By Eileen McMahon F.Inst.LEx.MBA.P.Dip
Solicitor, McMahon Solicitors Limited
272 Field End Road, Eastcote, Middlesex HA4 9NA
“A woman with a voice is by definition a strong woman. But the search to find that voice can be remarkably difficult.” Melinda Gates
This report considers events that have occurred following the An Taoiseach apology on the 19th February 2013 to Magdalen Women, who were incarcerated in Irish Laundries from 1922 to 1996. Answers to the following questions are explored:
- Whether the Magdalen women have had their voices heard within Irish Society?
- Did the McAleese Committee carry out a ‘prompt, independent and thorough investigation?’
- Did the ‘Restorative Justice Scheme’ deliver Justice and the ‘sincere intent’ of the Irish Government and community?
We cover the fact that the Magdalen Women voices have been confined to the back pages of the McAleese Report, withheld within a University Department and stored in the An Taoiseach office. These women have knowledge and wisdom that if shared will ensure that the difficult path they had to walk will not be revisited by women again.
The McAleese Report was not thorough and failed to establish findings of fact that could lead to a suitable compensation scheme being set up. This was due in part to only a small representative sample of women being interviewed. The impact of incarceration and hard labour on girls/ women was only explored at a basic level. Their injuries, pain and suffering and loss of amenities were only addressed in chapter 19 of a 20 chapter report. An understanding of what happened to these girls/women should have been identified throughout the report.
We found that ‘The Restorative Justice Ex Gratia Scheme’ (The Magdalen Scheme) set up by Mr Justice Quirke has failed to deliver Justice or suitable compensation. It was also reasonably foreseeable that a Scheme based purely on ‘duration of stay’ was doomed to failure, when you only had admission information for half of those eligible to apply.
We have concluded that only an inquiry headed up by a Chair from outside the Irish State will now resolve the recommendations made at the end of this report. The reports referred to above are not independent because they have placed unfairly; the burden of Ireland’s economic situation, on the shoulders of Magdalen women. The Irish State also failed to challenge the Religious Congregations stance when they refused to make a contribution to the Magdalen Scheme. A new inquiry will need to establish cause and effect by investigating the philosophy/religious teachings that underpinned the admission and transfer procedure of girls/women into Laundries in Ireland. Further the issue of gender bias must be addressed.
An illusion of Justice has been delivered thus far. However there is still time to remedy these failures. We acknowledge the UN committees for continuing to highlight the outstanding issues in 2014 and by directing that an independent inquiry and a ‘full compensation’ scheme should be established.
- UN Directives
- Hearing the Voice of Magdalen Women
- McAleese Report
- Apology 19.02.2013
- Mr Justice Quirke Report
- Work Undertaken
- Income Payments
- Prior to 27.11.2014
- Duration of Stay
- Thorough Report
- Financial Analysis
- Deprivation of Liberty
- Psychiatric Damage and Sexual Assaults
- Healing and Reconciliation
- Seminar 27.11.2014
- Appendix 1 – An Taoiseach – Apology 19.02.2013
- Appendix 2 – Summary of Chapters – Martin McAleese Report -5th February 2013
- Appendix 3 – Summary of Mr Justice Quirke Report – May 2013
- Appendix 4 – Catalogue of Interviews – UCD 2013
- Appendix 5 – Terms of An Ex Gratia Scheme – December 2013
- Appendix 6 – General Questions asked of the DOE
- Appendix 7 –Questions in the Dail – Mary Lou McDonald – November 2014
- Appendix 8 – Seminar and Power points Slides 27.11.2015
- Article 9 – Irish Post Article dated 3.03.2014 – Divisions Surface
- Appendix 10 – Irish Post article Magdalene Women deserve new inquiry
- Appendix 11 – Outcome of UN Report – Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Committee
The author of this report is Eileen McMahon a Solicitor, who holds practising certificates in the UK and Ireland. She also has a Masters in Business Administration (2002) and a Diploma in Innovation (2012). She is trained in a number of complementary health therapies to assist survivors of historical abuse.
Her book published in 2014 ‘Restoring Humanity’ explained the difficulties that she has faced in finding a balance between her legal career, bringing out different types of treatment methods to assist survivors of historical childhood abuse and advocating for a healing centre in the West of Ireland. She is a seeker of truth.
