Dáil debates

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Topical Issue Debate

Magdalen Laundries Issues

4:50 pm

Photo of Alan ShatterAlan Shatter (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Defence; Dublin South, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Deputy for raising this very important issue. The publication of the report of Mr. Justice Quirke and the Government's acceptance in full of all of the recommendations contained in it marks the culmination of a process I initiated, together with Minister of State Kathleen Lynch, in March 2011 following my taking office as Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence. It reflects my promise to the women who resided and worked in the Magdalen laundries to see justice done.

The process we initiated resulted in an unprecedented trawl of papers and records held by the State and State agencies to assist in establishing the facts about the Magdalen laundries and gave everyone a unique opportunity to detail what they knew. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to former Senator, Dr. Martin McAleese, for the work he has done. His report provided the platform for the apology made by the Taoiseach on 19 February 2013 in Dáil Éireann and for the Government's decision to ask Mr. Justice Quirke to devise an ex gratia scheme for the benefit of the women who were admitted to, and worked in, the Magdalen laundries.

The most immediately significant recommendation in Mr. Justice Quirke's report is that the women in question should all receive payments in the range €11,500, where there was a duration of stay of three months or less in one of the Magdalen institutions, to €100,000 where the duration of stay is of 10 years or more. If the payment due is above €50,000, Mr. Justice Quirke recommends that it should paid in the form of a lump sum of €50,000 plus an annual amount related to the notional remaining lump sum to be paid weekly. The amount to be paid depends on the duration of stay of a resident in a Magdalen laundry or in St Mary's Training Centre, Stanhope Street, or in House of Mercy, Summerhill, Wexford. As regards income payments in particular Mr. Justice Quirke has stated:

The Commission is concerned to protect, for the benefit of those vulnerable women, the resources which they will acquire when they receive monetary payments arising out of the proposed Scheme.

It has been necessary for the Commission to seek to balance the needs and interests of those elderly vulnerable women with the needs and interests of the many other Magdalen women who are younger, healthier, more energetic and more independent. In order to achieve that balance the Commission has taken the view that the needs and interests of the Magdalen women would be best addressed by making any ex gratia payments in excess of €50,000 payable to the women as tax free weekly income for the remainder of their lives.
The judge's other recommendations cover a range of issues including, each Magdalen woman should have access to the full range of services currently enjoyed by holders of the Health (Amendment) Act 1996 card, an enhanced medical card; each Magdalen woman of State pensionable age should receive a weekly amount from the State equivalent to the State contributory pension but taking into account any other State payments already being made; each Magdalen woman under State pensionable age should receive a minimum weekly amount of €100 per week from the State but taking into account any other State payments already being made; all monetary payments should be exempt from income and other taxes and should be exempt from any means testing.

Once again I thank Mr Justice Quirke for taking on this task. He and the people who assisted him did an excellent job in devising a scheme that meets the particular needs of the women who were former residents of the designated institutions and which the Government had no hesitation in approving.

I very much welcome the statement of Sally Mulready, Chairperson of the Irish Women Survivors Support Network following yesterday's announcement in which she says:

This Irish Government have honoured a commitment the coalition made on coming into office and they did so in just 27 months. Due to the inaction of successive governments, we lost many years and many of the women who were locked away in these Laundries, passed away and never experienced justice.
I was somewhat surprised yesterday to be made aware that, during our press conference, some negative comments had already been made by a small number of former Magdalen residents, at a time when those commenting could not have read, fully considered and reflected on the content of Mr. Justice Quirke's report. I urge people to take the time to do so.

I am informed that the first completed application form, together with relevant records has already been received in my Department, just one day after the announcement of the scheme. I pay tribute to my officials for the extraordinary work they did in this regard when on Tuesday evening they posted out in excess of 600 copies of the report with application forms and explanatory letters to ensure as best we could that most of the women would receive them by Wednesday. Those that are stuck in the post will certainly arrive by Thursday. They were posted out on Tuesday after the Cabinet decision.

Of vital assistance in processing applications received will be the co-operation of the religious congregations in providing a copy of records or documents to individual applicants.

I thank the religious congregations for undertaking this work and doing it in an efficient way. I also thank them for the assistance they gave to the former Senator, Martin McAleese, in his work to produce a report.

Yesterday, I stated the estimated cost of the ex gratiapayment scheme will be between €34.5 million up to €58 million. The approach taken by Mr. Justice Quirke, and endorsed by the Government, is one of restorative justice. I, as well as my Cabinet colleagues, Members of this House, the wider public and the women involved, expect the religious congregations will contribute to the funds required. I note Deputy Maloney's comments in this regard. It is my hope that they do so as part of the restorative justice and reconciliation process. I, along with the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, discussed this issue with the congregations on Tuesday of last week. I hope they are continuing to reflect on that discussion and, after a reasonable time, we will have a positive response.

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