The Magdalene Survivors Together group has asked the United Nations to hold a one-day forum in which women who lived and worked in the laundries can tell their stories of alleged abuse in public for the first time.
The move is aimed at putting pressure on the Government to amend the terms of its compensation package, which was announced last week.
The group made the request on Friday, when it contacted the office of the chairman of the United Nations Committee against Torture (UNCAT), Felice Gaer.
Speaking to RTÉ, Steven O'Riordan of the Magdalene Survivors Together said that the group believed that the compensation on offer did not meet the women's demands for recognition of the alleged abuse and suffering which they claim to have endured in the laundries.
UNCAT chairman Felice Gaer told RTÉ that the committee has the facility to take evidence ahead of its next scheduled meeting in November when it would discuss Ireland's response to the Magdalene Laundries issue.
However, Sally Mulready, a councillor in London who works with Magdalene survivors in the UK and who is also a member of the Council of State, told RTÉ that she believed many of the women wished to accept the settlement on offer and to "get on with their lives".
She said it would be up to the women themselves if they wished to engage with the UN but she had never come across any of the women who expressed a desire to do so as a means of advancing the Magdalenes issue.
She expressed concern that if UNCAT agreed to hold this one-day forum it could cause anxiety and stress among the women who might believe that this would delay the process further, she said.
The Government last week published in full the recommendations of Mr Justice John Quirke, who was tasked with proposing an ex-gratia scheme and other supports to assist the women.
Around 600 women will be eligible to avail of lump sum payments of up to €100,000 based on the length of time they spent in the laundries.
Other supports include medical cards and other social welfare assistance.
Mr Justice Quirke declined to comment when contacted.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter last week said that by accepting the recommendations contained in Judge Quirke's report, the Government had "not only acknowledged the painful past experiences of the Magdalene women but are taking steps to address, in very real and practical ways, their present and future needs".
At last. It has taken so long to get this far and mainly due to State resistance. But people should not get carried away. There can be no doubt the lump sum to be awarded to the Magdalene survivors will be very welcome.
But probably the most welcome recommendation of all from Justice John Quirke is the ongoing care promised to the women by the State through pensions and medical cover.
Over time, it will be far more valuable to them than that lump sum. It will still be there when the lump sum is gone.
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The experiences of those who have received lump sums from the Residential Institutions Redress Board underscores this. The average payment there to date has been €62,860, with the largest award being €300,500.
By December 21st of last year, the Redress Board had dealt with 15,397 people who had been in orphanages, reformatories and/or industrial schools as children and, to date, its awards have cost the State an estimated €1.5 billion.
It may not seem so, but that was a good deal from the State’s perspective. It has no further responsibility for the care of those surviving men and women.
Meanwhile, the award of sizeable lump sums has been disastrous for some former residents of the orphanages, reformatories and/or industrial schools. It added to addiction problems while others accumulated attentive relatives and new friends until the money ran out.
But, it also must be said, it has helped to transform the lives of many in a positive way.
However Justice John Quirke and his committee have learned from the Redress Board experience.
Wisely, his emphasis has been on the ongoing care of women who had been in the laundries. It may also have been easier for his committee to make such a recommendation as such care for a projected 700 plus women will cost far less than it would ever have for those 15, 397 people who had been in residential institutions as children.
Justice Quirke’s decision that each woman’s circumstances will be individually addressed is also the fairest way of approaching things. But it may be hampered by lack of records where some of the 10 launderies are concerned. Two of them had no records.
And, while it is expected the State will not be mean-spirited in dealing with the women, it is unlikely to be foolish either.
For instance, it is known that some few women have
exaggerated the length of their stay in a laundry. But, in general, this is a non-issue.
It has also to be remembered that lump sums to be awarded the women will be calculated on the time spent in the launderies. This means the amounts will not be huge for the majority.
The cost of continuing to run the Alliance Support Website is proving too much lately. With meetings in Liverpool and Birmingham in May and with meetings in London on Wednesday we simply cannot continue to support all of this activity without financial assistance.
The Committee will meet in Dublin on Saturday 13th July for a formal decision. Until then we will continue as before. Again, thanks to those of you who accommodated me at these meetings and those of you who helped in many other ways.
The Government has thrown down the gauntlet to the four religious orders that ran the Magdalene Laundries, saying it expects them to contribute money towards the redress scheme — as two groups said they would not pay.
By Conall Ó Fátharta
Irish Examiner Reporter
Justice Minister Alan Shatter told the Dáil the Government, survivors of the laundries and the wider public “expect” those who ran the institutions to pay to compensate the women who suffered in their care. Mr Shatter’s challenge comes as two of the orders have told the Government they will not be contributing any money towards the Quirke redress scheme, expected to cost between €34m and €58m.
The Irish Examiner understands from sources that both the Sisters of Mercy and the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge told the Government in advance of the Quirke Report being published on Wednesday, they would not be contributing money to the compensation fund.
The report recommended the women be paid compensation ranging from €11,500 to a maximum of €100,000 depending on the duration spent in a Magdalene Laundry.
