SENIOR FIGURES in the Catholic Church are still not co-operating with its own child protection watchdog, despite assurances from the Data Protection Commissioner that in doing so they would not be acting illegally.
The National Board for Safeguarding Children is conducting an audit of child protection practices in church institutions, announced at an emergency meeting of the bishops by Cardinal Seán Brady in January 2009.
A spokesman for the office of the Data Protection Commissioner said legal concerns expressed by the Catholic Church regarding its co-operation with the board “were fully addressed to the satisfaction of all parties” at a meeting last November. That meeting was attended by representatives of the Catholic bishops, the Conference of Religious of Ireland (Cori), the Irish Missionary Union and representatives of the board.
He said it was pointed out then “that there are no obstacles” to the board “having full access to all relevant personal data for the purpose of comprehensive audits of the church bodies concerned”. He also noted that on September 17th last, representatives of his office met separately with the board and Faoiseamh, a counselling service set up by Cori, to discuss data protection issues on the matter.
Despite that the bishops, Cori and the missionary union sought the meeting which took place last November at which assurances were repeated.
Quoting from the Data Protection Commissioner’s annual report for 2010, the spokesman said “we were contacted in early 2010 by the National Board for Safeguarding Children regarding data protection considerations associated with accessing personal data held by the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland.”
“We were advised that an auditing exercise had commenced in line with the functions of the board. However, shortly after the evaluation process began, data protection issues were raised. As a result, the audit process was suspended pending clarification and assistance from our office.
“We were asked to assist in finding a data protection compliant mechanism to allow the board to assess the church’s current policies and practices on the safeguarding of children and to ensure that allegations of abuse were handled appropriately.”
Last month, in its annual report for 2010, the board chairman John Morgan said its sponsoring bodies (the bishops, Cori and the missionary union) “still have unresolved data protection issues pertaining to ongoing contact situations between the board/national office and dioceses and religious congregations which take place regularly outside a formal review process.”
It is understood this remains the position.
Some bishops have co-operated fully with the board. At that launch last month it was disclosed that three unnamed dioceses co-operated fully with the board in its audit on each.
Cardinal Brady’s announcement of the audit followed an emergency meeting of the Catholic bishops on January 23rd, 2009. It followed revelations in a report by the board, published the previous month, that child protection practices in Cloyne diocese were “inadequate and in some respects dangerous”.
That led to the remit of the Murphy commission being extended by the previous government to include Cloyne. The commission’s report on Cloyne was submitted in December to the then minister for justice Dermot Ahern and has yet to be published.
Religious leaders and politicians have expressed outrage at the idea of displaying Alma Lopez’ s controversial work, Our Lady of Guadalupe, in Cork University. I have heard or read words and phrases in the past few days like “blasphemous”, “deeply disrespectful”, “an attack on a precious part of Irish and Christian culture, “an affront to God” etc uttered with great passion and conviction by critics of the artwork, which depicts the Virgin Mary scantily clad and wearing what looks like a bikini.
I agree that one should respect religious beliefs of all shades, but I can’t help wondering where all this outrage and Christian indignation was when thousands of children were being physically, sexually, and emotionally abused in religious-run institutions, or when women were suffering at the hands of people who prayed morning noon and night to the same Blessed Virgin, images of whom were everywhere to be seen in those centres of torment.
And where were the concerned Catholics and indignant politicians when “religious” men and women who were known to be serial sexual abusers were transferred from one school or parish to another, to scar and devastate other lives?
Devotion to the Blessed Virgin is certainly, as the Bishop of Cork has said, woven into the fabric of Irish life, but what a pity that a similar devotion to protecting our most vulnerable citizens has so often been lacking on the part of those who profess a deep love for the Mother of God.
In the 1980s, thousands of well-meaning and devoted Catholics flocked to Ballinaspittle in County Cork and other venues in expectation of seeing “moving statues” of the Blessed Virgin. I don’t feel qualified to say whether this phenomena was genuine or not, but what we do know is that no statue of Mary or Jesus, or any other Holy figure was seen to move (or frown or otherwise show disapproval) within the walls of the industrial schools when the children were being sexually abused, terrorized with chilling verbal threats, or beaten with coin-reinforced leathers.
And the only statues of Mary that “moved” in the Magdalene laundries were the ones that had to be taken down to make way for the women who were forced to stand on the pedestals for hours as a form of punishment.
