Doubt cast over extention of Magdalene redress scheme
Magdalene women on their way into the Dail to sit in the public gallery for the debate on the McAleese Magdalene report and an apology from Enda Kenny on behalf of the State. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times
Doubt was cast tonight on the possibility that the Magdalenes redress scheme would be extended to include former residents of Bethany House.
A Department of Justice spokeswoman said that arrangements were being put in place for women who worked in the Magdalen laundries without pay.
These arrangements “simply cannot be applied to the completely different circumstances applied to the many maternity and infants’ homes in the State and those resident in them as compared to the Magdalen Laundries”, she said.
The spokeswoman said Minister for Justice Alan Shatter and Minister of State for Equality Kathleen Lynch were aware of the issues involved and were “looking at this matter”.
Chairman of the Bethany Home Survivors group Derek Leinster estimated that between 15 and 20 people would have a case for compensation. He described Bethany, where he was born, as a mother and baby home and a detention centre for adult prisoners with “horrific” conditions.
Hundreds of people have already contacted the Department of Justice to inquire about the compensation scheme for Magdalene women.
A special telephone number was set up for people to register with the Department of Justice from today to ensure they are included in the compensation scheme and a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice said 200 people had contacted the helpline by lunchtime.
Hopes were raised earlier that the Government would consider extending the scope of the Magdalene redress scheme to include former residents of Bethany House.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny told the Dáil today that Minister for Justice Alan Shatter was “looking at the question” of payments for survivors of the Protestant-run home for unmarried mothers.
“Not being adversarial, not being a gravy train for those who might assume so from a legalistic point of view — that’s a very strong wish and a very strong desire expressed by the women who were in the Magdalene laundries, and that’s what we want to try to achieve here,” Mr Kenny said.
Mr Kenny apologised "unreservedly" yesterday to those who spent time in the Magdalene laundries and said the Government would establish a fund to assist the women within three months.
Mr Kenny’s voice choked with emotion as he concluded his address to the Dáil when former senator Martin McAleese’s report on the institutions was discussed in a rare non-partisan atmosphere.
“I, as Taoiseach, on behalf of the State, the Government and our citizens, deeply regret and apologise unreservedly to all those women for the hurt that was done to them, and for any stigma they suffered, as a result of the time they spent in a Magdalene laundry.”
Speaking directly to the women, some of whom sat in the public gallery, Mr Kenny said: “This is a national shame, for which I again say, I am deeply sorry and offer my full and heartfelt apologies.”
Mr Kenny’s statement was described today by President Michael D Higgins as “very generous”.
Speaking in Paris the President said: “I know the emotional strength with which it was delivered, and I'm even more pleased that those who were affected, the women, were very pleased with it.
"They felt that it not just recognised a wrong but also recognised the necessity to respond to it.”
"I think as well that the Taoiseach's statement, the announcement of practical steps to now consider the situation in which these women, and particularly those families of the women who are no longer with us, will be considered. And I think as well to end the quibble as to the extension to those institutions [which] may not have been originally covered.
"I think everybody will have been pleased with the statement, but what was most important was that the women themselves were very satisfied and were generous in their acknowledgement of what the Taoiseach had done on behalf of all the people of Ireland."
However, he said the women deserved more. The president of the Law Reform Commission, Mr Justice John Quirke, would recommend criteria to be applied when assessing what help the Government can provide in terms of “payments” and supports such as medical cards and counselling services.
When Mr Justice Quirke reports within three months, the Government will establish a fund to assist the women based on his recommendations.
TDs in the packed Dail chamber gave a standing ovation to the women in the public gallery when the Taoiseach concluded.
Separately, the Government will fund a memorial “to remind us all of this dark part of our history”, Mr Kenny said.
He said the report showed the State was directly involved in more than a quarter of admissions to the laundries and the Government had decided to include all the Magdalene women in its response regardless of how they were admitted.
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said the religious orders that ran the laundries should make a “fair contribution, along with the taxpayer”. He said he was proud of the role Labour had played in transforming Ireland from a “subservient State”.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said he was sorry the women’s suffering had not been addressed earlier. “I am sorry that that did not happen over the last decade when I was a member of government,” he said.
Speaking outside Leinster House, Magdalene Survivors Together member Maureen O’Sullivan said the Taoiseach’s words were “fantastic”.
“He didn’t hold back on anything, he really did us proud. Now we can get on with our lives, now that we have an apology and they’ve taken responsibility. It’s just fantastic.”
People wishing to contact the Department of Justice can write to the following address:
Magdalen Laundry Fund
c/o Department of Justice and Equality