None of the orders made any comment on whether or not they would contribute to the scheme. The Sisters of Mercy, the Good Shepherd Sisters, and the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge did say they would continue to look after the women who worked in the laundries and are still in their care — just not financially.
Last year, the Irish Examiner reported that the four orders who ran the Magdalene Laundries made almost €300m in property deals during the boom.
The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge received €55m from just one sale of land in the High Park campus, Dublin, in 2006.
The Sisters of Charity made €63m in sell-offs during the boom, of which €45m came from the 2001 deal for land around its former laundry in Donnybrook, Dublin. Last year, the order, which amassed a €233m property portfolio, said it could not afford to release €3m it promised to put into a trust fund for the victims of institutional child abuse.
The Sisters of Mercy has sold €165m worth of property between 1999 and 2009.
The Good Shepherd Sisters, which ran laundries in Limerick, Cork, Waterford, and New Ross, made €3.4m by selling some of its sites and houses between 1999 and 2009. Two of these were near its old laundry in Limerick City.
After decades of being ignored, survivors of the Magdalene Laundries have finally been offered a compensation scheme by the State for their years of slave labour.
By Conall Ó Fátharta
Irish Examiner Reporter
Along with a raft of medical and pension entitlements, the scheme prepared by president of the Law Reform Commission Justice John Quirke recommends survivors receive a sliding scale of payments depending on how long they spent in the institution.
The payments will range from €11,500 for women who spent three months or less in a laundry, to a maximum of €100,000 for those who were in a laundry for 10 years or more.
Justice For Magdalenes Research and the Irish Women Survivors Network based in Britain broadly welcomed the proposals, as did Bernadette Fahy who works with and provides support and assistance to a number of Magdalene survivors.
However, Magdalene Survivors Together was deeply critical of the proposals.
The group want all of the women to receive a basic payment of €50,000, with extra compensation for the work they carried out.
Following publication of the report of the Inter Departmental Committee to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen Laundries the Government asked retired High Court Judge and President of the Law Reform Commission, Mr Justice John Quirke to undertake a three month review and, taking into account the findings of the report to make recommendations as to the criteria that should be applied in assessing the help that the Government can provide in the areas of payments and other supports to the women who were admitted to and worked in a Magdalen Laundry and in the laundries operated in the Training Centre at Stanhope Street, Dublin and the House of Mercy Training School, Summerhill, Wexford. Mr Justice Quirke forwarded his report to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence on 30 May, 2013. It was considered by Government and was published on 26 June, 2013.
Survivors of Catholic-run workhouses have threatened to take the Government to the United Nations watchdog on torture over plans to pay some of them as little as €11,500 for their detention.
Women detained in Magdalene laundries slammed an offer and criticised the religious orders for not doubling the multi-million compensation package being put forward by the State.
Magdalene Survivors Together warned government to go back to the drawing board and take account of the emotional, psychological and physical damage they suffered, as well as loss of earnings for slave labour.
Maureen Sullivan, the youngest known survivor admitted to one of the laundries, claimed the figures "were totted up all wrong".
"They need to go back to the drawing board," said Ms Sullivan, who ended up sleeping on the streets in England after she left the laundry in New Ross.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter earlier revealed details of the redress scheme, as recommended by retired High Court judge John Quirke.
"Today is about justice," he said.
"Crucially, payment of these sums of money is not dependent on proof of any hardship, injury or abuse."
Any woman who spent three months or less in a laundry or workhouse will receive a lump sum payment of €11,500, and those who spent a year in a laundry will be paid €20,500.
The figure increases to €68,500 to women who were incarcerated for five years and will be capped at €100,000 for women who were in a Magdalene laundry for 10 years or more.
A one off payment of up to €50,000 will be made, with an annual payment calculated from the remaining sum, which would be paid weekly.
But Steven O'Riordan, director of the survivors group, said all those detained deserve a basic payment of €50,000 for the emotional and psychological damage suffered, plus loss of earnings, all to be paid in one lump sum.
"There are more women after coming forward, there are more women out there, and it would appear the more women we meet the worst the stories get. So I think the women have an extremely strong case in terms of breached of human rights, constitutional rights and certainly we will be looking at the slave labour aspect.
"A lot of the women were aged between 12 and 16 and were denied a right to education, freedom of movement and liberty."
Ms Sullivan, 60, said she and others were forced to work from morning till night, washing floors from 7.30am, based in a laundry throughout the day, and then making rosary beads at night.
"I think Taoiseach Enda Kenny forgot about his 'dawn of the day to the dark of night' comment as he cried during his apology to us," she added.
The minister said the cost to the state for the redress scheme could be in the region of €34.5 to €58 million.
Mr Shatter has met the four religious congregations which ran the laundries and told them they are expected to contribute to the compensation, but would not put a figure on how much they are expected to pay.
"There will be great disappointment within Cabinet if the congregations fail to make a contribution," he said.
The orders - the Religious Sisters of Charity, Sisters of Mercy, Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge and Good Shepherd Sisters - all stated they were committed to providing available records and information to any of its past residents and were willing to meet any of the women.
The minister also said the Government has accepted all Judge Quirke's recommendations, which includes a memorial park dedicated to the Magdalene women.