I would suggest that some artist consider creating another, more relevant depiction of the Blessed Virgin, entitled, perhaps, Our Lady of the Industrial Schools. The central figure could be surrounded by frightened little faces, instruments of cruel punishment, “decent” citizens averting their eyes and pretending not to know, and other images of the incalculable horror and suffering wrought upon so many innocent Irish children and young women by the religious gulags.
The fate of even one such victim of institutional abuse should, I believe, be of more concern to us than the prospect of a thousand Blessed Virgins wearing bikinis.
MUCH is being made — properly so — of the abuse of human rights of the mothers, children and orphans who were incarcerated in Magdalene homes run by the churches and facilitated by the State.
Society agreed with this, as is evidenced by the visiting committees of respectable gentry and nobility and donations made, etc.
Now the chickens are coming home to roost, with the proper demand for retribution and compensation — if money could ever make up for their loss — by those who suffered and are alive. There is confusion as to who was responsible, because of how church and state acted. Last November, the Irish Human Rights’ Commission (IHRC) held a one-day seminar to address the issue of the human right of any child to receive schooling in any publicly-funded school without being indoctrinated in a religion — a specific constitutional right — and more. Since the collusion of church and state in 1971 to bring out a "new curriculum" infused with religious beliefs for use in all national schools, in place of the separate provision of religious instruction as first practised, this right has been subverted by both church and state and tolerated by society, which is unsurprising as nearly all are the product of the same schooling. The Whittaker Commission on the Constitution (1996) judged current practice as unconstitutional. The abuse of children’s rights in national schools will eventually be a cause for litigation by a child who perceives herself to have been damaged by it. The whole business is uncannily similar to the treatment meted out by Magdalene homes: it involves church interests; the human rights of some citizens are totally subjugated in a discriminatory way for institutional church gain; the Establishment are complicit in this; most people accept it as part of our culture; there is likely to be legal action by one of the intellectually abused children (the description of a professional submission to the IHRC); and there will be confusion, when action is taken, as to who is to blame, but the taxpayer will surely pay as those responsible slink away.
John Colgan PC
This appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Saturday, June 25, 2011
David Quinn's analysis of the Magdalene Laundries adds to the public's confusion about these institutions ("Magdalene inquiry must lift veil and uncloak anti-Catholic myths," June 17, 2011).
He is factually incorrect when he states that the Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) sent its published Assessment to the UN Committee Against Torture (UNCAT).
The UNCAT recommendation came on foot of a submission by Justice for Magdalenes (JFM), the survivor advocacy group.
Mr Quinn is correct in his assertion that there is nothing essentially Irish or Catholic about these institutions.
Nevertheless Ireland's Catholic Magdalene institutions retained at least three distinct characteristics, foremost of which was their longevity -- the last one closed its doors in October 1996.
Secondly, the nature of these institutions changed at the turn of the 20th Century -- formerly they were rehabilitative and oftentimes short-term refuges; latterly they became more punitive on the one hand and often long-term and life-long places of confinement.
Thirdly, the population of women entering the Laundries became ever more diverse after 1922 as the nuns sought to secure a workforce for their commercial, for-profit enterprises.
This unpaid workforce included unmarried mothers, women found guilty of crimes by the courts, young girls transferred from industrial and reformatory schools, women on remand and on probation, women referred to as "mental defectives" and "simpletons," and so-called "voluntary" committals brought to the laundries by family members, the local priest, a social worker, the local garda, an employer, or teacher.
Finally, myths about the laundries feed off the religious orders' refusal to provide access to post-1900 records. Because there can be no official history, there are no answers to important questions.
These facts we do know: the 1901 and 1911 census data reveals that there were 912 and 1,094 women respectively in the 10 Catholic Magdalene Laundries that would continue to operate after 1922.
In 1956, the Irish Catholic Directory reported a capacity of 945 at these same 10 homes. Between 1926 and 1963, the Irish courts referred at least 54 women to Catholic Magdalene Laundries.
In March 1944, there were 19 women "on probation" at Magdalene laundries and other religious convents.
Mr Quinn concluded his article stating that: "If this new inquiry does its work properly it will provide a fully rounded picture of the Magdalene asylums."
When we met with him last year, Cardinal Sean Brady characterised JFM's presentation of our campaign as "fair and balanced" and encouraged us to continue working toward "a just solution" to the Magdalene Laundries scandal.