Magdalen Laundries are described as, ‘Inherited networks of social control’ in Ireland (O’Sullivan & O’Donnell). Historically the Magdalen women were caught up in an era (1922 to 1996) where the State and Church worked together to ensure that these girls/women learned to live a life of penance devoid of love and compassion to enable them ‘to atone for their evil ways.1
This appears to have been based on the Catholic Church view that Mary Magdalene was a sinner and these girl/women were treated as penitents. However Mary Magdalene was present at the crucifixion of Christ and his resurrection. In the Gospel of Mary published in 19552 it is recorded that Jesus shared a warning against those who would delude the disciples into following some heroic teacher or a set of rules and laws. Instead they are to seek the child of true Humanity within themselves and gain inner peace. Discord arose amongst the disciples because some males within the group refused to accept that Mary would have been given this advanced form of teaching.
The girls/women who found themselves incarcerated in these Laundries could be released, if they became a ‘Child of Mary’. This involved a considerable amount of prayer and collecting ribbons until these girls/women were considered acceptable to return to Irish Society. We can see what the Irish State and the Religious Congregations set up here the concept of a ‘Good Mary’ and a ‘Bad Mary.’ The deluded set of rules that Jesus warned about, if only, Mary Magdalene voice had been truly heard and understood.
In June 2011 The UN Committee on Torture found that the Irish State had failed to protect young girls and women confined without their consent to so-called Magdalen Laundries between 1922 and 1996. The watchdog called for an independent statutory investigation into allegations of “cruel, inhuman or degrading” treatment of women. The international body also called for those who meted out the abuse in the Catholic Church reformatory workhouses to be prosecuted and victims given the right to compensation. The UN directed that the Irish Government should carry out a ‘prompt, thorough and independent investigation’.3
In 2011 Senator Martin McAleese was appointed Chair of the Inter-Departmental Committee on the Magdalen Laundries. He delivered his report (McAleese Report) to the Dail on 5th February 20134. The Irish Taoiseach, Mr Enda Kenny in a powerful speech in the Dail on the 19th February 2013 apologised to the Magdalen women (a number of whom were present) for the failure of the ‘Irish State’5. Mr Justice Quirke was then appointed to ‘advise on the establishment of an ex-gratia Scheme (to operate on a non adversarial basis).’ His report was published in May 2013 and made 12 recommendations.6 The Scheme was then to be administered by the Department of Justice and Equality (DOJE) and a grant of €250,000.00 was made by that department to the Irish Women Survivors Support Network (IWSSN) in Kentish Town, London.
In February 2014 the UN committee on the Rights of the Child, said the Catholic Church had not yet taken measures to prevent a repeat of cases such as Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries scandal, where girls were arbitrarily placed in conditions of forced labour. It called for an internal investigation of the Laundries and similar institutions so that those who were responsible could be prosecuted and that “full compensation be paid to the victims and their families”7.Further in May 2014 a United Nations Committee criticised what it called “the continued refusal” by the four religious orders that ran the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland to contribute to a redress fund for survivors of abuse.8
Hearing the voice of Magdalen Women
In 2011 Senator Martin McAleese was appointed Chair of the Inter-Departmental Committee on the Magdalen Laundries. He delivered his report to the Dail on 5th February 2013. The report is over 1000 pages long broken down into 20 chapters.
The voices of 118 women, who gave evidence to the McAleese committee, are confined to Chapter 19. One woman who spoke to the Committee summed up her journey to a Laundry, ‘In the car the nuns were saying I had the devil in me, shaking holy water and saying the rosary in the car!’ Another said ‘I only saw nuns and hard work … In the evening you’d be tired but only the child of Mary could go to bed after tea, the rest would sit in a circle with their circle of consecrates and sew’.
A further 337 women were interviewed by Mr Justice Quirke and yet what they said is not recorded. We are told that it had been had been ‘shocking.’ 9Magdalen women also spoke to the University College Dublin (UCD) who recorded an archival and oral history project. The first tranche of interviews were due to be available at the end of October 2013 but their website merely states ‘There have been delays and some problems in administering the State Redress Scheme and following advice we are withholding the interviews while these problems remain on-going’. 10
In Appendix 2 we have prepared a summary of each chapter and set out below some of the key points for each chapter.
