Alliance Support Group

November 2014 Archives

We must support this group also

Innocent children abused at the Westbank Home and then abandoned by the State


I KNOW one of them fell off a train on his way home from school and two people have told me his shoe-laces were tied together. I know he never came back to school, and no-one ever mentioned him again, recalls Victoria White.



There was no enquiry. There were no charges. Most of my school-mates say they don’t remember the boy.

Here I am, a middle-aged, middle-class woman, who has a masters degree and can make a cappuccino. But I remember the Westbankers from my childhood. They were there.

I didn’t know then what was claimed in Mike Peelo’s 2011 RTÉ documentary about the Westbank Home for the children of unmarried Protestant mothers: that some children were beaten with electric flexes, that some ate dog biscuits, that some were sexually abused. Neither did I know that the children’s surnames were changed to that of the home’s supremo, Adeline Mathers, nor that some children didn’t know they were siblings.

It was one of the advantages of a Protestant education, in those days, that the schools had a mixed intake. There were several schemes to enable poor Protestants to attend private schools and my school, St Andrew’s College, in Dublin, did not charge the Westbankers fees.

But these children were not just poor; they were so vulnerable that I’ve carried the memory of them for four decades. I know they existed, and that recognition is all that some of them want.

Victor Stevenson didn’t connect his life with the history of abuse in this country until he saw an article on Westbank in this newspaper, and we have sent him on a painful journey of discovery. All he wants is recognition of what happened to him.

‘No’, we say. ‘You’re imagining things, Victor. You’re imagining jumping off the stage of a Gospel Hall in the North, where you were trucked to make money for Westbank. You’re imagining clutching the trousered leg of the good man who became your beloved adoptive father’.

But Minister of State, James Reilly, has intimated to the Westbank Survivors group that the institution will not come under the remit of the Commission of Enquiry, which was set up to examine the history of mother-and-baby homes and which is due to due to publish its terms of reference imminently.

“If you put into the enquiry every particular request, we would get an enquiry that would never end”, a spokesperson for the minister told the group.

True, Westbank wasn’t a mother-and-baby home, but it was the destination of many of the Bethany babies, and Bethany will be examined by the Commission. And Westbank was an unregulated home from which few babies were ever adopted.

This tribe of ‘Matherses’ went to school in the State education system, and Stevenson remembers the primary school feeding them bread. They had their immunisations in the State health system. A doctor was called when one boy was badly beaten up by Mathers herself. But it had nothing to do with us?

Westbank should have come under the remit of the Ryan Commission, in 2002, which included Protestant homes, such as The Cottage and The Bird’s Nest in Dun Laoghaire. But Westbank only closed that year. It’s taken a while for reality to bite. But now it has, with a vengeance. Stevenson mentions the names of people whose lives have been shattered and one of their faces flashes up in my mind from the low-church Protestant drills of my childhood.

Stevenson says the abuse should be the issue, not in which home it happened, and this is how the terms of reference of the Northern Historical Abuse Enquiry were framed. There were illegal adoptions from the home to the North and subsequent accounts of child slavery, including that of Andrew Begley, who was a small, barefoot child when Mathers rented him out as a farm labourer for £150 (sterling) a week. Still, the NI enquiry judges Westbank to fall outside its jurisdiction.

Sinn Fein and the Greens have pushed the issue in the Assembly, but there is strong blocking by the Democratic Unionist Party, possibly because the home was supported by fundamentalist Protestants. “Westbank was a mission station in the South”, Stevenson says. It was meant to make little Northerners out of little Southerners.

The children’s names were Anglicised. Colm Begley became Robin Mathers. He didn’t know his surname was Begley until Newpark Comprehensive School, in Dublin, refused to use the bogus name. He was 19 before he knew his mother had named him ‘Colm’, and still older when he realised that Andrew, another boy in the home, was his brother.

It seems as if the Irish authorities accepted Protestant homes as islands of Britishness and ignored them. If the children were trucked North and were never heard of again, what of it?

