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Ministers raised fears of Magdalene redress cost in 2011

Added on March 27, 2017

Concerns were expressed at Cabinet in 2011 that, if there was an inquiry into Magdalene laundries, it could lead to calls for inquiries into abuses in mother and baby homes, psychiatric institutions, and foster care settings.

The concerns are in a memorandum for Government seeking permission to establish what became the McAleese committee.

Some six years later, Ireland's mother and baby home system and the treatment of more than 40 vulnerable adults in a foster care setting are now the subject of State inquiries.

The document from June 2011, obtained by the Irish Examiner, reveals that a key issue for government and the attorney general was that the move could lead to pressure for further inquiries and for redress. 

It is also repeatedly stressed that the State was not liable for any women who suffered in Magdalene laundries.

The observations of the then Minister for Education and Skills Ruairí Quinn state that, although he is supportive of the approach outlined in the memorandum, "there may be demands for enquiries [sic] into other situations".

"Following the publication of the 'Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (the Ryan Report)', there were renewed demands for the Redress Scheme to be extended to include other institutions, such as Magdalen laundries, mother and baby homes, psychiatric hospitals and foster care settings," he said.

It goes on to state that, while Mr Quinn recognised the demands being made on behalf of the women who had been through Magdalene laundries were for a separate redress scheme, "he is conscious of the implications of any move towards redress, for the Residential Insititutions Redress Scheme".

This proposal is expected to be now contained in the second interim report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes.

Elsewhere in the document, concerns were raised about the potential cost of redress to women who were in Magdalene laundries.

Then justice minister Alan Shatter is recorded as being "conscious" of the Minister of Finance Michael Noonan's view that the proposals in the memorandum "would very likely generate pressure for opening up redress".

However, then minister for public expenditure Brendan Howlin goes even further, stating that it should be made clear that no redress would be paid to women, even if the State is liable.

"The issue of possible financial or other redress supported by the Government must also be considered in advance of the measures in the memorandum.

"If this is not done, it is likely that there will be strong immediate public pressure for an agreement in principle to financial redress, which may lead to an open-ended commitment for the Government.

"In view of the severe constraints on public expenditure, the minister proposes that the Government make clear in the press release that it does not have the resources to allow for the establishment of redress measures should they be approporiate in this case."

In 2016, it emerged that some 624 women held in the laundries received a lump sum payment of more than €23m under the Government's redress scheme. The payments work out at an average of €36,858.

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