That is precisely what this campaign is all about.
Dr James M Smith
Associate Professor, English Department and Irish Studies ProgramME, Boston College, USA
Madam, – As a former internee of the infamous Artane Industrial School, the article by Dr Finola Kennedy (Rite Reason, June 21st) on Frank Duff, the founder of the Legion of Mary, made me sit up.
For many years, I have been of the opinion that Mr Duff, with his fundamentalist attitude to women in religion, was all for illegitimate children being locked away (therefore “out of sight, out of mind”) in industrial schools, being, as quoted by Dr Kennedy, “social outcasts”.
This opinion was mainly based on a story told to me by a relative of sorts after I had been “released” from Artane; in that I had been reported to the then RSPCC by a member of the Legion of Mary, to the effect that “I was illegitimately living with my grandparents”. The RSPCC subsequently brought me before the Dublin Children’s Court, where I was “sentenced” to be detained by the State until my 16th birthday.
The article has, happily, removed a small chip I have carried on my shoulder for the best of 60 years against the many institutions of this State which destroyed my right to be a proper and equal status as a fellow human being within society – however “illegitimate” I may have been. – Yours, etc,
The Irish Independent article on June 17 titled 'Magdalene inquiry must lift veil and uncloak anti-Catholic myths' could only have been written by David Quinn. In it he claims the Irish Human Rights Commission was, in truth, a left-wing quango.
This is how he writes. He tries to undermine the whistleblower and the committee looking into these hell holes; it's the only way he knows how.
I did not know the abuse of the Magdalene women, many of whom I know, was an anti-Catholic myth.
His lack of interest is driven primarily because of his devotion to the church, whether it be right or wrong.
As usual, he is wrong but he knows this anyway; he just wants to make his flawed view look right. Let us look a little closer at what he implies and put it against the cold facts.
The Magdalene homes may not have been a Catholic invention, but they certainly were a Catholic money-maker for most of the 19th Century and all of the 20th Century. The latter is the one most relevant fact here for victims.
They were a place to throw unmarried mothers and for all sorts of other social ills to quote David Quinn: such as being the child of an unmarried mother, victim of rape, the immoral danger of losing one's virginity or for just losing it anyway.
Having an intellectual disability ensured victims kept their mouth shut and made good slaves. Catholic Ireland then was truly an awful place, for I spent 10 years in the male counterpart of the Magdalene Laundries.
It is irrelevant to the victims what happened in other countries or who started them. What is only important here is what happened in this country. We need to know what took place in the Magdalene Laundries, otherwise we will have the church and Mr Quinn giving us their tarnished version.
RITE & REASON: The founder of the Legion of Mary, was at odds with the mores of his day with his attitude to industrial schools and unmarried mothers
VIRGINIA WOOLF observed that a painter could penetrate to the character of a person without the necessity of writing 300-400 pages. If I could paint, I asked myself, how would I paint Frank Duff?
Of all the images which I retain of him, that which made the deepest impression was of Duff, hand cupped behind one ear, listening, intent in conversation with a boy named John Mahon who had grown up in the Regina Coeli hostel, opened by Duff for homeless women and their children.
John had an abnormally large head as a result of hydrocephalus. The occasion was the funeral of a legionary who had worked full time as a volunteer in the Regina Coeli. Duff was intensely absorbed with John. It is an image I could not forget.
In the first week of the Regina Coeli’s existence in 1930, 15 women were admitted to the hostel. Soon after opening, a pregnant woman sought admission.
Her entry to the hostel, remaining there subsequently and keeping her child, led to the inauguration of the “Mater Dei” aspect of the hostel, a type of hostel within a hostel, specifically organised on the basis of units for mothers and children.
Thus began a revolutionary system for assisting lone mothers to keep their children.
Duff’s special regard for unmarried mothers was at odds with the mores of the time when the consequences of an extra-marital birth were disastrous, rendering both mother and child social outcasts.
Duff disapproved of the housing of unmarried mothers in a section known as the “Healthy Yard” in the South Dublin Union, describing the unmarried mothers who came to this place in large numbers as “many simple decent girls from the country”.
Nor was Duff an advocate of industrial schools where children could be sent as young as two years of age. In fact his was one of the few contemporaneous voices critical of industrial schools, as pointed out by Dr Eoin O’Sullivan of Trinity College Dublin in his evidence to the Commission on Child Abuse.