When we created the border, we created a crack through which people could disappear. That is exactly what the IRA found out when they sent their child abusers South. That’s why we have to have an all-Ireland abuse enquiry. I know, as Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said in University College Cork this week, it would be “very challenging”, because there are two legal systems. But there was nothing that wasn’t challenging about the peace process. And we have to look at the island as a whole if we are to make peace with our past. That’s the issue. Minister Fitzgerald understandably focussed on avoiding “immediate risk” to children. But even if abusers are dead, we can’t be sure that abuse of children, sanctioned or ill-policed by organisations with their own agendas, won’t happen again. That’s the only way to “finish this awful mess”, as Stevenson says.

Instead, the Westbank survivors have met a brick wall. Tragically, the Health Service Executive-funded Protestant Adoption Society (PACT) handed back the Westbank records to the Plymouth Brethren trustees of the home, in the wake of the RTÉ documentary. So, the Westbankers have no access to what little may be recorded of their early lives. Cork-born Stevenson has been told he has no records. “That’s a crushing thing”, he says. “I didn’t exist.”

‘Truth and reconciliation’ is a different process to compensation. You can’t compensate a person for a childhood, because it can’t be bought back.

For many Westbankers, the key thing is for the State to acknowledge that it failed in its duty of care to them when they were innocent children who had done no wrong, except to be born to a mother who couldn’t keep them.

I hope this State gives them justice, before it is forced to do so by the European Court of Human Rights.

I know the Westbankers existed, because I was raised with them and I can still see them in my mind’s eye. And I won’t shut up until everyone else in this country can see them, too.

Some children were beaten with electric flexes, some ate dog biscuits, some were abused


© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved

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Racist abuse in Industrial Schools?

Mixed Race Irish group seek redress amid claims of racist abuse in industrial schools

Mixed-race Irish who spent time in industrial schools will today claim they faced physical, emotional, and sexual abuse there because of the colour of their skin.

The Mixed-Race Irish group has 71 members, many of whom now live outside Ireland. Representatives of the group will appear before the Oireachtas Justice Committee today as part of a campaign aimed at official recognition of their experiences and access to redress.


Founder members Evon Brennan, Rosemary C Adaser, and Carole Brennan are set to address the committee and are expected to outline how there has been a failure to acknowledge the historical and ongoing suffering of mixed-race Irish children placed in State institutions throughout Ireland between the 1940s and the 1980s.


They claim mixed-race children who spent time in the industrial school system have had their lives blighted as a result, from poor adoption and educational opportunities, reduced job opportunities due to institutional racism, and memories of neglect and physical, emotional, and sexual abuse because of their skin colour.


The group say records relating to their care are not readily available as the Irish Census did not begin to record ethnicity until 1996.


In all, the group believes as many as 150 mixed-race children were placed in State industrial schools between 1940 and 1980, including in St Patrick’s in Kilkenny, on the Navan Road in Dublin, and in Letterfrack in Galway.


The group claims that, in the industrial schools, mixed-race children were subjected to abuse and neglect, as well as racist abuse, including what they say were racist sexual inspections and being treated less well than white children.


Outlining the experiences of 56 of its members, the group will say half spent their entire childhood in institutions, just 12% were adopted, while 44% were sexually abused. The group has said it is aware of six people who committed suicides among the mixed-race Irish who were in the industrial schools.


The group is seeking access to redress funding so it can support members who may come forward, access to a specialist tracing service, and recognition of their experiences in the industrial schools system.


It is also seeking access to personal records, including fostering and adoption records, and a gravestone for one woman, Pauline Griffith, whose body was found in the River Liffey and who was buried in an unmarked grave.

© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved

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Caranua Redress Scheme not working?

Some abuse survivors say Caranua redress scheme isn’t working, but it’s paid out €5m so far

€110 million was committed by the religious congregations who ran the institutions, Caranua currently has €80 million of the fund.

