Dáil debates

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Magdalen Laundries: Motion (Resumed) [Private Members]


The following motion was moved by Deputy Dara Calleary on Tuesday, 12 February 2012:"That Dáil Éireann: notes the comprehensive and substantive report on Magdalen Laundries completed by Senator Martin McAleese; agrees that, given the evidence in the report, an apology should be given to the women of the Magdalen Laundries by the Taoiseach, on behalf of the Oireachtas and all citizens of the State, for what they had to endure; and further agrees to the establishment of a dedicated unit within the Department of Justice and Equality to co-ordinate remaining aspects of the State's response including all forms of redress which should be provided." Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following: “welcomes the publication of the Final Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee chaired by Senator Martin McAleese, which was set up by Government to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen Laundries; notes that: — the current Government was the first Government to take action on this important issue by commissioning the McAleese Report; — Government honoured its commitment to publish the McAleese Report at the earliest opportunity in the interests of the women who were admitted to, and worked in, the Magdalen Laundries run by the religious congregations and to facilitate the consultation with them which is now ongoing; and — publication of the Report itself has addressed a number of issues of major concern to the women concerned: — it is the first time we have an authoritative account of the Magdalen Laundries; — it acknowledges for the first time significant State involvement in the Magdalen Laundries; — it demonstrates that for the first time they have been listened to and that their story has been believed, recorded and given official recognition to their stories and voices; — it shows that the traditional stigmatising labels that were often attached to women who were in the Magdalen Laundries were wholly unjustified; — it acknowledges that women worked in the severe conditions for no pay, and records their memories of emotional and psychological abuse as well as the memories of some women of other ill treatment, and that their daily lives in the Laundries had the imprint of a severe monastic structure where they were viewed as penitents; and — it recognises that many women were not informed of why they were admitted to the Laundries, for how long they had to stay there, and when they could leave;further notes that the McAleese Report runs to over 1,100 pages, and tells a complex story spanning decades since the establishment of the State and onwards, that it is the result of an unprecedented trawl of State records and that much of the information in the Report has never previously been made public; further welcomes: — the publication of the McAleese Report and that the women and their representative groups have been given time and space, as a matter of fairness, to reflect fully on the substance of the Report; and — the fact that the Taoiseach and Tánaiste continue to meet with as many of the women as is practicable, so that their stories can be heard and their views can be taken into account;notes that: — Government’s major concern is to contribute to a healing and reconciliation process with a view to bringing closure for the women concerned and that the women deserve the best supports that the State can provide; and — the Report will be fully debated in the Dáil next week; and expresses confidence that, after having met with as many of the women concerned as possible and having listened to their views, the Taoiseach will respond to the significant issues identified in, and arising from, the McAleese Report, with a view to a resolution of all issues in a fair and compassionate way."- (Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Kathleen Lynch).

6:35 pm

Photo of Clare DalyClare Daly (Dublin North, Socialist Party)
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I am sharing time with Deputies Seamus Healy, Catherine Murphy, Finian McGrath and Luke 'Ming' Flanagan. We only have two minutes each but even if one had two days one could not begin to scratch the surface of the decades of tyranny and abuse inflicted on women incarcerated in the Magdalen laundries.

One of our key functions as a Parliament is to give a voice to those women and I want to say, as many others have said, that I believe the women. The fact that hundreds of pages of testimony have been omitted from this report is not good enough because in their youth these women were ostracised, taken from society, arbitrarily detained and outcast. They now demand justice, and we should be to the forefront in allowing their voices to be heard.

I spoke to a woman who rang me from the south of England the other day and told her story about being in a Good Shepherd convent. She said that she did not get any wages. She said she did not get any clothes. She said she did not get somewhere to live when she left the convent. She said she was punched in the head by a nun, and when she hit her back she was threatened and told she would never see her family again. She said she ran away once but gardaí brought her back. These stories have been repeated time and again.

We can try to sanitise the language and dress it up any way we wish but abuse is someone getting the hair ripped off their head and butchered without their permission. Abuse is being starved of food and denied one's freedom. These are physical abuses, in my opinion, and the idea that no physical or sexual abuse took place does not stand up and needs further examination next week.

It is not credible to say that no profits were made off the backs of the forced labour of these women. Those issues must be addressed. There is no question about that. It is convenient to say they happened in the past but it is in the present for these people, and we must address it.