- The Committee held that the mandate from the Government only extended to 10 Laundries operated by 4 religious orders and it had no discretion to extend the mandate beyond the 10 Magdalen Laundries.11
- The Committee were conscious of the problems with records from the Laundries and made efforts, wherever possible, to fill these gaps with alternative sources of information. Despite their efforts the Committee concluded that it was probable that there were gaps in information relating to Magdalen Laundries which would never be bridged.12
- The Committee said that the voice and experience of the women who lived and worked in the Magdalen laundries was of crucial importance in the preparation of the report and the committee interviewed:
- Women still in the care of the religious congregations
- Women forming part of the membership of representative groups or association
- Women who came forward on an individual basis and made direct contact with the Committee or with the Chair. 13
- The Committee held that the Laundries were regulated:
‘It is possible that a lack of modern awareness of these Acts may have contributed to confusion or a mistaken sense that the Magdalen Laundries were unregulated or that state referrals of girls and women to Laundries occurred in all cases without any legal basis ‘. 14
- The Committee agreed that ‘that the most appropriate course of action would be that the archive of the Committee’s work would be deposited with An Taoiseach and not kept within the Department of Justice and Equality’. 15
- The total database consisted of 14,607 admissions to Magdalen Laundries from 1922-1996.16The routes of entry into the Laundries were unknown for 28% of women (3173 women). Further the duration of stay was unknown for 45% of women (5047 women) but known for 55% of women (6151 women).17
- Probation was the most common entry methods by which girls and women were admitted to the Magdalen Laundries. The Probation Orders were made by the court. Archbishop McQuaid arranged for the voluntary assistance of the Legion of Mary to work alongside the official Probation Officers. They were approved Societies under Section 7 of the Criminal Justice Administration Act 1914. These officers were recognised, assigned cases by the Courts and granted powers to supervise young people on probation in precisely the same manner as official Probation Officers. 18 The officers of the Legion of Mary may also have acted as agents in the supervision of girls following their discharge from Industrial or Reformatory schools.
- Supervision and Recall: Under the 1908 Act, any child (other than a child placed in an industrial school only to enforce school attendance) whose period of detention at an industrial school had expired remained under the supervision of the school manager until the age of 18.The period of supervision was extended by 3 years until the age of 21, by the 1941 Act where the Minister for Education directed that such extension of supervision past the age of 18 was necessary for the person’s protection and welfare.19
- The HSE confirmed to the Committee that placements were made by Social workers, health boards and psychiatric services and that in particular: ‘as the Magdalen Homes became more of a refuge for the battered, the abused, the rejected and the dispossessed than a home for ‘fallen women’ social workers from health authorities began a very close working relationship with them’20. The HSE was unable, before the date of publication of the McAleese report, to provide the Committee with input in relation to patterns of admission and discharge based on the (historic) registers of psychiatric institutions.
- Magdalen Laundries were inspected by the factories inspectorate in the same manner as commercial laundries again both before and after Enactment of the Factories Act 1955. The former commercial manager of the Good Shepherd laundry in Limerick. Mr John Kennedy told the committee as follows: ‘I only know of three bad industrial accidents in the old days in the laundry, which is nothing short of miraculous. The one in which the lady lost her forearm in the callender (large roller iron). I am reliably told by a resident was completely her own fault’.
- Enforcement under the Conditions of Employment Act 1936 also originally fell to the factories inspectorate. ‘As several of the ex- inspectors put it, their approach to the 1936 Act was ‘reactive rather than proactive’- it was only in the case of something blatant, something relating to young persons or a complaint that they would pursue an issue under the 1936 Act’.21 The retired inspectors (the earliest of whom took up his position in 1961) had no memory of any consideration by the inspectorate of the position under this Act of the women who had worked in Magdalen Laundries.