Duff also queried the role of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in the too-easy committal of children to the schools without sufficient effort to remedy family poverty.
Writing on the subject of industrial schools, Duff attributed difficulties encountered by the children when they left these schools as being due to “the absence of the children’s mothers during a period of life when such is necessary to the children”.
He referred to a nun whom he considered one of the best superiors of these schools but who had confided in him that “she does not believe in the schools, but only acquiesces in them as a necessary evil”. He cited the results that had flowed from the work in the Regina Coeli. “They live the ordinary life of the community; attend the ordinary schools and churches and move about in the city as they are brought up by their mothers.”
For Duff the love and care of children was based on respect for them. In a talk which he gave to parents of pupils in the Dominican school once located in Eccles Street in Dublin, he said “from the very moment of their birth treat your children as real people to whom respect is due as the primary and essential basis of association. Listen to their questions, encourage them, and take the trouble of replying adequately to them; this can be made the better half of their education.”
It would be interesting to guess how he might have responded to the observation of Karl Marx that he could forgive Christianity much because it first taught the worship of the child.
Dr Finola Kennedy is an economist, commentator, and author whose latest book Frank Duff: A Life (publishers, Continuum) will be launched by Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin at Blackrock College next Tuesday
A LEDGER for a Magdalene laundry in Dublin’s Drumcondra reveals that its regular customers included Áras an Uachtaráin, Government departments, Guinnesses, some of Dublin’s leading hotels and golf clubs, Clerys, the Gaiety theatre and Dr Steevens hospital in the city.
It was run by the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity who operated two in Dublin, one at High Park in Drumcondra and the other on Seán Mac Dermott Street, the last Magdalene laundry in Ireland which closed in 1996.
The ledger was found at the High Park laundry during the exhumation of Magdalene women’s remains there in 1993 when the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity sold off land to developers after losing money in an investment in Guinness Peat Aviation.
Permission was sought to exhume 133 bodies for cremation and interment in a mass grave in Glasnevin. In the exhumation process a further 22 bodies were found which the congregation could not account for.
The ledger, which covers October 20th 1980 to March 18th 1981, has since come into the hands of the Magdalene Survivors Together group, whose director Steven O’Riordan brought it to the attention of The Irish Times yesterday.
It discloses that, including those listed above, regular customers for the laundry, believed to be the one at High Park, included the Department of Justice, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Fisheries and CIÉ. Dublin hotels such as Buswells, the North Star, the Ormond, Skylon, the Sutton Castle, as well as Portmarnock and Clontarf Golf clubs. Included also are religious congregations in the city. Dublin airport, and the Bank of Ireland were also regular customers of the laundry.
An entry for Áras an Uachtaráin, dated March 2nd 1981, lists a bill of £10.84 while one for Guinnesses, dated March 23rd 1981, lists a bill of £10.89. The Department of Fisheries was billed £3.25 on March 16th 1981, while the Department of Agriculture was billed £6.92 on February 9th 1981. The Department of Justice was billed £20.28 on January 19th, 1981.
Some of the larger bills are for hotels with the Sutton Castle billed £88 on December 15th 1980 and Buswells £69, on the same date. Portmarnock Golf Club was billed £2.84 on December 2nd 1980 while that for Clontarf Golf Club on November 17th 1980 was £7.59. The Gaiety theatre was billed £4.65 on January 12th 1981.
THE HSE has provided € 87 million in the past five years to three of the four religious congregations that ran the Magdalene laundries between 1922 and 1996, according to Minister for Health Dr James O’Reilly.
He disclosed the figure in response to a question from Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin.
He found it “astonishing” and said it contrasted “sharply with the State’s treatment of the women imprisoned in these institutions, who received no pay for their years of work, are in receipt of no pension and were excluded from the Residential Institutions Redress Scheme”.
If the State could “pay € 20 million per year to the orders who ran the laundries, it can certainly give the women who survived them their due”, he said.
In 2006 the Sisters of Mercy, the Sisters of Charity and the Good Shepherd Sisters received a total of €5.8 million from the HSE for health services provided.
That rose to €19.6 million in 2007, to €20.09 million in 2008, €20.4 million in 2009, and was €19.68 million in 2010. Absent from the HSE list are the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, who also ran Magdalene laundries.