Baby shoes on church gates.
Baby shoes on church gates.
Image: /Photocall Ireland

THE DUBLIN ASSOCIATION of Survivors of Industrial Schools held a protest outside the Dáil this morning in response to the Caranua redress scheme.

The Caranua scheme was set up to assist those who were abused in residential institutions, aiming to provide help to the survivors as they face into old age, with their health, education and housing.


Of the €110 million fund committed by the religious congregations who ran the institutions, Caranua currently has €80 million of the fund.

Members of the Dublin Association, which makes up about 160 people, said they believe the scheme was created with “no meaningful consultation with survivors of abuse” and the services funded through them are “completely meaningless”. 

Speaking to Chairperson Christopher Salmon stated:

Most of us are at least 60 now and have medical cards, we don’t need training as our work life is done, we have our existing medical and home help entitlements, so whats it for?

He added that services needed for survivors should be selected by survivors, adding that direct payments of composition should be made to survivors of abuse allowing them the “freedom of decision to improve their lives as they choose”.

He said that more should be done to consult with survivors about what the money should be spent on, stating that perhaps pension provisions should be set up. He also said they had questions about what happens to the money when if it is not all drawn down, stating that survivors have families that need supports once they pass on.

Salmon said they were seeking a meeting with the minister so that they can convey their concerns.


A spokesperson for Caranua said that as of the end of October, it had paid out €5 million of the €80 million they hold, with €1 million being spent in September and €2.5 million being spent in October alone.

She said that training is just one small part of what Caranua do, stating that they also cover educational needs of survivors, funding third level degrees and masters as well as FETAC courses and local community courses too.

She said there had been criticisms that Caranua do not contact abuse survivors directly, but said that under the legislation, they are prohibited from doing so.

Abuse survivors must contact the organisation to make a claim, with a two part application process in place, first to determine if the person is eligible and the second part to determine what they are looking for funding for.


The spokesperson said they have paid out for educational needs, as well as housing needs, such as insulation for houses, window repairs, the repair of heating boilers and for those with disabilities who need refurbishments in their home.

Cara Nua also covers aspects of health matters that are issues for people who were once in institutions.

When asked if abuse survivors should be concerned about the supports they receive impacting on their social welfare or medical cards, as was a concern of the survivors group, she said.

We have been very clear about this and ensured there was a guarantee from the Department of Social Protection that people would not be penalised by getting supports from Caranua.

The Dublin Association of Survivors of Industrial Schools were also critical of the lengthy time scale for applications. The spokesperson for Caranua said that when they began accepting applications they received 1,200 applications, adding that they were understaffed at the time and there were some delays, for which she apologised.

She said that application times can vary depending on what someone is looking for.


By the end of October, 3,500 applications have been eligible, with just 58 applications ineligible.

The spokesperson said that if the €110 million is not fully drawn down, the Minister for Health Leo Varadkar said it will go towards the new Children’s Hospital.

However, she said that Caranua will only be in existence for a number of years, and they are working to ensure that the supports that abuse survivors need in the future will be taken care of.


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Interesting Book

New book reflects on life changing decision to become a nun

Life in a convent consisted of hard work, and obedience.


A new book sees nuns reflect on their life-changing decision and how it affected them. Michael Clifford met the author, herself a former nun

“IN my leaving certificate year I was sitting at the back of the class with Brid, who is now also an old nun like myself, and she told me she was entering the convent and she said: ‘I think you should go too.’


What did I do? I made a novena, nine days, a Mass novena, and, during the novena, I was hoping the priest wouldn’t come one of the days so that I would break it, but, mind you, he came every day. I decided to enter.


“There was more than that. At the back of my head, I was worried about the family. How would they struggle with life? I felt that perhaps if I did something, a sacrifice, get nearer to Christ, he would bless them. Nobody in the house knew. I’m just saying it now.”


On such a premise, Nora entered the nuns some 70 years ago. She made a covenant with God. She’d give her life over to the church and He’d bless her family. All would be well in this world, and everybody close to her sorted for the next.