- The Committee found that the State provided direct funding, including in certain cases capitation payments, to the Magdalen Laundries.22
- Tendering processes were employed by the State in awarding contracts for laundry services. The Committee found that, in general, where a contract was awarded to a Magdalen Laundry, this occurred on the basis of it being the only or the most competitive tender submitted.23
- The Magdalen Laundries were, from an early stage, adjudged by the Revenue Commissioners to meet the applicable tests for the charitable tax 24
- For the eight Magdalen Laundries for which records survived- the Committee confirmed death registration of almost 86% of women who died or were buried from 1922 onwards. In 14% of cases, death certificates were not 25
- The Committee also looked at a number of miscellaneous areas of State involvement within the Magdalen Laundries. It set out the legislative provisions for electoral registration, in particular the rules which applied to long-term “inmates” and “patients” of institutions before and after 1963.26
- For the vast majority of referrals made by priests, it is not recorded how old the relevant girls and women were at the time of their entry to the Magdalen Of those cases where age is recorded, the youngest girl referred to a Magdalen Laundry by a priest was 13 years of age; and the oldest woman was 63 years of age.27
- The majority of women interviewed had been at Reformatory or Industrial schools prior to their admission to a Magdalen Laundry. The Committee spoke with 118 women. Because the total number of women who provided direct information to the Committee was limited to a small proportion of all those who spent time in a Magdalen Laundry and as the sample was not randomly selected, it cannot be considered representative.28
- The Committee found that the financial analysis of the Laundries tended to support a view that the Magdalen Laundries were operated on a subsistence or close to break-even basis rather than on a commercial or highly profitable basis.29
An Taoiseach Apology 19.02.2013
The Irish Government following the release of McAleese report issued an apology on the 19.02.13.30 In his apology the An Taoiseach said as follows: “As I sat with these women, as they told their stories, it was clear that while every woman’s story was different, each of them shared a particular experience of a particular Ireland – judgemental, intolerant, petty and prim. Later in his apology he acknowledged that “The report shows that the perception that the Magdalen Laundries were reserved for what were offensively and judgementally called “fallen women” is not based upon fact at all but upon prejudice. The women are and always were wholly blameless’.
Mr Justice Quirke was then appointed to ‘advise on the establishment of an ex-gratia Scheme (to operate on a non adversarial basis)’ and set up an Ex Gratia Scheme, that they called ‘Restorative Justice.’ It was to be the first of its kind in Ireland.
The Irish Government had concerns about the costs of a scheme which was reported by Kathleen Lynch TD in her address to Magdalen Women at the opening of the ‘Whispering Hope’ centre in London. Mr Justice Quirke also said in his report ‘as I have explained earlier in this Report, it would be unjust and unrealistic for me to ignore the obvious fact that our nation is currently affected by an economic recession of unprecedented proportions which is likely to endure for a protracted period of time and I have not done so’. 31
The Religious Orders refused to make any financial contribution to the Scheme at all and this approach was accepted without any challenge from the Irish Government. Further there were other options open to the Government that they failed to explore.
Mr Justice Quirke’s Report
Between the 26th March 2013 and the 9th May 2013 the Commission spoke with 337 women. Mr Justice Quirke found that the information provided by the women to the Commission had been very valuable but it had often been ‘shocking’. His report was published in May 2013 and made 12 recommendations.32
Mr Justice Quirke held that an ex-gratia approach based on restorative justice had been well described in a 2009 paper by Stephen Winter who reviewed a number of Australia’s ex gratia schemes. Restorative Justice is defined as ‘an approach to justice that focuses on the needs of the victims and the offenders, as well as the involved community.
Stephen Winter actually concluded that ‘ex gratia redress appears inherently problematic.’ He suggested that Australian Governments should consider facilitating injury-based corrective claims as an aspect of their multifaceted reconciliatory efforts otherwise these Schemes can be construed as ‘colonial power’.33
Mr Justice Quirke also introduced a new criterion to assessment of damages termed ‘work undertaken’. He said as follows: ‘Although ‘work undertaken’ is a criteria which I have taken into account; the payments are not intended to reflect or include a calculation of loss of earnings sustained by the women. The payments are simply intended to express the ‘sincere nature of the State’s reconciliatory intent’ 34
Under the Scheme the maximum award that can be made to a Magdalen Women incarcerated for more than 10 years, is a general payment of €40,000 (£28,000) with a work payment of €60,000 (£42,000).