The Mater hospital in Dublin is run by the Sisters of Mercy while St Vincent’s is a Sisters of Charity hospital. The Sisters of Mercy are also key providers of education in the State with involvement in more than 60 pre-schools, primary schools and secondary schools.
They have associations with four community schools and long involvement with Mary Immaculate College in Limerick.
Following publication of the Ryan report in May 2009, each of the 18 congregations that ran residential institutions for children investigated by Ryan, including the four that also ran Magdalene laundries, agreed to contribute 50 per cent of the €1.36 billion cost to the State of redress for people who had been in the institutions as children.
To date the contribution of the congregations is € 476.51 million, leaving more than € 200 million to reach their € 680 million share.
Last April Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn indicated that the Government was to ask the congregations to hand over titles to property worth up to € 200 million, to make up the shortfall.
Two of the 18 congregations indicated they had no resources at all to contribute. They are the Rosminians and the Good Shepherd Sisters. The latter have received more than €14.4 million from the HSE since 2006.
The State and congregations agreed to set aside € 110 million for late applicants for redress, which could include Magdalene women.
THE DATA Protection Commissioner has refuted claims by Catholic bishops that an audit of the Church’s child protection practices is being impeded by laws restricting access to sensitive personal information.
All data protection issues affecting the independent audit of the Church’s child abuse reporting obligations were resolved a year-and-a-half ago, the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) said.
The comment came after a statement from the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference calling on the Government to "take the necessary measures" to deal with data protection issues so that the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church (NBSCCC) could fulfil its job.
Last May, the NBSCCC expressed frustration that until recently it had been prevented from carrying out its audit because of the Church’s concerns over data protection laws.
Last week, the bishops’ conference accepted progress had been slow and that they "shared the board’s frustration". They said the difficulties were due to the need to observe data protection legislation.
"Data protection difficulties are real," said the statement. "They are not fabricated or invented to prevent progress."
The bishops went on to say lawyers for the NBSCCC had identified in 2007 that the law of data protection would pose problems. The statement added: "Three years later, in 2010, the board engaged with the Data Commissioner to deal with these issues."
The statement cited the DPC’s annual report, also published last May, which referred to "complex data protection issues" that had to be addressed when processing personal data by a large number of separate, constituent organisations with the Church.
The bishops added: "To address the complex data protection issues that exist, bishops ask Government to take the necessary measures so that the National Board can fulfil its full remit in terms of receiving and sharing information with Church bodies, as it was established to do in the first place."
In response, a spokesman for the DPC said all data protection issues had been resolved by February 2010.
"This office, as outlined in our annual report for 2010, engaged extensively with the Church authorities and the National Board to assist them in addressing the data protection issues which they identified," said the spokesman.
"As far as this office is aware those issues were fully addressed to the satisfaction of all parties and that there are no obstacles to the Board having full access to all relevant personal data for the purpose of comprehensive audits of the Church bodies concerned."
Part of the issues related to the fact that the Catholic Church in Ireland is not one legal body, but an organisation with 164 separate, legal entities, comprising dioceses (some cross-border) and religious orders.
A spokesman for the NBSCC declined to comment on the bishops’ statement, other than to indicate that their audit was "proceeding well".
We have all read accounts of offences by paedophile priests and asked ourselves 'how could it happen?' and 'how could they get away with it?' But believe me, the whole story takes on a different perspective when the scandal occurs close to home, and you know the alleged perpetuator.
Father Kit Cunningham, who died last December in Dublin, was one of my oldest friends. He was an adorable man; great fun; a little too fond of the vino, perhaps; and, on occasions, a benign flirt with the ladies -- he had that unmistakeable glint in his eye of a man who likes women.
He was a terrific pastor of London's oldest continuous Catholic church, St Etheldreda's in Ely Place, near Fleet Street, and, perhaps in consequence to its proximity to newspaper life, became unofficial chaplain to the print media. I can hardly think of anyone who didn't like Kit.
Above all, Kit was kind. If St Etheldreda's was a hub for historians -- Henry VIII gave the last supper there for his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and Kit still had the menu -- as rector, Kit never overlooked the down-and-outs who often came to the door for help. He set up a special cafeteria to feed the needy.
He was also on ecumenically good terms with the local rabbi, who ministered to a congregation in Hatton Garden, and they'd share transport when doing chaplain duties together at Wormwood Scrubs prison.
And now this merry, kindly, gregarious and intelligent priest, a member of the Rosminian Order, is accused of having sexually abused boys in Tanzania in the 1970s.