Other recommendations made by Judge Quirke include:
:: Magdalene women will be granted free access to services - including GP, hospital care, drugs and dental counselling - by way of an enhanced medical card.
:: All Magdalene women who have reached pensionable age will have income equivalent to the state contributory pension.
:: Those who have not reached pensionable age will have income of €100 per week.
:: All cash payments will be exempt from income tax and other taxes and will not be taken into account in means testing for social welfare or other benefits.
:: A dedicated unit will be created to provide advice and support, assistance in meeting with religious congregations and social opportunities to meet other such women.
Redress applies to women put into Magdalene laundries, as well as St Mary's training centre on Stanhope Street and the House of Mercy training school, Summerhill, Co Wexford, which were added to the list.
Diane Croghan, who was held in Summerhill for three years from the age of 10, said she was happy people finally believed her story.
"It was traumatising in there. The nuns were very cruel," said the pensioner.
"Nothing will ever compensate really for what we went through. Even afterwards my life was turned upside down.
"I had to work for little or nothing and worked where I was sure I was going to be fed.
"It did change my life. Being in a place like that made me a different person."
AN APOLOGY AND redress scheme for people who had been child residents of the Bethany Home in Dublin could be announced within the next few weeks.
Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald TD welcomed the Taoiseach’s commitment this evening, saying that he said consideration of a redress scheme, access to personal records, a memorial and an apology for Bethany Home survivors will be concluded within the next two to three weeks.
The Dublin Central TD said:
There is a wealth of evidence in the public domain documenting state involvement in Bethany Home. Survivors’ were excluded from the Residential Institutions Redress Scheme on the basis that it was a Mother and Baby Home, which was clearly not the case.
She said that survivor testimony and records show that children spent long periods of time in the home and were often brought back after temporary foster care arrangements ended. “Horrific abuse and neglect is also well documented,” said McDonald.
State inspections of Bethany under the Registration of Maternity Homes Act record the neglect of children in the home. In addition, over 200 children from Bethany who died in the institution between 1922 and 1949 are buried in unmarked graves in Mount Jerome Cemetery.
Derek Leinster of the Bethany Survivors Group told TheJournal.ie that it is “great news and it’s the most constructive news that we’ve had for a very long time”.
However he said that they have “been up the top of the hill and marched down again a few times over the last 15 years, so we’ve got to keep our feet on the ground”.
He said it was “absolutely breathtaking” and it is a day the survivors have worked hard for: “We hoped we would get there but obviously could never be sure”.
I hope that he will treat us no differently than he has treated the other people who have qualified under the redress bill. We don’t want a penny more and we don’t want a penny less.
The Minister for Justice will conclude his consideration of redress for survivors of Bethany Home soon, and McDonald said that “it is time now for the Government to acknowledge the failure of the State in its duty and in turn to provide these elderly men and women the redress and apology they have waited so long for”.
She noted that for over two years now the Justice Minister has been considering the growing call for an apology and redress for the men and women who survived Bethany Home.
In opposition both Fine Gael and Labour criticised Fianna Fáil-led Governments for excluding Bethany from the Residential Institutions Redress Scheme acknowledging the evidence of state involvement in the home.
A former priest who pleaded guilty to abusing two altar boys over 20 years ago yesterday spoke of the shame of being among the most despised people in Irish society as he apologised to his victims for what he had done to them.
Patrick Crowley (62), a former priest of the diocese of Cork and Ross who was laicised in 2002, said it pained him to listen to the effect of his abuse on his victims.
Crowley took the stand at Cork Circuit Criminal Court yesterday to apologise after pleading guilty to three counts of sexually assaulting one boy and six counts of sexually assaulting the other boy on various dates between September 1st, 1989, and May 31st, 1990.
“As a convicted paedophile I live with the reality that every day of my life I am among probably the most despised people in society. It is very hard to forget what I have done. I cannot pretend I did not know what I was doing was wrong,” said Crowley.
“But until the whole scandal of sexual abuse broke in the church, I did not appreciate the long-term emotional consequences of the abuse.
“That is something I have to live with. I realise the terrible scourge sexual abuse was and the terrible effects it had on people’s lives.
“I wish I could change the past but I can’t.
“I want to acknowledge it was a terrible betrayal of trust on my part.
“It was criminal behaviour and there is no hiding from that. I have to live with that but I am so so sorry for the damage and hurt that I caused to the victims.”
Det Garda Donal O’Connell said both complainants were abused while serving as altar boys in a parish where Crowley was a curate.
One was aged 10 and the other was aged 11 and both were abused in the same manner when each was alone with Crowley, the court heard.
Crowley would send the boy to a local shop to get a paper after Mass and when he returned all the other altar boys would be gone and Crowley would engage the child in horseplay in the sacristy during which he would put his hand down the boy’s trousers and fondle his private parts.
“One of the injured parties wrote a letter to the Cork diocese in 1999. A number of years later, that letter was passed on to the gardaí when inquiries were ongoing into clerical sexual abuse in Cork and Ross diocese,” said Det Garda O’Connell.