The Commission looked at finding a balance between the needs and interests of those elderly vulnerable women with the many other Magdalen women who were younger, healthier more energetic and more independent. The Commission decided that the needs and interests of the Magdalen women would be best addressed by making ex- gratia payments in excess of €50,000 payable to the women, as tax free weekly income for the remainder of their lives. The unpaid work that the girls/women undertook in the Laundries would be assessed in a personal injury case, as a ‘past loss’ and accordingly assessed as a lump sum payment. However the Commission is treating these losses as a future loss and applying a multiplier approach. 35
If one was being cynical looking at the ageing client group table on page 33 of the Quirke Report these weekly payments may stop after a few years, as the women pass away. 14% of those women interviewed were over 80 years of age. The payments cannot be allocated to their children or family members and cease on their passing. So effectively, the maximum guaranteed payment that the Irish Government is making to these women is the sum of €50,000 (£35,000) for over ten years incarceration.
Under the Residential Institutions Redress Act (2002) the average award was €70,000 (£49,000) and the Maximum award €300,000 (£213,000).36 By way of contrast over 15 years ago the author of this report acted for clients who had been falsely imprisoned in a police cell for 24 hours and then released. The award for these clients was in excess of £40,000 for those 24 hours and subsequent hearing.
Prior to 27.11.2014
McMahon solicitors had been directed by IWSSN to deliver details of our Magdalen cases to this organisation, as requested by the DOJE. We provided the information requested but said that we would make one of the applications ourselves because of our long standing relationship with this particular client. Our first application to the Magdalen Scheme was sent in March 2014. A provisional assessment was made and the wording in this letter from a legal perspective was unusual. Our concerns were around the duration of stay within Laundries and the general process. Applicants are told the DOJE’s assessment of ‘duration of stay’ and this information is obtained from the Religious Congregations. Gaps in residence when a girl/woman was running away are not included in this assessment. The applicants are given 2 months to accept the assessment of duration of stay and also told that other entitlements that may be due to them have not yet been legislated for. If they accept the offer within the 2 month period they will then be sent the official offer letter. The official offer letter will have attached a waiver document (to sign away their legal rights) even thought the legislated entitlements are still outstanding to them.
Concerns Raised with DOJE
When we raised our concerns about the process; we were sent in late November 2014; the terms of reference (dated December 2013) from the DOJE.37 There is an advice from the Attorney General but they have refused to disclose this advice to our office. The terms of reference explains to an applicant that before signing the Acceptance Form and statutory declaration they are strongly advised to obtain legal advice. A contribution of up to a maximum of €500.00 plus vat will be made available for this purpose but other legal costs will not be paid by the State. The forms however allow for the removal of ‘having received legal advice on the document.’ It is therefore not compulsory for an applicant to receive legal advice.
A solicitor asked to authorise these documents only has to confirm the identity of the applicant that they understand an offer has been made and by signing the document they are effectively signing away their legal rights. In our submission the documents we have perused would not stand up to scrutiny in a legal process particularly, as the women were deprived of legal advice from the outset of the Scheme.
McMahon Solicitors has raised issues with the DOJE department regarding the best evidence rule, how are healing and reconciliation meetings set up and where do women in the UK obtain health cards from. 38 The responses to our questions from the DOJE merely state that the McAleese Committee didn’t find any evidence of any systemic abuses but the women did find the institutions lonely and frightening. Further that ‘all that women have to establish under the Scheme is that she was admitted to and worked in a relevant institution.’ Further that the facts uncovered by the Committee did not support the allegations that women were systematically detained unlawfully or kept for long period against their will.
This assertion appears to be in contrast to recorded evidence in Chapter 19 when women clearly state that they didn’t know why they were there and when they could leave. ‘It was devastating to hear that door locked and I was never ever to walk out. There was a big wall. I knew I was there for life. When that door was locked my life ended. I never moved on from there’.39
Duration of Stay
We have been informed by the DOJE that the Magdalen Scheme does not define ‘duration of stay’ as residency. They say that Mr Justice Quirke referred to their time in a Laundry as ‘periods of time which they have spent within the Laundries.’ Further that ‘In this regard it may be helpful to note that when calculating period of time account is taken of indications of the number of nights passed in the institution.’ It is remarkable that the DOJE is able to establish this when they only have ‘duration of stay’ for 55% of the women.