Nora is a pseudonym for a woman who is now living out her life in a convent. She is one of 10 nuns who were interviewed for an arresting book that is destined to take its place as a historical document of religious life in the 20th century in this country. It represents the first time that a number of serving nuns have reflected on their calling, their lives in service, the good, the bad and the ugly about the system in which they served, and its role in shaping the State.


Camillus Metcalfe is the author to whom these women opened up. Her background as a psychoanalyst probably helped, but her main point of access is her former life as a nun herself. In 2005, she left the midlands convent to which she had been attached for 40 years. Her tome, For God’s Sake, The Hidden Life of Irish Nuns, is the product of her pursuit of a Phd.


Between the lines of the first-person testimony it becomes obvious that many of these women were reflecting for the first time on their lives.


On the cusp of adulthood, they had entered a world where feelings were to be suppressed, obedience a way of life, and reflections confined to prayer. And here they are, leafing through life’s back pages, some content; others, like “Clare”, musing over a world where the certainties of her youth disappeared into thin air.


“The spirit that motivated the early sisters to work for the poor seemed to disappear and we became established, and it all became automatic and you worked on autopilot... Now, I think there are a lot of unfilled lives,” she said.


“There was status then, but there’s not now... For the people in charge now it’s more management of a dying structure than leading a vibrant group and, yet, sometimes when you get a group together at a big meeting you say there is great life yet. My final words: ‘If there is no God, I’ll be rightly stuck’.”


The life choices taken by many who entered orders in the early and middle decades of the last century must seem to be from an alien planet for today’s young women. The notion of a “calling” from God was liberally interpreted. Joining the nuns was as much a career choice as anything else, in a country where women had few real choices.


For others, there was an element of entering the family business. Only the youngest of the 10 interviewees didn’t have a close relation in a convent when they entered.


It was a popular choice. In 1800, there were just 200 nuns in Ireland. By the beginning of the 20th century this had ballooned to 9,000, and by the mid-1960s, the number had grown to 16,000.


“There’s wasn’t much going for women at the time,” Camillus Metcalfe says. “And everybody who went into a convent had professional status, according to the state. It didn’t matter what you were doing in the convent, even if you were just filling in a form. From the outside, everybody in there had professional status. The inside was different.”


Mainly, the inside consisted of hard work, and obedience. One of the nuns was based two miles from her home, but wasn’t allowed home for her father’s funeral.


A photograph of her father laid out was sent to another sister, who was serving in a convent in England. Behind the convent walls, there was a strict hierarchical structure.


“At dinner, you had the superiors at the top table, then the senior sisters, then the ordinary, then the novices,” Metcalfe says. “The lay sisters never ate in the community. They had to dine separately.”


The lay sisters were effectively second-class sisters. They tended to be uneducated and poor. In the early decades of the last century, nuns brought a dowry to the Church. For those who had neither education nor money, the point of entry was as a lay sister.


For the older nuns, Vatican II in the 1960s changed everything. No longer were they blessed with special powers.


“Before that, you were special,” Metcalfe explains. “You would get to heaven and you would bring anybody you prayed along with you. Your vow of chastity was special. It singled you out.


“After Vatican II, you were a lay person, so you lost that function of a mediator with God. You no longer has a special line to heaven.”


The new regime under Vatican II cast a long shadow across convents, but worse was to come with the revelations of the Ryan Report into abuse in industrial schools.


For Camillus Metcalfe, the dynamics that saw some nuns turning cruel had all to do with power. Many of those who were involved in the industrial schools were drawn from the army of lay sisters, who knew their place within the convent walls.


“It was all about power, and this is another reason why things went so wrong. People were powerless in convents, and then when they got out they were powerful. If you were at the bottom rung in the convent and nobody had much regard for you and you were treated differently from everybody, else and then you were out and were dealing with kids, cast-outs from society, you were powerful and could use you power. And disturbed children are going to evoke all kinds of things in you and if you can’t manage that, well.” She lets the sentence trail off.


