Magdalene pension claim supported by 'ample evidence'


THERE IS already “ample evidence” of the State’s involvement in the Magdalene laundries for these women to at least receive pensions for the years of unpaid work they carried out, a meeting of the Irish Women Survivors Support Network in London heard at the weekend.

Maeve O’Rourke, a lawyer who represented the Justice for Magdalenes group at a recent hearing in Geneva of the United Nations Committee Against Torture, said that, at the very least, time the women worked unpaid should count towards their pensions.

She said the interdepartmental committee set up by the Government to investigate the laundries should also take into account the “unofficial ways in which the State was involved”, for example the return of women to the laundries by the Garda. Aside from evidence that past governments and their agencies used the laundries, there “was a duty on the State to protect every single one of those women and girls”, she said.

“There is now a duty . . . to ensure that every woman who was subjected to torture or cruel treatment in the Magdalene laundries is compensated,” she said.

Michael Keaveney, an official with the Irish Embassy in London, said: “There is a lack of knowledge of what happened in the laundries at official level in Dublin. In terms of stuff written down, there doesn’t appear to be a lot.”

He asked that the network collect the testimony of women who were in the laundries and forward it to the Department of Justice.

He said that an initial report from the interdepartmental committee set up to clarify State interaction with the laundries was to be prepared within three months. It would detail “the scope of what further investigation is required, so it could be a longer process”, he said. “I can’t say how long it is going to take but after the three months we should have a good idea of what the process will be.”

A number of former Magdalenes were present at Saturday’s meeting. One woman broke down as she tried to tell her story. Former Magdalene Ellen Murphy, now living in the greater London area, was in four laundries. “We were slaves,” she said. “It’s time to bring out and explain to people: them places were worse than jail.”

On the RTE Radio 1 programme This Weekyesterday, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter agreed that “the State was involved in women being place in the laundries but others were committed without State involvement”. The interdepartmental committee he set up to look at the Magdalene laundries was “the start of a very important process”.