The issue of ‘duration of stay’ was also raised by Mary Lou McDonald of Sinn Fein in the Dail in November 2014. She asked about the role IWSSN were playing in the Magdalen Scheme. 18 people challenged the assessment of the officers on duration of stay and 14 of these cases were upheld and 4 are yet to be decided. The Minister for Justice also confirmed that any grievances about IWSSN have to be taken up directly with that organisation.40 We have also heard from other sources that Magdalen Women have been left in tears and just accept the offers made because they don’t have the funds to challenge these decisions. We find it surprising knowing the difficulties in establishing residency in institutions over the past 12 years that none of those 14 decisions were overturned.
We are well aware of the ‘shocking’ stories that took away the freedom of girls/women incarcerated in Laundries. This is why two letters were sent to Senator McAleese in October 2011. We explained in our correspondence ‘that it was important for these clients to tell their story and the giving of their evidence seemed to bring a healing in itself. The memories that had been stored and buried could be discussed and things clarified’
Further that ‘We consider that there should have been some procedure at the Department of Education & Science to ensure that once the supervision order had been issued that the discharge date was adhered to. There is no evidence that this happened. We would draw parallel to someone, who has committed a criminal offence and they were given a date by the courts, when they are going to be released from prison. It is the duty of Government officials to ensure that that date is adhered to’
We were well aware of the Legion of Mary and their alleged role and we asked Senator McAleese to address the following: ‘We also submit that young women’s detainment appears to be on the basis of “gossip” from the local community. The question therefore has to be posed, whether reasonable steps were taken by the Minister to secure sufficient evidence to enable him to grant the supervision orders in the first instance’.
Allegedly these letters never reached the desk of Senator McAleese despite being correctly addressed and tracked. The Chair should however have asked solicitors and barristers that regularly attended the Redress Board to address the Committee and provide an overview of the evidence they had taken during the ‘Redress Process.’ 41This was clearly a failure by the Chair and in contravention of the direction from the UN that tasked the Committee with carrying out a thorough investigation.
Financial Analysis – McAleese Committee
The evidence of an accountant to the committee42concluded that if the women had been paid wages in a Laundry in the year 1950 the Order would have made a loss of €664,000 instead of a small surplus of €13,000 (2011 values). For the purposes of an illustration, if we say that there were 50 women working there in that year; the annual wages a worker should receive is €13,280. For a female incarcerated for 15 years; the earnings that she lost over that period would amount to €199,200. The maximum allowed under the Scheme is €100,000 and then only €50,000 is payable as a lump sum award.
Deprivation of Liberty
The above stated award doesn’t take into consideration the actual deprivation of liberty. The McAleese report seems to suggest that not being beaten in Laundries meant that the days spent there were better than the girls, who had been placed in orphanages, as children. Lawyers are aware that the false imprisonment is taken seriously by the Courts and the UN and rightly so. The women displayed signs of distress and prisoner behaviour by refusing food and protesting by removing themselves from work and sitting on the stairs. Punishments included being placed in isolation, praying on their knees for forgiveness and meals were withheld. The only difference between them and other prisoners was the fact that they didn’t know why they were there and when they were leaving.
It is surprising that there is no finding of fact within the McAleese report about why women, who were under supervision until the age of 21 were kept in Laundries, well beyond their age of majority. We know of a number of women who were not released until they were nearly 30. We had raised this issue in our letters to the McAleese committee (14.10.2011 and 27.10.2011) but these letters allegedly were never received. There was no mention in the report of a ledger where you would expect the date of exit to be noted. The Committee disclose letters from the Probation Service stating that the women were better off in Laundries than prison. If they had been admitted to prison at least they would have been released when their sentence determined by the Courts had ceased.
Psychiatric and Psychological Damage and Sexual Assaults
Mr Justice Quirke came up with a new concept called ‘work undertaken’ within the Magdalen Scheme. This new assessment criterion doesn’t include loss of earnings although the women worked for no pay. There is no acknowledgement of serious sexual assaults (because apparently they didn’t happen) or psychiatric damage arising from incarceration. The regime had such a negative impact on these women’s mental health, many of whom were young girls when admitted to a Laundry and many have never recovered. The diagnosis of psychiatric conditions and phobias are very prevalent amongst women from Institutions in Ireland.
