herald

Monday 24 September 2018

Magdalene 'abuse' probe announced

The Government is to investigate the state's role in alleged abuse at the Magdalene laundries.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter announced he would also meet the religious congregations who ran the notorious workhouses to secure any remaining records on residents.

Mr Shatter said these documents should be handed over to the surviving single mothers who were detained in the homes at the hands of the courts and their own families.

The religious orders agreed to co-operate with any inquiry last week, after an international torture watchdog urged a statutory inquiry, prosecutions where necessary and victim compensation.

But Mr Shatter has stopped short of a full inquiry for now, saying there was a need to fully establish the facts and circumstances relating to the Magdalene laundries "as a first step".

He said the Cabinet has agreed to set up an inter-departmental committee, with an independent chairman, to clarify any state interaction with the residential workhouses.

Both Mr Shatter and equality minister Kathleen Lynch are to meet the religious congregations involved as well as former residents groups.

The justice minister signalled he wants to secure all remaining records as well as information on women taken into the Catholic Church-run homes who were still in the care of the orders.

Mr Shatter said there would also be talks about a "restorative and reconciliation process" and what shape that could take.

A search is already under way for an independent chairman for the inter-departmental committee.

Mr Shatter indicated the committee would make an initial report to Cabinet within three months of its being set up.

The Cabinet is also expected to examine and formally reply to the conclusions of the UN Committee Against Torture report on the laundries.

The homes were operated by four Catholic religious orders, The Sisters of Mercy, The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, The Sisters of Charity, and The Good Shepherd Sisters.

They were institutions for single mothers detained through the courts or often moved in by their family or clergy after their child was adopted.

The last laundry, at Sean McDermott Street in Dublin, closed in 1996.

The UN committee said it was gravely concerned by the failure of the state to "protect girls and women who were involuntarily confined between 1922 and 1996 in the Magdalene Laundries".

It said it let the women down by not regulating the operations and inspecting them.

It also expressed concern at what it deemed the failure of the state to undertake a prompt and thorough investigation into the allegations of mistreatment.

The body recommended the state carry out prompt, independent and thorough investigations into the allegations of torture, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Justice for Magdalenes (JFM), which represents former residents, said it would work with both the State and religious congregations to bring about a prompt and timely resolution to the issue.

"JFM has already proposed a structure that might be utilised to facilitate this process, which the UN Committee Against Torture has recommended that the government examine more closely," a spokesman said.

But he added they regretted the government was not yet prepared to issue a formal apology to the women, which was "their first and most important request".

"Survivors speaking in recent days stressed the importance of an apology as the first crucial step in restoring their dignity and sense of citizenship," he said.

© Press Association

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