She doesn’t seek to excuse any of the abuse that occurred, but feels that it must be put in context. The nuns at the frontline were carrying plenty of baggage.


Now, as many of them reflect on what stones of history have been upturned, the lives damaged, what was believed to be a higher calling sullied, many of those who were not involved in any of the abuse feel their own pain.


“People must be very hurt because all their good work now seems like bad work. Most if not all of them worked very hard.


“But the biggest thing, this idea of no friendship and this woman [one of the interviewees] who says no feelings. You can’t have no feelings, but then you are not able to empathise and you can be cruel and it doesn’t affect you.”


Metcalfe was particularly taken by the sadness that seemed to settle over the women as they reflected on the lives they had led, the choices taken.


“Was it regret? I don’t know. The sadness was a complete surprise to me. I never picked up on it when I was living there. The real sadness came to them in looking back. I don’t think they had ever done it before. I don’t know if it was regret.”


For her own part, Metcalfe says she has no regrets. None about entering the convent, and none about leaving when she did.


Her professional calling of psychoanalysis has probably helped her along the way.


Does she believe that her own contentment after 40 years in the convent is typical or atypical of many of her former sisters. After a pause for consideration, she replies in a quiet voice, as if reluctantly spilling a secret: “Atypical.”


For God’s Sake. The Hidden Life of Irish Nuns by Camillus Metcalfe is published by The Liffey Press



True Confessions


† Margaret


“Mary Rose was instrumental in getting me to go to her convent. She was a novice there and she came from our village.


I had letter after letter from her say, ‘Please come and join us’. I hadn’t a notion of joining these sisters, not a notion in the wide world. In the heel of the hunt I entered there. Why I don’t know why?”


† Teresa


“You got your white veil at reception and at first profession you were given a black veil. The clothing of the day was extremely heavy… it was a miracle a lot of people didn’t die of heat, especially in the summer. The clothes were no lighter in the summer than they were in winter. So that was that.”


† Annie


“In convents, in religious life, you were treated as a child. There was a great respect for the superior and you were kept more as a child.


“The call was at twenty to six and you had to be down for Morning Prayer at five to six, and if you were late you did a penance. You had to go out in front of everyone, kiss the floor and say you were sorry for being late.”


† Mary


“The women were not paid for their work and the nuns were also working down there in the laundry. Some of these nuns who worked in the laundry were not educated. I’d say the kind of abuse the Magdalenes complain about was something that maybe the rest of us were suffering too. The life they were living was very like our lives. Like them, we were often in dormitories in the novitiate with just screens between us.”


† Barbara


“There are little things I remember from my childhood in the late 1930s, going along the road for walks with my mother while she pointed out the flowers, my dad making little toys for us, a cheese box or a butter box with wheels on it. Now the wheels were empty thread reels and there was a bit of twine to pull it around.”


† Margaret


“As postulants, at 18 years of age, we were sent out to teach. The Novice Mistress said, ‘you with the frilly bonnet, Margaret, now you take the Inter Certs, teach them geography, get them honours.’ She knew that I got honours in geography. I had no teaching qualification.


“And she said, ‘you are the real thing, be cross’, and I was as cross as could be. That was the definition of a good teacher, to be as cross as could be. I kept that up for a long time, you know. Control, that was it.”


† Lily


“When I entered they were putting numbers on clothes. My number was 253 and I thought, imagine, I am only a number! Well, if I feel like this after a few weeks I’m not staying here. If I have this bad feeling, or this uncomfortable feeling, I’ll know it’s not for me. Well, anyway, one morning I got up and there was no feeling and I thought, oh, this is all right. Everybody seemed to know what they were doing except me.”


† Lily


“I said I wanted to do childcare, and I got what I wanted. I was sent to St Mary’s and I had a dread of St Mary’s, an absolute dread. There were kids running loose and there were places being set on fire and people were blaming the children in care and I thought this must be an awful place. There was nothing in the house… the children had broken everything. Eighteen sisters had passed through this particular house, and they didn’t stay because this house was called a madhouse. It was so chaotic. There was butter on the walls and the children used to throw things.