An account of this abuse, accompanied by a statement signed by Kit before he died, will be broadcast by BBC 1 tomorrow night called 'Abused: Breaking the Silence'.
I have not seen the documentary so I will not judge it in advance. But according to written accounts, Kit is described as a "predatory paedophile" who abused young boys. One former victim has said that Kit was "a monster"; another has said that he has been "twisted forever" by the experience. The abuse allegedly took place at St Michael's school, in Soni, Tanzania.
One victim, John Poppleton, now 53, claims he was told to lower his pyjamas so that Cunningham could fondle him. "He then pulled his pyjamas down, laid on his bed and made me (perform a sex act)." According to Mr Poppleton, who now lives in America, this happened several times.
Another victim, Rory Johnston, now 63, alleges that "pain, fear, assault, punctuated by caresses" is his experience of Kit. In 2009, the victims got together via the internet and sent their testimony to Fr David Myers, the provincial of the Rosminian Order in Britain. Kit, by now in retirement and in declining health, apparently acknowledged his guilt and asked the victims for forgiveness.
Kit had been awarded an MBE for his services to the community, and was persuaded by a friend in Dublin -- he had retired to Ireland by then -- to return it as a gesture of penitence. Not all his friends agreed that this gesture was wise: there is a difference between moral penitence and legal liability, which the return of the MBE implies.
Not surprisingly, the Rosminian Order is now being sued for compensation, and for "covering up" the assaults.
We wonder why clerical abuse was "covered up", as well as how it could have occurred. Now I know the answer. Because, at first, you just cannot believe it. It seems so utterly uncharacteristic of the guy you knew. Kit had, for the last 30 years of his life, a woman companion, Jenny Floyd, who died in 2006. Whether the relationship was sexual or not, it was certainly loving. Jenny told me how much she loved Kit, and how she would do anything for him. I regretted they couldn't marry.
Then, he was always so kind to all our children: to Jenny's children, he was like a genuine father. My sons and my niece had enormous respect and affection for Kit -- and they knew him from childhood.
You just cannot put together the man you have known and the "monster". Kit's friends are dazed and apprehensive about the programme -- and are also asking themselves: how could this possible be true?
But in putting such questions, are we simply going into denial? Is this how the "cover-up" works? Maybe so. Yet when a paedophile charge comes close to your own life, that is how you do react. You can't believe it. You are devastated by the disclosure.
OPINION: Damning information on State’s links to the laundries pops up in surprising places
Last week, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter became the first representative of the State to recognise officially that Irish society may have a duty to the thousands of women (most of them no longer with us) who toiled behind the locked doors of the Magdalene laundries.
However, his new committee of civil servants examining the State’s connections with laundries will need to deploy formidable skills in lateral thinking.
Official information on these institutions can be tricky to find, and may pop up in unexpected places. For instance, a search in military records might be instructive.
In the early 1940s, for example, it appeared that some State bodies, most particularly the Army, were transferring their laundry contracts from commercial laundries to what were euphemistically called “institutional laundries”. These of course were the large Magdalene operations, centred in Dublin, Cork, Waterford, Limerick, Galway and New Ross.
In 1941, minister for defence Oscar Traynor claimed in the Dáil that the contracts with Magdalene laundries “contain a fair wages clause”. This is a startling statement, as we know now (and indeed it would have been known at the time) that the women penitents locked up in these laundries did not receive wages for their work.
The matter had arisen in the Dáil at a time of concern that workers in commercial laundries were losing their jobs directly as a result of State contracts going to the nuns running the Magdalene laundries. The latter could outbid anyone, given their non-existent labour costs.
According to Mary Jones’s history of the Irish Women Workers’ Union, These Obstreperous Lassies , at least one laundry was forced to close in 1941 with the loss of 25 jobs. It had just lost an Army contract to the Sisters of Charity Magdalene laundry in Donnybrook.
The union wrote to the nuns running the laundries, begging them not to put workers out of a job by underbidding for State contracts. Their pleas fell on deaf ears.
This was the background to Traynor’s extraordinary statement.
There is, though, something perplexing about it. The full sentence in the Dáil record reads as follows: “As, however, these contracts contain a fair wages clause, I am having the matter reconsidered and will communicate further with the deputy as soon as practicable.”
