Dáil debates

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

 

Report on Magdalene Laundries

8:00 am

Photo of Martin ManserghMartin Mansergh (Minister of State with special responsibility for the Arts, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Minister of State with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Department of Finance; Tipperary South, Fianna Fail)

I thank Deputies Michael Kennedy, Tom Kitt and Kathleen Lynch for raising this issue. I am speaking on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, who I am sure will take careful note of the forceful views that have been expressed on all sides of the House.

I have great sympathy for those who ended up in Magdalen laundries. We are dealing with a very sad and shameful chapter in our social history. The laundries existed in an era when Irish society could be harsh and hostile to the less fortunate and those who did not comply with what was perceived as respectable. Life in an institution can be a poor substitute for the emotional and other support normally found in a family setting. Officials of the Department of Justice and Law Reform have met individuals who were in such institutions as well as representative groups such as Justice for Magdalenes. There is no question about their integrity or commitment. Any records available to the Department have been shared with the groups concerned and officials will continue to provide all assistance possible to the individuals and interest groups seeking available records. That was made abundantly clear in the meeting with Justice for Magdalenes.

Turning now to the specific issue at hand, section 9 of the Human Rights Commission Act 2000 provides a statutory mechanism whereby the Human Rights Commission may conduct an inquiry into any relevant matter. I understand that in June 2010 Justice for Magdalenes formally requested the commission to carry out such an inquiry into the treatment of women and girls who resided in Magdalen laundries. The commission has today published its assessment of that request and has decided that it will not carry out the requested inquiry. That is a decision for the commission and I do not propose to make any comment on that aspect of the assessment report.

The report is an assessment of the human rights issues arising in regard to the Magdalen laundries. It touches on areas that fall within the remit of a number of Departments, including the Departments of Justice and Law Reform, Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Health and Children, Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, Education and Skills and Health and Children. To the best of my knowledge, the Human Rights Commission did not seek information or observations from these Departments on the issues that were being assessed. Similarly there is no indication that information or observations were sought from the religious congregations and other groups which ran the Magdalen laundries and mother and baby homes and the reputations of which are at issue.

The report includes 12 conclusions, many of which are not definitive and use language such as "questions arise" or "may have breached its obligations". Nevertheless, it is surprising that a body such as the Human Rights Commission apparently did not think it appropriate to provide an opportunity for other perspectives to be taken into account before it published its conclusions on the issues. Such consultation would have allowed the commission to provide a much more comprehensive overview and could have informed its conclusions.

In this context, it must be pointed out that the Human Rights Commission did not make a definite finding that there were human rights violations. The report discusses allegations and the possibility that there were human rights violations.

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