Magdalene survivors insist State not fulfilling terms of compensation scheme

Healthcare package promised to women falls far short, survey of survivors shows

A Virgin and child carving over the door of the former Magdalene laundry on Gloucester Street in  Dublin. File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times.

A Virgin and child carving over the door of the former Magdalene laundry on Gloucester Street in Dublin. File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times.

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A healthcare package offered under a government compensation scheme to women who spent time in Magdalene laundries was “essentially nothing more than” the routine service provided to medical-card holders, a new report states.

It says that most of the women would have been entitled to such health services anyway “due to their low income or advanced age”.

Disappointment with the healthcare offer was among the findings of the report, compiled by Dr Katherine O’Donnell and Claire McGettrick of the Justice for Magdalenes Research. It is based on a listening exercise with 147 of the more than 230 laundry survivors who took part in the Dublin Honours Magdalenes events two years ago.

More than 11,000 women and girls were held in 10 laundries operated by four female religious congregations from the foundation of the State in 1922 until the closure of the last one in 1996. Some of the women and girls were unmarried mothers, others came to the laundries from reformatories, industrial schools and mother and baby homes while others were placed there by their families.

The report says that the survivors wanted it known “that many victims of rape/sexual abuse, including young girls, were confined in the laundries while the perpetrators went free”.

“They feel keenly the injustice done to them because they were young women and girls,” it says.

The report notes that many of the women “were upset about being stereotypically misrepresented as ‘fallen women’, unmarried mothers, and/or prostitutes”. It says some women felt conflicted between relief “at an increasingly sympathetic public attitude to their histories” and “ongoing frustration at the assumption that their life stories and the circumstances that led them to be incarcerated are all similar and fit pejorative stereotypes”.

Failure

The report says some of the women who spent time in the laundries but now live outside Ireland expressed “frustration at the State’s failure to deliver healthcare benefits to women in the diaspora” and that some of these women “did not know they were entitled to such a benefit in the first place”.

It also says a “vast majority” of the women who participated supported “the creation of a prominent commemorative monument or space, or a commemorative day” as a tribute to all who had been in the laundries.

The report was launched by Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan who said it gave “some further recognition to the women” who had been in the laundries and that copies would be sent to all who received compensation from the State’s Magdalen Restorative Justice Scheme.

The Dublin Honours Magdalenes event, held over two days in June 2018 , fulfilled two key recommendations of the scheme – that women seeking to meet others who had been in the laundries be facilitated, and that a listening exercise take place with the women to gather their views on how the laundries should be remembered.

The report says women who took part in the listening exercise insisted that a health card, recommended in Mr Justice John Quirke’s Magdalen Commission Report in 2013 “and agreed to ‘in full’ by the government”, was not delivered to them under the 2015 Magdalen Restorative Justice Ex-Gratia scheme.

The judge recommened that the State provide health services to the women equivalent to those provided in the 1990s to people who contracted Hepatitis C from contaminated blood products.

The new report notes how “Magdalene survivors accepted the terms and conditions of the Restorative Justice Scheme and signed away their right to sue the State on the promise of an enhanced health service”.

It adds that “ultimately the benefits offered to them are essentially nothing more than the routine healthcare service offered to State medical-card holders”.

In November 2017 the Ombudsman found that the manner in which the Restorative Justice Scheme was administered by the Department of Justice constituted maladministration within the meaning of the Ombudsman Act.

The report notes that some of the women wished for it to be known that not all nuns in the laundries behaved badly towards them “but that the nuns had choices about how they lived their lives while the girls and the women of the Magdalene institutions had no choice but to submit to enforced labour and incarceration”.

It was also “important to acknowledge the complicity of the wider society” in their incarceration and that “the collusion of politicians, social workers, medical workers, the judiciary and police in upholding the system should be taken seriously,” they said.

The report says that above all the women wanted to be listened to and for people to hear what happened to them. They spoke of “the fact that for decades they remained silent (sometimes not sharing their past with husbands, children, and family members) for fear of the stigma and shame attached to having spent time in a Magdalene laundry”, it says.