noting one woman had travelled from the US for the case, said he was anxious it resumes as soon as possible
There has been an apparent clash between the Minister for Justice and the Ombudsman, concerning the scope of a compensation scheme for women who worked in Magdalene Laundries, at the High Court.
To address that, David Hardiman SC, for the Minister on Thursday got an adjournment of proceedings by two women suing over their exclusion from the ex gratia compensation scheme administered by the Department of Justice’s restorative justice unit.
Both women claim, as children attending industrial schools in the 1970s and 1980s, they were forced to work for periods in laundries and were unreasonably excluded from the scheme on a “technicality”. They claim the scheme administrators wrongly view the schools and laundries as separate institutions when, the women allege, the laundries were linked to the schools.
In opposing their cases, the Minister pleads the scheme was not established to compensate for alleged forced labour or loss of earnings in the laundries but as part of a scheme of healing and reconciliation.
Both cases opened on Wednesday before Mr Justice Michael White and were due to resume on Thursday but Mr Hardiman sought an adjournment arising from a “development” which had to be addressed in affidavits by departmental officials currently overseas.
Michael Lynn SC, for the women, said this was a public law case and he would tell the court what had happened.
The court heard this arose after the court was told on Wednesday the Minister followed recommendations from the Ombudsman about inclusion in the scheme.
Mr Lynn said his solicitor got an email on Wednesday night stating the Ombudsman’s office sent a letter expressing disquiet at the fact the Minister considers herself bound by the Ombudsman’s decisions . It referred to cases where the Minister had not followed the Ombudsman’s recommendation for someone’s inclusion in the scheme.
An earlier letter from the Ombudsman’s office, in July 2016, stated the office was corresponding with the Minister about the scheme, counsel said. Such was the disquiet about how the scheme is being operated the Ombudsman had launched an investigation into “maladministration”, he said.
His side understood the exclusion from the scheme of another woman – who went to an industrial school which also featured in this case, An Grianan, High Park, Drumcondra, Dublin, and worked in a laundry attached to that – was an aspect of the maladministration investigation, counsel added.
If the Ombudsman is right about his recommendations that an applicant be included in the scheme have not been followed by the Minister, then the court and his side have been misled, Mr Lynn said. His side only became aware of this because the Ombudsman’s office sent one of its legal team to this case on Wednesday. This all caused further hurt to the two women, he added.
Mr Hardiman said he wished to explain being “cryptic” earlier when seeking the adjournment. There were “tensions” with the Ombudsman’s position and his side did not want those flagged or to become entrenched until they could be certain what the position was, he said.
Clarifications are required in relation to the Ombudsman’s position that will not meet the description given by the other side, he said. It was “inappropriate” to have referred to the word “maladministration” because that was in an email sent from one solicitor to another, he added.
In reply to the judge, counsel said the department had undertaken to accept the Ombudsman’s rulings within the scheme but it did not accept the Ombudsman’s suggestion the scheme be expanded. “That is what this developing issue is about.” Applicants must meet the criteria for the scheme, he added.
The judge, noting one woman had travelled from her home in the US for the case, said he would adjourn to Wednesday but was anxious the cases resume as soon as possible.