A second injured party went to his local Garda station several times to make a complaint against Patrick Crowley but he lost courage to follow through and left without making the complaint until 2011 when he finally went to gardaí.
Det Garda O’Connell read out victim impact statements on behalf of both men in which they spoke of living with the secret and shame of the abuse even though they were innocent children who had been preyed on by Crowley and had done nothing wrong.
Defence barrister John Devlin said Crowley had served an eight-month sentence in 2003 for similar offences from the same period and he had undergone counselling and had done a lot of voluntary work with Sr Consilio Fitzgerald of the Sisters of Mercy.
Judge Patrick Moran said Crowley appeared to appreciate the impact of his abuse and it was to his credit that he had spared his victims a trial by pleading guilty to the abuse, but it was clear both men had suffered as a result of the abuse and he jailed him for 12 months.
BETHANY HOME SURVIVORS are appealing to the Taoiseach not to treat them differently in their fight for redress and an apology for how they were treated as children.
Derek Leinster, the chair of the Bethany Survivors Group, has written to Enda Kenny about the way he and his colleagues refer to the home, and asking that the State “acknowledges that it shirked its responsibility to care for children in Bethany in the past”.
The group’s members are calling for redress and an apology for their treatment in the home, saying they suffered physical and mental injuries while in the care of Bethany.
Mothers were sent to the Protestant Bethany Home while pregnant and their children were sent on from the home to Protestant families. Many of these children died from infectious diseases while in Bethany’s care, while others, such as Leinster, were left with lifelong health problems.
The letter, which is reprinted in full below, asks that the Taoiseach and ministers not refer to the home as a ‘mother and baby home’.
As well as an apology and redress, the survivors wish for a memorial to be built at Mount Jerome Cemetery, where the bodies of children from the home were found in unmarked graves.
The letter, which was also sent on to different Government departments, reads:
We wish to draw your attention to the inaccurate description used to define the Bethany Home, Dublin, when it is referred to as a ‘mother and baby home’ by yourself and some of your ministerial colleagues.
Ministers for Education, Health and Justice, have historically and continually, deliberately misrepresented the true function of the Bethany by claiming that it was primarily a mother and baby home. However, children who were born in Bethany stayed there; they did not leave the home with their mothers.
While one of its roles was that of maternity, Bethany was much more than simply a mother and baby home. It was very much a children’s home, which not only kept (from birth) children up to the age of four years & more , it also admitted children from institutions all over Ireland. When mothers gave birth in the Bethany, they deserted, and left their children in the care of the State. We note that Section 44 of the Public Assistance Act, 1939, stipulates:
(1) This section applies to a legitimate child both of whose parents are dead or who is deserted by both of its parents or (where one of its parents is dead) by its surviving parent, and to an illegitimate child whose mother is dead or who is deserted by its mother.
(2) Every public assistance authority shall have, in relation to every child to whom this section applies who has not attained the age of sixteen years and is maintained by such authority, all the rights and powers of the parents of such child.
The Bethany Survivors Group holds a great deal of documentary evidence which demonstrates that public assistance authorities funded the upkeep of children in Bethany. In addition, the same authorities were aware that children in Bethany were suffering the most appalling treatment, and, that right up to the level of the Minister for Local Government, the State knew that hundreds of children were dying, due to the dreadful conditions which prevailed in Bethany.
This evidence has been furnished with ministers, and it is imperative that in the interests of justice, that the State now acknowledges that it shirked its responsibility to care for children in Bethany in the past. Former residents of Bethany still carry the physical and mental wounds and injuries, due to the State not exercising its legal right, responsibility, powers and duty to protect them, when they were children, resident in Bethany.
Over the past number of years, the State has confronted its past failings in relation to various other institutions; please do not treat us differently.
A commission of inquiry into State involvement in the Magdalene Laundries should still be established by the Government because the focus of the McAleese report was too narrow, a leading human rights group has claimed.
By Claire O'Sullivan
Irish Examiner Reporter
This is the second such call for a statutory inquiry in recent weeks after the UN Committee Against Torture also warned the Government that the report did not meet its satisfaction.
However, the Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) has said it does not want any such statutory inquiry, which would be similar to the Murphy or Ryan report, “to hold up” a redress scheme for the Magdalene women.
Mr Justice John Quirke is expected to announce his proposals on redress in the coming weeks.
“Redress should be immediate,” said Siobhán Mullally, IHRC’s commissioner, and a statutory inquiry could follow afterwards.
Prof Mullally said that “any such process should be established in consultation with survivors” and this view was echoed by the Justice for Magdalenes research advocacy group.
However, Steven O’Riordan of Magdalene Survivors Together said he did not believe a statutory inquiry “would be beneficial” as the members of his group, aged 60-97, believed “that everything that needs to be articulated has been articulated already”.
He would like to see the redress scheme rolled out by the end of August.
While welcoming the contribution of the McAl-eese report, the IHRC said it fell short of “drawing any conclusions on the human rights of girls and women placed in the laundries”. The report published yesterday sought to fill this gap.
The IHRC is seeking a “comprehensive redress scheme” that provides individual compensation to each woman based on the individual human rights contraventions they experienced.