The McAleese Committee clearly state in Chapter 19 that they were unable to make findings of facts into abuse suffered within the Laundries because they didn’t have a representative sample of women.
Healing and Reconciliation
Further the DOJE say that this Scheme is a healing and reconciliation process. However the State one of the perpetrators of the abuse is not party to any healing meetings. Instead the DOJE says that ‘If the women wish to meet with the relevant Religious Congregations … you will have to contact the Congregations concerned for more detail on this process’. There is no evidence that a suitably qualified conflict resolution expert was considered or appointed.
In order to address the problems we were encountering; we arranged a seminar at the University of Westminster, London and representatives from Irish Women’s Survivors Support Network (IWSSN) also known as ‘Whispering Hope’ based in Kentish Town were invited.
We started the Seminar with two words on the white board ‘Power’ and ‘Control’. Whilst we were talking through prepared power point slides43; the author of this report was challenged inappropriately by Sally Mulready, who is the Chair of the IWSSN. It was during this exchange that she said ‘that her greatest achievement in the Magdalen Scheme was to ensure that lawyers only got paid €1000.00’. In fact under the Scheme, as shown above women can only seek legal advice at the conclusion of their case where the sum paid for legal fees is capped at €500.00. The seminar was to enable women who had been abused in institutions in Ireland to come together and discuss how they felt about the scheme and to share their experiences. Sadly there have been recorded complaints about IWSSN and their reluctance to create a space where all voices can be heard.44
Slavery is defined as, ‘the state or condition of being a slave; a civil relationship whereby one person has absolute power over another and controls his life, liberty, and fortune.’45
When the Magdalen women got on their feet following An Taoiseach apology on the evening of the 19.02.2013; we felt in that moment that those women had seized back their power. However after the author of this report made her first application under the Magdalen Scheme; we realised that this was merely an illusion.
On closer scrutiny the McAleese report failed to comply with the original UN directive. The Quirke report failed to establish a ‘full compensation’ Scheme. The women were deprived of independent legal advice leaving them without support and a voice where difficult issues had to be dealt with including ‘duration of stay’ and the impact of an award on benefits in the UK. Mr Justice Quirke clearly identified that this would be a problem because when he describes the setting up of bare trusts (Special Needs Trusts – SNT) in the UK; he then calls these compensation payments ‘Personal Injury Awards’ rather than an ex gratia payment. An applicant would lose her entitlement to benefits in the UK, if monies from the ex gratia Scheme were paid into her bank account. 46
Mr Justice Quirke did however give a warning to the agency administering the Scheme, stating that the Scheme success would stand or fall on a fair eligibility criterion. It was foreseeable that because the DOJE only had duration of stay for 55% of women then this Scheme would fail based on this criterion. Nights out of their cells whilst the girls/women were running away (until picked up by the Gardai) are not included. The McAleese report also made much of the lawful detention of girls until their age of majority (21) but this argument is not accepted by those assessors.
The payment of awards to Magdalen Women by the DOJE amounts to the sum of €18 million to 776 women. The average award is therefore €23,000 (£16,000).47 These awards are €50,000 below the average award paid out at the Redress Board.
Who can we raise issues with regarding the treatment of Magdalen Women? The Irish Women Survivors Support Network (IWSSN) in Kentish Town, London, who were given a grant of €250,000 to assist Magdalen Women in 2013 have been unsupportive and dismissive of sexual assaults within Laundries. Subsequently a member of their staff has abused a position of trust with one of my client’s that is currently under investigation. Due to the fact that the DOJE only made one grant there is no other advocacy group with resources to assist these women. The IWSSN recent submissions to the UN are not representative of all Magdalen Women and it is blatantly untrue to suggest that an Inquiry would be a waste of time and confrontational. 48
Why were girls/women placed in Laundries and how did they eventually get released? There are fleeting references in the McAleese report to ‘The Second Vatican Council’ and becoming a ‘Child of Mary’ but McAleese or the Religious Congregations fail to explain either. The Magdalen Scheme mirrors what happened to these women in the past. They are not allowed the rules of ‘natural justice’ afforded to all Irish Citizens, their thoughts, pain and suffering and feelings are locked away with the Taoiseach and within a University Department. They have not been paid ‘full compensation’ but offered a monetary sum that fails even to reimburse the unpaid wages they should have received whilst working in the Laundries.