They used to break furniture and everything. One night when I was in bed, they were all getting up to break the furniture and I gave them all a hurley and I said, ‘Break all you want and then when we have it all broken we won’t have anything and we won’t have to worry.’


“The only way I pulled it together was doing good things with the children, doing things that they’d remember, and that might bring them round. I just settled into it and I was there for 18 years. I got great praise from the provincial as I pulled it together.”


† Clare


“In those days we were doing night duty in the convent as well. We had older sisters and we had to get up to get them out to the loo at night and we did that for 13 consecutive years. We did that and we went to school the next day and we were let go to bed at seven o’clock the next evening. We got a fry for supper but that was it.


“I was still being a very good girl, keeping all the rules and regulations, tearing my hair out with frustration.”

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Government 'conscious of redress' for Magdalene survivors



The Government was “conscious of the danger” of offering redress for Magdalene survivors just months before setting up the McAleese inquiry to investigate the issue.



The admission is made in a March 2011 Department of Justice draft memorandum for the Government, seeking permission to establish an inter-departmental committee to review a November 2010 Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) report on the Magdalene laundries.

Released under the Freedom of Information Act, it states that the then justice minister, Alan Shatter, was “conscious of the danger” of redress and of Finance Minister Michael Noonan’s view that proposals raised in an earlier memo “would very likely generate pressure for opening redress”.

Mr Shatter felt an inter-departmental committee, which he proposed be headed by his department, would “strengthen the position of the Government in dealing with the ongoing campaign”.

The committee to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalene laundries was formally established some three months later — headed by Martin McAleese.

The Department of Justice memo states categorically that, despite “various ‘documentaries’ and the report of the Irish Human Rights Commission”, the State had no case to answer in respect of the Magdalene Laundries.

It says government departments were concerned that “engaging with the religious orders might give the impression that the State was accepting responsibility in this area”. “The department is not aware of any facts that would give rise to State liability or responsibility for abuses in Magdalene Laundries... If there were any abuses in Magdalene Laundries, the individual abusers concerned and the religious orders who ran them are responsible.”

The memo also details Mr Shatter’s scathing opinion of the IHRC report on the laundries. It states the then justice minister had “serious reservations about the methodology, accuracy, and conclusions”.

“Of most concern is the lack of balance and any evidence to support the conclusions. The IHRC report is effectively based on allegations put forward by JFM (Justice for Magdalenes) and no effort was made to obtain clarification, information or observations from the State or (apparently) the religious orders on any of the issues raised.”

When in opposition, Mr Shatter stated there was “irrefutable evidence” within the Department of Justice that the State was “directly complicit” in “barbaric cruelty” that occurred in the Magdalene laundries.

Claire McGettrick of Justice For Magdalenes Research said that the memo highlighted the “cynical approach” taken by the Government when dealing with the Magdalene issue and expressed concern the upcoming mother and baby homes inquiry would be treated in the same manner.

“The Government must include the Magdalene laundries in the upcoming Commission of Investigation. The contents of this Government memorandum illustrate that openness and transparency are absolutely imperative in the investigation as the Government’s position is likely to be one of defensiveness rather than a desire to genuinely facilitate a truth-telling process,” she said.







Laundries not ruled out of baby home inquiry


Magdalene Laundries and county homes have not been ruled out of the upcoming inquiry into mother-and-baby homes.

In a meeting with representatives from Justice for Magdalenes Research (JFMR) and the Adoption Rights Alliance (ARA), Dr James Reilly, the children’s minister, said no decision had been made on the inclusion of the institutions but he was determined to have as inclusive an inquiry as possible.

It is understood the JFMR delegation repeated its concerns about the quality of the McAleese report. The group also outlined evidence that women conceived in Magdalene Laundries before being sent to mother-and-baby homes to have their child.

These women were then returned to the laundry and the child adopted.