This analysis of the McAleese report found women in the laundries lost their rights to equality, liberty, a private life, education, and to be free from forced or compulsory labour or servitude.
“The extent of such violations and their ongoing impact needs to be factored into the determination of individual compensation and ongoing supports,” said Prof Mullally.
She also highlighted how the State availed of and benefited from forced or compulsory labour at the laundries, “when it entered into commercial contracts with the laundries on the basis of being the cheapest, but the crucial factor here was the workers were unpaid”.
Last night the Department of Justice said the IHRC report raised a “wide range of issues affecting a number of government departments and requires consideration before any comment can be made”.
Earlier this year in his report, Martin McAleese, showed that 10,000 women and girls entered Magdalene Laundries between 1922 and the mid-1990s.
It found that the State was directly involved in the running of the laundries, with just over one quarter of referrals made by or facilitated by the State.
It also said comprehensive compensation was needed for survivors of Magdalene laundries including unpaid wages and pensions and rehab for forced labour, a watchdog has claimed.
In its Follow-up Report on State Involvement with Magdalen Laundries, published today (Tuesday), the IHRC found “the State failed in its obligations to protect the human rights of girls and women in the laundries.”
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It called for “a comprehensive redress scheme that provides individual compensation, restitution and rehabilitation for the women in accordance with the State’s human rights obligations.”
This followed its review of the facts set out in the report of the Interdepartmental Committee chaired by Senator Martin McAleese, presented to Government last February and, after it revisited its own 2010 report “in light of information now available”.
It concluded: “Girls and women placed in the Magdalene laundries did not have their human rights fully respected in relation to equality, liberty, respect for private lives, education, and to be free from forced or compulsory labour or servitude.”
Des Hogan, acting chief executive of the IHRC told the media today that the mandate of the McAleese Committee was fact-finding only. “It had no remit to consider the human rights law or indeed any legal implications of the placement of girls and women in the laundries by the State and other actors”, he said. “Our report takes the facts established in the McAleese report and filters them through the prism of the human rights obligations ofthe State,” he said.
He noted “the duty of the State to vindicate the rights of its citizens under the Constitution and under international human rights law. Our report today focuses on this duty.”
Sinéad Lucey, senior enquiry and legal officer with the IHRC, emphasised that it was “not an investigative report. It is a human rights analysis drawning from all the information at our disposal, including the additional information which has come to light through the McAleese report.”
The McAleese report considered “only the actual acts of State engagement with the laundries”, while the IHRC reflected on “the wider issue of State responsibility.” This included its “actual engagement” with the laundries through, for example, commercial contracts for laundry services, its use of laundries as State remand or social care facilities, and whether it exercised “due diligence” over what went on in the laundries where compulsory or forced labour was concerned,for instance.
IHRC commissioner Prof Siobhán Mullally said they were calling “for a comprehensive redress scheme that provides individual compensation for the impact of the human rights violations which occurred to each individual woman who resided in the laundries.”
What was clear “is that the issue of remedies is not a case of one size fits all,” she said.
“The laundries were commercial enterprises that operated on a low cost basis to provide services to the public and indeed the State,” she said. “I’m sure it is a shock for all of us to learn that the State benefitted from services that were based o n forced or compulsory labour in the past.”
Formally launching the report, acting chair of the IHRC Mark Kelly also called for “the formal appointment of a Chief Commissioner designate and the completion of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Bill. ”
The IHRC issued other recommendations which included:
- Restitution and rehab for survivors including housing, health and welfare, education and assistance to deal with psychological effects.
- The State should scrutinise its interactions with other parties to ensure regulatory and oversight functions are robust enough to prevent human rights breaches.
- Independent and prompt investigations into all credible allegations of abuse.
- Immediate introduction of compulsory inspections of residential centres for people with disabilities by the Health Information and Quality Authority.
- Reform laws to ensure a rigorous system of accountability and oversight in relation to the granting of licenses for exhumations and cremations.
Kathleen Whelan was one of about a dozen former Magdalene laundry survivors who travelled to Cork’s City Hall to meet the Lord Mayor as he signed a book of apologies for the women.
At 17 years of age, Kathleen was sent to the Good Shepherd laundry in New Ross, where she spent eight years washing and ironing clothes without pay.
In 1968, when the New Ross laundry closed, the 25-year-old moved, with the nuns, to the Clifton convalescent home in Montenotte — run by the Good Shepherds.
Nearly 50 years later, she still remains in the care of the nuns. “Clifton was a totally different set up. We get paid for our work and everything,” she said. “That was because the health board had a part of it.”
Eventually she had to stop working. “My back and hips were at me. I wasn’t any good any more.”
Along with fellow Magdalene survivor, Miriam Malone, Kathleen is now resident at the Baile an Aoire units established for homeless women by the Good Shepherd nuns in Montenotte in Cork. She attends meetings of the Magdalene Survivors Together group and was overjoyed when the people of Kilkenny opened up a book of apologies for the former laundry women. The book is now due to travel to all counties where there was a Magdalene laundry.
“Our lives were robbed. There’s no doubt about that. Times were bad back then and we had to work hard but we weren’t abused, I can’t say that,” she says.
