‘Manifestly unfair’ treatment of Magdalene Laundries workers, Ombudsman finds

Women ‘wrongly refused access’ to redress scheme by Department of Justice

The Ombudsman found younger women who were living in the same buildings or convent as older women registered as being in the laundries, had been refused access to the scheme. Photograph: Cyril Byrne.

The Ombudsman found younger women who were living in the same buildings or convent as older women registered as being in the laundries, had been refused access to the scheme. Photograph: Cyril Byrne.

 

A number of women who were former workers in Magdalene Laundries were treated in a “manifestly unfair” way by the Department of Justice in the subsequent redress scheme, the Ombudsman has ruled.

In a report published today, Opportunity Lost, Peter Tyndall found some of the women who worked in the laundries were “wrongly refused access” to the Magdalene Restorative Justice scheme.

Launching the report he said the reaction of the department to his draft findings had been “totally exceptional in my experience” and he had been “very disappointed” by how the department had dealt with the inquiry.

However he was heartened by the statement today by the Minister for Justice, Charlie Flanagan, that “full and careful consideration” of the report would now be given to it by the department.

“I have been assured that the scheme has been operated with compassion and dedication by a team of officials in the department,” the minister said.

Mr Tyndall said he thought the women had waited long enough. The department, he said, had refused to accept the draft findings as they were emerging.

The Ombudsman has recommended the department reconsider its position in relation to some applicants who had worked in the laundries but were refused access to the redress scheme because of how it was administered and its rules interpreted by the department.

Younger women refused access

The inquiry found younger women who were living in the same buildings or convent as older women registered as being in the laundries, had been refused access to the scheme, because they were registered with industrial schools or training centres.

“The department administered the scheme on the basis that only women who could demonstrate that they had been officially recorded as admitted to one of the 12 listed institutions were eligible for admission to the scheme,” Mr Tyndall said.

“This completely ignored the practical reality of the situation, a reality where the women, as girls, lived on the same site as the laundry, in institutions run by the same order of nuns as ran the laundry, and they would could easily move around or be transferred between the two, sometimes even without having to step outside.”

These women often worked every day in the laundries alongside the women who were deemed eligible for the scheme.

In some cases, women in identical situations were treated differently by the department for the purposes of the scheme.

“The narrow interpretation [of the scheme by the department] is difficult to account for,” Mr Tyndall said.

He said it was not possible to say at what level within the department the narrow interpretation was decided upon.

Poor administration

The inquiry found evidence of poor administration from the start, with people applying for a scheme they had not been told the rules for, and people whom the department, by way of its interpretation of the rules, had decided would not be eligible, nevertheless being sent out application forms.

The “real problem” was the narrow interpretation of the rules by the department, and its “refusal” to move away from that narrow interpretation, Mr Tyndall said.

He emphasised that the scheme remained open.

The department has accepted 684 applications on which it has paid out €25.7 million. The department rejected approximately 100 applications. At the time the scheme was being launched, the upper estimate for its cost was €58 million. The Ombudsman did not expect that his finding would affect a large number of women.

Given Ireland’s “difficult past” it was unlikely this was the last redress scheme and he recommended guidelines be produced centrally for the operation of future restorative justice or redress schemes.

He also recommended for women who now lacked capacity, that the department work with the Courts Service Ward of Court scheme to process future applications in a “timely and sensitive manner”.