Both groups stressed the need for the inquiry to examine forced and illegal adoptions and include institutions like St Patrick’s Guild adoption agency and St Patrick’s Infant Hospital, Temple Hill in Dublin, which were not specifically mother-and-baby homes but arranged adoptions.

Dr Reilly is understood to have confirmed that the inquiry would have the power to compel religious orders to hand over relevant files and records, as well as the power to order witnesses to attend.

Last week, Dr Reilly caused concern among adoption campaigners by stating that his overriding concern was that the inquiry might be flawed if the terms of reference were too wide.

He also said the commission could not be viewed as a vehicle to inquire into all matters where there was a deficit in the treatment of people.

The co-founder of ARA, Claire McGettrick, described the meeting as “productive” but stressed that any inquiry which ignored the wider issues of illegal and forced adoptions and which did not include all of the institutions involved in such practices was “destined for failure”.

“If the proposed Commission of Investigation merely looks at a selected list of institutions to the exclusion of others, and if it does so in isolation from the wider issues like the State’s involvement in forced and illegal adoptions and of how women in crisis pregnancy and their children have been treated, then this inquiry is destined for failure before it ever commences,” she said.

Ms McGettrick said for the inquiry to enjoy the confidence of the adoption community, the terms of reference need to be as broad as necessary.

“If not, these issues are guaranteed to arise again and the court of history will not look kindly on a government that chose to ignore those who have called for a genuine truth-finding investigation,” said Ms McGettrick.


© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved


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State attitude to Magdalene women 'is contemptible'

Thursday, November 13, 2014





Magdalene women are being forced accept smaller compensation payments because the State believes the religious orders over survivors regarding how long they spent in the laundries.



In a strongly worded speech at the opening of the National Women’s Council of Ireland’s new offices, co-founder of Justice For Magdalenes Research (JFMR) Claire McGettrick said that despite Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s apology, the State was exercising a “contemptible” attitude to survivors which valued “damage limitation and optics before justice and fairness”.

“Perhaps the most contemptible double standard is that the religious orders — who have not contributed one cent towards the ex gratia scheme — are believed over survivors regarding duration of stay. As a result, some women, many of whom are in dire financial circumstances, have had no choice but to accept lesser amounts,” she said.

Ms McGettrick said that elderly and frail survivors were waiting 17 months for the HAA medical card promised to them in the wake of the Taoiseach’s apology, while the dedicated unit recommended by Mr Justice Quirke has also failed to materialise.

“Certificates of Irishness are presented to those with Irish ancestry, but the Magdalene survivors amongst the Irish diaspora remain in limbo, unsure if they will be given equivalent healthcare rights.

“Government ministers are guaranteed their pensions, yet with an arbitrary flick of a pen, it was decided that Magdalene survivors who worked for decades for no pay will not have their pensions restored to when they turned 65.”

She also hit out at the McAleese Report for claiming that no women were abused in laundries. “The report ignores almost 800 pages of testimony from survivors, which JFM offered to have sworn, a proposition which was declined by the inter-departmental committee. The women unequivocally stated that they were locked up against their will and in many cases, subjected to harsh physical punishments.”

Ms McGettrick was also scathing of the reports “woefully inaccurate” findings on how long women stayed in the institutions, including the “bizarre contention” that the median stay was seven months.

“Contrary to the Report’s assertions, JFM Research has found that half the women confined in two Dublin laundries between 1954-64 were never released.”

Ms McGettrick said the Government was refusing to join the dots on issues like Magdalene Laundries and Mother and Baby Homes for fear of opening up “a bottomless quagmire” on the historic treatment of women and children here.

The JFMR co-founder said Ireland had “consistently failed women in crisis pregnancy since the foundation of the State” right up to the present day where women like Savita Halappanavar and Ms Y “have paid the ultimate price for our State’s legislative cowardice”.

“The Government has an opportunity to change how the court of history judges Ireland through the upcoming Commission of Investigation by ensuring it is open and transparent and as thorough as it needs to be.”


© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved

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