“The nuns have nothing much to do with us now though.”
Of the 118 women who spoke to the McAleese committee, 58 are still in the care of the religious orders. Many critics of the McAleese report believe it was these, very often institutionalised women, who said physical abuse did not take place at the laundries. The Ryan report told a different story.
While the McAleese report has been roundly praised by the Government, the UN Committee Against Torture (UNCAT) is not happy with its contents. It said in a letter to Irish UN representative Gerard Corr that the probe was not independent and failed to adequately examine allegations of physical abuse, forced labour, and arbitrary detention. Felice Gaer of UNCAT called on the Government to ensure “that there is a full enquiry into all complaints of abuse”.
Miriam and many of the Magdalene survivors are wary of criticising the McAleese report as it brought about the apology which, in the words of fellow survivor Maureen Sullivan, “eventually acknowledged the wrongdoing by Church and State”. Many of them just want to see the Quirke redress scheme put in place quickly.
However, there is a growing body of activists refusing to accept the McAleese report as the official narrative of the laundries. Justice for Magdalenes, the group with brought the issue to UNCAT two years ago, raised concerns shortly after the report was published.
Tomorrow, the Irish Human Rights Commission, which called for a statutory inquiry into the laundries three years ago, will publish its follow-up report on the McAleese report.
It, too, is expected to find the interdepartmental report wanting.
Taoiseach warned on survivor redress scheme
The Magdalene survivor advocacy group which brought the plight of the women to the United Nations warned the Taoiseach it is not good enough to provide survivors with a “second rate” redress scheme.
Accepting a justice award from Labour Youth, Justice for Magdalene’s Claire McGettrick said recent reports that the women may have to face the religious orders at a reconciliation forum caused “terror” among survivors.
“I have to wonder, in the words of An Taoiseach on Feb 19, if we as a nation have once again ‘put away our conscience’? Survivors have had their trust irreparably broken and yet they trust too easily and submit to authority, often to unscrupulous individuals… Their selfless nature makes them easy prey.
“There are some who would have the women accept a token gesture, just enough to make them go quietly into their final days. A nice easy solution, taken care of behind closed doors — or in plain sight, in a deal ‘done by media’,” she said.
Calling for a State-run dedicated helpline for the Magdalene Fund to be advertised within Ireland and by Irish diplomatic missions abroad, Ms McGettrick said a transparent redress scheme will require an appeals process, independent monitoring and would have to be established on a statutory basis.
Referring to the many survivors who remain institutionalised in the care of nuns, she asked whether a guardian ad litem and permanent independent advocate would be provided to guarantee their rights. “And will free independent advice and advocacy assistance be made available to survivors and their families, to protect the women from those who would take from them?” she said.
Justice for Magdalenes was awarded the Jim Kemmy Thirst for Justice award by Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore in Cork on Saturday night.
As the Goverment continues to ponder the McAleese report into the Magdalene laundries, a New Ross woman has told of the horrific time she spent at a similar institution in Wexford, which has not yet come under the brief of the Magdalene inquiry.
Margaret Cowman (née Cullen), a native of Ballywilliam, spent four years at the Summerhill Training Centre near St Peter's College, but says it was more akin to a slave labour institution than a training centre.
She says that the apology made by Taoiseach Enda Kenny in the Dáil three weeks ago today (Tuesday) gives her hope that the Government is beginning to recognise the pain and suffering of all the women and children in the laundries.
However, she says this does not go far enough because Wexford's now demolished Sisters of Mercy laundry in Summerhill is still being referred to as a 'training centre'.
'I was thrilled by the apology by the head of state, but I was very distressed and shocked to hear that the House of Mercy was referred to as a training school.
'The only training for me was scrubbing floors and polishing and sorting out foul laundry, putting sheets in the dryer and putting them through the colander for ironing, washing dirty laundry in the sink or working in the sorting room.'
'I believe I was aged 12 and a half or 13 when I went in,' Margaret says.
'I was taken into this "House of Mercy" by the local priest, Fr Clancy, and my mother. It is my belief that I was placed there because my mother thought I would get into trouble, get pregnant. But I, along with my siblings, was told that I had been placed there to educate me to get trained in English and in mathematics.'
She estimates that this was between 1953 and 1957.
In July 2011, when it was first suggested that the Irish government might make an official apology to the survivors of the Magdalene laundries, Margaret says she wrote to Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin to tell him of her experiences at the so-called Summerhill Training Centre. She says she did this as she felt it was time that the government recognised that children that were sent there were treated in the very same way as all the other victims at the officially recognised Magdalene laundries across the country.
On July 18 she received a letter from Minister Howlin stating that he had received her letter and was forwarding it on to Minister of State at the Department of Justice Kathleen Lynch.
Margaret says it wasn't until November 26, 2012, when she received a letter from Minister Lynch's office stating that her correspondence had been 'brought to Minister Lynch's attention, who has noted all of your comments and taken them on board'.
Margaret is disheartened by what she claims is the State's reluctance to recognise the suffering of the children who were 'incarcerated' at this particular laundry.