In order to protect our client’s position we have issued proceedings in the Dublin High Court. These cases are contrary to the findings of the McAleese Committee. We are also considering other options available to the women that can be pursued. The purpose of this report is to shine light into the darkness of what has been offered thus far. We promised at our seminar that we would publish this report on various websites suggested and we apologise for the delay in completing this report.
We have set out below our recommendations following our examination of the McAleese Report, The Quirke Report and Magdalen Scheme information pack.
1 That an Independent Inquiry is set up with a Chair appointed from outside the Irish State and committee members appointed from a broad representative skill set.
(a) This inquiry is to investigate a larger sample size of Laundries (approximately 35) in Ireland than the 10 considered thus far.
(b) That the sample size of women interviewed needs to be increased (118 women in the McAleese report) or selected randomly to enable findings of fact to be established.
2 The Mandate for the new Inquiry must enable and allow the members:
- To make findings of fact;
- Consider whether prosecutions should be brought and if no prosecutions can be brought, an explanation for the rationale behind this decision?
- To consider and identify the issue of gender bias and establish why this may have occurred (particularly in relation to the 1908/1941 supervision orders).
- To investigate the procedure at the Department of Education regarding the entry and exit of girls/women from Laundries.
- To investigate the transfer of girls from orphanages to Laundries (This is referred to as transfers under S 1 (3) of the Residential Institutions Redress Act (2002). Some cases of transfer were not addressed at the Redress Board.
- The Inquiry must have the necessary resources to interview women admitted to Magdalen Laundries, members of the Religious Congregation, GP’s, representatives from the Legion of Mary, Gardai officers, probation officers, factory inspectorates and ex paid workers from the Laundries. (This list is not exhaustive).
- The types of Injuries/incidents suffered by the girls/women must be established and recorded, which would include sexual, emotional, physical abuse and neglect.
- An anonymised database of personal testimony should be recorded and published (subject to the women’s consent)
3 The Inquiry must clarify where accountability lies and with whom for the incarceration of girls/women in Laundries.
- The Inquiry would look at Vatican Teachings/doctrine, Missals, Second Vatican Council, Letters and Literature received by the Religious Congregations, The Irish State involvement and the ideologies and beliefs followed from 1922 until 1996.
- To establish the Bishop’s involvement in the Laundries particularly in relation to the appointment of lay probation officers, as agents, (eg the Legion of Mary).
- To define ‘becoming a consecrate’ and ‘a child of Mary’ and the ethos and teachings established.
- To establish an accepted practice for the exhumation of Consecrates and to review the applications for exhumation made in 1993 (High Park).
- To appoint a forensic accountant to look at and report on the financial accounts of the Laundries.
- The Inquiry must establish a suitable model for the calculation of compensation/damages for these women, who were incarcerated in Laundries and:
- Allow each case to be decided on a case by case basis.
- Establish who should contribute to the compensation fund to make the ‘full compensation’ payments
- Establish an eligibility and assessment criteria.
- Establish a panel of Independent Legal Advisors to assist the women, before, during and after the assessment process.
- Establish an Independent appeal process.
These recommendations are not an exhaustive list but are an illustration of why an Independent Inquiry is still warranted. We concur with a number of UN directives issued in 2014 that an independent inquiry is still required and ‘full compensation’ needs to be paid. We hope that this report will open the door to Justice for Magdalen women and close the door on the illusion that Justice has been done once and for all.
Eileen McMahon F.Inst.LEx.MBA.P.Dip
3 UN Direction – June 2011
10 Appendix 4 (UCD – Catalogue of Interviews- www.magdalenoralhistory.com)
23 Appendix 2-Chapter14 – McAleese Report Summary
33 Stephen Winter, “Australia’s Ex Gratia Redress” (2009)
41 www.rirb.ie -The Residential Institutions Redress Act (2002) – This Scheme was open from 15.12.2002 until September 2011
45 Definition – Collins English Dictionary