Tuesday, 9 November 2010
Report on Magdalene Laundries
Kathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
If I were voiceless, I could ask for no better champion than Dr. James Smith, who is in the Visitors Gallery tonight. None of the three Deputies involved is saying this just because he is present, and we have said it in private to those who would listen. He is a man who took on a story that has shamed us as a nation. If anything cries to the heaven for revenge and to be put right, this story does so. Yet, these people do not ask for revenge, nor does he. They simply ask that the terrible wrong done to them be recognised and that the State stand up and say "We were wrong and we are sorry for what you have suffered". I do not make the distinction between those who were put in as a direct responsibility of the State and those who were put in by society in all its forms, whether it was the busybody on the street, the social worker, the local priest or otherwise.
Over the weekend, I heard a news story about a kidnapped woman whose husband worked for a major financial institution. It must be the most awful thing to happen. All of the agencies of the State rose up to find that woman and to bring her safely back to her family. All I could think of was why the agencies of the State which were charged with the responsibility in regard to these women did not go into these institutions and ask "Are you here of your own free will? How long are you supposed to be here for? Would you like to leave?" None of us did that. Even for those who were put in by their families or by society, when they managed to escape - and it was "escape" - they were captured by the police and returned.
Those were awful times, although not that long ago. The State is as culpable as the institutions in which these women were held because the State allowed this to continue. We are not seeking revenge, nor are these women or their children. What they are seeking is a recognition of who they were and what their lives were. They do not have that because there is a blanket refusal to release records, which needs to happen.
I know that within these institutions there were many fine people. This cannot go on another generation; it must be dealt with. As long as it is not dealt with, it will continue. We may not be here but someone else will be. I ask the Minister of State to go back to Cabinet and tell those who sit around that table that this can go on no longer. We have dealt with one awful period of our history and this is another part of our history that we need to address. We can either dealt with it now or in the future but, one way or the other, we will have to deal with it. On behalf of the State, I ask the Minister of State to stand up and say: "We are sorry, it should not have happened and we should not have allowed it to continue".