She says that she will stop at nothing, even if it involves hiring a solicitor, to 'pursue this issue as long as I live'. She sayd she is intent on proving that the women and children who were sent to Summerhill suffered in the very same way as those at any other Magdalene laundry did.
'My basic day began at 6 a.m. for Mass and I recollect that breakfast was at about 7 a.m. and consisted of bread and butter. Different girls would be given different tasks to do each day. Typically at about 7.30 a.m. we would begin scrubbing big long corridors and dormitories,' she said.
'We would then wash the dishes after breakfast and laundry work would start at 8.30 a.m. when girls would have to sort foul laundry. It often had faeces from the local nursing home, Ely House. On reflection we were simply child labour and were treated as such.'
Most of the hotels in town, such as the Talbot Hotel, the County Hotel, White's Hotel and the Johnstown Castle Agricultural College, sent their laundry to the Sisters of Mercy, says Margaret.
A typical day in the laundry would usually end at 9 p.m. but if the girls had not finished their work at that point Margaret claims that the nuns would dim the lights so that 'anyone passing by could not see the lights on in the laundry and know that the inmates were still working', and the girls would be forced to work up until midnight.
It was also the practice of the House of Mercy to contract the girls out to the community to work as servants. Margaret spent one stint working for a local family where she claims she was physically and verbally abused.
Margaret can remember a green laundry van would come in and out of the convent dropping off and collecting the laundry. She claims the driver had a board that read 'Sisters of Mercy Laundry' which he would always remove when he parked up in the convent because the girls were never supposed to know that that was what it was actually called. They were to believe that it was a training centre and not a laundry despite never once engaging in any lessons or even being given books to read.
Eventually after four years and several failed attempts to escape the nuns' control Margaret managed to leave and made her way back to Ballywilliam, where her mother told her: 'You'd better get a job quickly because you can't stay here.'
Margaret left Wexford and emigrated to London. It was only then that she realised the full extent of the damage which her time at Summerhill had caused.
'I wanted to become a nurse but I had so much to catch up on after years out of school. My English was dreadful and I had no maths.'
Margaret said that when she was first sent to the House of Mercy she was given the impression that she was going somewhere that would give her a top class education, which her family would not have been unable to pay for without the support of the Sisters of Mercy. However, this was not to be the case and her years at the convent actually inhibited her education more than anything.
She says things were different in England where she met people that offered to help her catch up on all of her missed lessons. One teacher, she says, offered to tutor free of charge.
She enrolled as a trainee nurse, and after two years of hard work and attending extra classes by night, she became a qualified nurse.
While living in London, Margaret fell in love with a Waterford man. The couple married and raised two children before he died at the age of 49.
After 50 years away, she decided to move back to Co. Wexford and now lives at Chamberlain Close in New Ross.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter has roundly defended the McAleese Report into the Magdalene Laundries saying it was “an independent, comprehensive factual account”.
By Claire O'Sullivan
Irish Examiner Reporter
His defence comes after the UN committee that led to its establishment raised serious questions about the inquiry.
Speaking in the Dáil, Mr Shatter brushed off recent complaints from the UN Committee Against Torture (UNCAT) the report was “incomplete” and lacked “many elements of a prompt, independent, and thorough investigation”.
“The Irish Government is satisfied that the McAleese Report is an independent, comprehensive, factual account of these institutions ... It also showed that many of preconceptions about these institutions were not supported by the facts,” he said in response to questions from Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald and Independent TD Maureen O’Sullivan.
In a recent letter to Irish UN representative Gerard Corr, the vice-chair of UNCAT was highly critical of the inquiry headed by former senator Martin McAleese.
Felice Gaer said the probe failed adequately to examine allegations of physical abuse, forced labour, and arbitrary detention. She also urged the Government to ensure that “that there is a full enquiry into all complaints of abuse”.
Mr Shatter said his department was considering the letter from Ms Gaer and that it would issue a response in due time.
Mr Justice John Quirke’s proposed “scheme of supports” for Magdalene survivors is to be made public in the next two weeks.
Independent TD Mick Wallace called for Summerhill Laundry in Co Wexford to be included in the Quirke scheme, saying former inmates had told him that they had their identity and personal belongings removed by the nuns, their hair cut short, and were forced to wear a uniform.
He also said the women were punished if they were “found to be speaking” and were not given any schooling, pens or books. There were also calls from Sinn Féin for the Sisters of Mercy laundry in Clifden and St Josephs Laundry in Birr to be included.
Mr Wallace also asked the minister if he would ensure that the Quirke redress scheme would be transparent, independent, and include an appeals process while Ms McDonald asked if the Quirke process would be put on a statutory footing.
One of the groups representing survivors of the Magdalene Laundries has said it will not take part in any truth and reconciliation forum the Government might set up as part of a redress scheme.
Magdalene Survivors Together activist Steven O’Riordan said the women had already told their stories and now wanted progress on practical elements of redress, such as compensation, supports, a national monument and a Magdalene museum.
“The women within our group would have no interest in taking part in that kind of process simply because they have been relaying their stories as far back as 2009 when we first met the Department of Justice,” said Mr O’Riordan.