No further communication can be found, and the mystery of why Traynor should have felt it necessary to reconsider the contracts going to Magdalene laundries remains unsolved. It is, however, undeniable that the State was perfectly content to save itself a few bob by using the cheaper Magdalene laundries – cheaper of course because of the slave labour of their inmates.
Shatter’s committee should also search the records of the Department of Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation – incorporating the old department of industry and commerce. A focus on files from the 1950s and 1960s on foot of the Factories Act 1955 would be productive. This specified detailed health and safety regulations for a range of establishments, among which the Magdalene laundries are clearly included.
What makes this so important is the requirement for all commercial operations covered by the Act to keep registers of their workers, especially listing all women and young people with their ages and specific occupations.
Further, they were obliged to send these details to the department regularly.
Consequently, the department’s inspectors had a legal duty to ensure that the names of all Magdalene workers were recorded in these registers and lodged with the State. Given that one of the rigorously applied rules of Magdalene laundries was that the names of all inmates were changed on entry, it would be interesting to see just how these laundries registered their workers. In the eventuality that no such details are discovered in departmental archives, the question then arises of State negligence in ensuring compliance with the law.
The Factories Act 1955 certainly gives the lie to former minister for education Batt O’Keeffe when he claimed that the State had no duty to inspect or regulate Magdalene laundries.
While the State did not fund these institutions, it is unarguable that the legal duty to inspect and regulate them as factories did exist.
Section 84 of the Act was headed “Institutions”, and clearly laid out that all such entities were covered by the legislation once “any manual labour is exercised in or incidental to the making, altering, repairing, ornamenting, finishing, washing, cleaning, or adapting for sale, of articles not intended for the use of the institution”.
Speaking in the Dáil in May 1955, the then minister for industry and commerce William Norton stated that “once you wash clothes in the institution, not for the institution, then that is a factory. In other words, you have a right to wash clothes for the institution, but if you start to wash other people’s clothes it is a factory, for the purpose of section 84.” The Justice for Magdalenes group has highlighted other connections between the State and the laundries, particularly in the way they were used for women on probation and remand, and indeed for children (up to 70 in 1970) transferred directly from the industrial schools.
However, there are also other factors to be considered by Government when deliberating on the issue of an apology to and redress for the survivors of the laundries. Any wider examination of the social dynamics surrounding these institutions will show many women were put in by their families who refused to take them back. Many others used them as a threat to keep young women under control.
Society now clearly recognises that what happened to the victims of this system was wrong. The only way this can be formally expressed is through a State apology. Any Government with the courage to act on this will receive nothing but praise.
SOME OF those born in the Protestant-run Bethany mother and baby home in Dublin have given the Government a three-month deadline to include them in a State redress scheme before they initiate legal proceedings.
They are hoping to get an indication from Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn tomorrow as to whether or not they qualify for compensation. They were given fresh hope when the department confirmed that it was “considering their request” following a meeting with them last month.
Based in Rathgar, the mother and baby home to which some women were referred by the courts closed in 1972. It came to public attention last year when 219 unmarked graves of children born there were discovered in Mount Jerome Cemetery.
Derek Leinster, who was born at Bethany in 1941 and who has been campaigning for compensation for the past 14 years, said he would not tolerate any more stalling by the Government as time was running out. The Government previously told him and others they failed to qualify for redress because admission to Bethany was on a voluntary basis and the State had no role with the institution.
Mr Leinster, who is based in Rugby, Warwickshire, rejects this and insists he has found all the evidence needed to prove those born at the Bethany Home were legally entitled to be included on the Residential Institutions Redress Board list. The board was set up in 2002 to compensate those who suffered abuse in residential institutions for children for which the State had responsibility.
During his first meeting with Mr Quinn last month, at which he gave the Minister a deadline of tomorrow to come back with answers, Mr Leinster urged the Minister to review evidence supplied to his predecessors of a cover-up of death and serious illness at Bethany, while insisting that children there were subjected to the same level of neglect and abuse as peers in Catholic-run institutions.
“Because we’re Protestant and because we are a minority, we have been ignored up to now,” he said. He thought that maybe a dozen of those born at Bethany would qualify for compensation, which he said would be a pittance compared to the €1.2 billion paid out to Catholic survivors.
“We need to move on and be treated as equally as Catholics. The children of the nation were abused equally,” he said.
Survivors of five Protestant residential homes for children have been compensated by the State.
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