“They’ve told their stories to the cross-party committee and they’ve relayed them again to the McAleese report. They don’t want to keep going back any more. They want to move on.”
Taoiseach Enda Kenny appointed senior judge Mr Justice John Quirke to advise on a redress scheme and his report went to the Government last week. According to RTÉ yesterday, one of his recommendations is for a mediated forum to be set up where survivors and the members of the religious orders could meet to confront the past without formally apportioning blame.
Mr O’Riordan said it would be almost impossible for survivors to meet under those conditions as they were clear on where the blame lay for the ordeal they suffered.
He called for the immediate publication of Mr Justice Quirke’s report to allow the women the earliest opportunity to see if his other recommendations met their demands.
“It’s unfair that bits of the report are now being leaked,” said Mr O’Riordan. “It creates a lot of anxiety and nervousness because I’ve had calls all day from women asking is this the only recommendation.
“I presume it isn’t, but we need to all realise that we are dealing with women who are aged from their sixties up to 92 and they shouldn’t be made wait any longer.”
That view was echoed by British-based survivors’ campaigner, Sally Mulready, who also urged the Government to tell the women the full details of what kind of redress was planned.
“They have been on hold for many, many years,” said Ms Mulready.” It’s really important for them to get a fast, fair and just settlement. They need to move on with their lives, to bring some kind of peace to them.”
The Department of Justice said it was considering Mr Justice Quirke’s report.
A reconciliation forum between Magdalene survivors and the four religious orders that ran the institutions has been recommended.
The retired High Court Judge appointed to advise the Government on a redress scheme for the women has recommended a package of measures including mediation and reconciliation.
Mr Justice John Quirke has proposed setting up a reconciliation forum where the women and former nuns who ran the laundries could opt to meet and discuss their shared experiences.
Mr Justice Quirke is understood to have placed considerable emphasis on mediation as part of a dispute resolution mechanism within the proposed ex gratia scheme.
A draft general scheme of a new mediation bill was published last year by Minister for Justice Alan Shatter.
Its purpose is to encourage and facilitate mediation as a tool in resolving civil, commercial and community disputes.
It has been put forward as a way of delivering an effective and efficient alternative to what alternatively could be a costly litigation process.
Earlier this year a report produced by an inter-departmental committee, which was chaired by former Senator Martin McAleese, showed that around 10,000 women and girls entered Magdalene Laundries between 1922 and the mid 1990s.
In February, Mr Justice Quirke was asked by the Government to report back within three months on proposals to set a scheme to compensate the women for their experience but also to bring some "healing" to the process.
Mr Justice Quirke delivered his report to Mr Shatter at the end of last month.
It is understood Mr Justice Quirke was in direct contact with the religious orders which ran the institutions, as part of his review.
It is with profound sadness that I report the death on Monday 3rd June 2013 of Emma. Emma worked for survivors in many ways. She was a true supporter to anybody that was in an institution and would never, ever turn anybody away that asked for help.
Sadly her circumstances were not good. Sad too that we, who claim to represent other survivors were not able to assist her when she so desperately need our support. She would often accommodate survivors in need and ensure they were aware of all of the benefits available to them. She was completely un-judgemental, compassionate, used all of her many skills for survivors and was unselfish with her time to other. I was privileged to have known her and call her a friend.
Kerry woman undertakes never to repeat false allegations
Four Courts: Eileen Culloty has apologised to her parish priest in Co Kerry over false abuse allegations.
First published: Wed, Jun 5, 2013, 18:55
A woman has apologised at the High Court to a priest whom she falsely accused of abusing her.
Eileen Culloty, who lives beside the presbytery in Currow, Killarney, Co Kerry, wrote a letter to the Bishop of Kerry in which she made a series of untrue allegations against Fr Liam O’Brien which she later repeated to the gardai, HSE and Personal Injury Advisory Board. She also disrupted a funeral Mass at which the priest was officiating.
In a letter read at the High Court today, she apologised and undertook never to repeat the false allegations.
Robert Dore, solicitor for Fr O’Brien, based in Killorglin, Co Kerry, said the priest has agreed not to further pursue his action for damages for defamation against Ms Culloty on the basis of the apology letter.
Fr O’Brien had also sought orders restraining Ms Culloty from watching, besetting and harassing him over the false allegations on grounds those were damaging and interfered with his peace, privacy and well-being.
Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne agreed to a request from Mr Dore to adjourn the matter generally, meaning it can come back before the court if there are any further incidents.
In the apology written to Fr O’Brien, Ms Culloty said she wished to put on record that the allegations she made in the letter to the Bishop in December 2008, and later verbally to others, never had any basis or truth. “I wish to categorically also put on record that you never acted inappropriately towards me, or any member of my family, in any way whatever, either sexually, pyhsically, verbally, psychologically or otherwise,” she said.
She unreservedly apologised and undertook that neither she or anyone else on her behalf would make such allegations.
She also apologised for an incident on Februrary 8th, 2011, when she disrupted a funeral Mass in Currow at which Fr O’Brien was officiating.
She also accepted Fr O’Brien was a priest of the utmost integrity and that he never behaved in any untoward way.