Photo of Séamus HealySéamus Healy (Tipperary South, Workers and Unemployed Action Group)
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To a large extent the report confirms what we knew already, and what we knew was that approximately 10,000 women entered these Magdalen laundries from the time of the foundation of the State up to 1996 when the last one closed. We know that the State was involved in almost every aspect of the life of these laundries. For instance, there is evidence that it was involved in the routes by which the girls and women entered these laundries, the inspections of the laundries, State funding and assistance to the laundries, and the route by which the women and girls left the laundries, as well as debt registration and burials. The State was involved in every aspect of these laundries.

The story of these laundries over the years has been one of silence, shame and secrecy, and it is time to turn that around. We need to say that we believe the women. We know the women were lonely and frightened in these laundries, and their stories have been forgotten for far too long. The question of stigma arises for the women who were in the laundries. That was very hurtful to them and their families. There is also the question of the harsh and physically demanding work in the laundries, and the impact of the undoubted psychological trauma arising from that experience. There is no doubt that the State must now offer an apology to these women and put in place a transparent and non-adversarial compensation process which covers wages, pensions and a redress scheme.

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Independent)
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I thank Dr. Martin McAleese for the report that critically proved the State involvement that had been denied for so long. There are flaws in the way the report was constructed in that it was not independent and the terms of reference were very confined. In my opinion it also understated abuse in the laundries, which surprised me given how cruel even primary schools could be at the time. Also, as these women were locked up I cannot believe there was not serious and significant physical abuse.

I will read from the testimony from a former paid hand of the Sisters of Mercy laundry. Mary C came forward not only because she believed the women but because she witnessed the physical abuse. She stated:

It’s the beatings they got, that was uncalled for ... [if they broke the rules] ... [t]heir heads would be shaved. [I]f the ... nun would come down then at night, which she did ... and if she found two women in bed, I guarantee you wouldn’t see hair. I remember one girl came down and now, I don’t know where her eye was, I don’t know where her eye was, her face was all disfigured from the beating she got and the hair was shaved and the blood was still on the top of her head. And I was told that’s what happened, she found two of them in bed together ... I told you about ‘on the ran’, they got beat - they got physically beat. They were terrified, they were terrified.
That is fairly revealing.

It is important that these testimonies are heard. It is vital that at all stages we realise that these were real people who had months, years and sometimes decades stolen from their lives in the most cruel of environments. I cannot believe these laundries did not make a profit. I believe these women.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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I thank the Acting Chairman for the opportunity of speaking on this Private Members' motion on the Magdalen laundries. The Taoiseach should have apologised to these women last week on behalf of the State but also on behalf of the citizens of this country. There can be no equivocation or fudge on this very serious matter. The evidence in the report warrants that, and a scheme should be put in place to support redress. This happened in the past but the excuse can never be used that it was a different era. It was wrong, and when injustice happens it can never be stood over. Exploitation and bad treatment is always wrong. That is my clear position.

The facts in the McAleese report speak for themselves, and I commend Dr. Martin McAleese for his work on this issue. One woman told the committee that she had been subject to sexual abuse by an auxiliary. A significant number of women said that they had suffered sexual abuse in the family home as well. That is a societal issue that is still going on today.

A small number of the women reported physical punishment on at least one occasion. They stated that two ladies were standing there, not nuns but dressed in navy. One woman said she was left with those two, and having been made to remove her clothing and stand on a stool, she described being punched by one of them from one side to another. She said she was dizzy, and she told the women she was dizzy. She said they used to pull the girls' hair and box their faces. The woman described the harsh and physically demanding work, in some cases for many long hours. She said that some of them were only girls carrying out heavy and often gruelling work. I believe the Magdalen women and I support them. Every Member of the Oireachtas should support them.

There is another hidden story in regard to this issue. It is the story of people with intellectual disabilities who were in institutions, but I will deal with that on another day.

Photo of Luke FlanaganLuke Flanagan (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent)
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I welcome the fact that the report admits the State's involvement but after that I am rather disappointed with it. Given the short time available to me I will read from one of the testimonies, that of a woman named Josephine Meade. She said she was in several different Magdalen laundries in Cork, Galway and Dublin. She said the worst was the Mercy convent in Galway. I lived on the site of that convent many years after it was knocked down. She said the nuns in that convent were lethal and that they beat, punched and tortured her in such a way that she has never been able to recover fully since. She said her time in the laundry was spent doing laundry. She got no education in the convent. She tried to escape once but was brought back by gardaí.

There is more than justice needed here. We must make sure that we never forget what happened to these women because if we forget, humanity has proven time and again that it is capable of the most horrible cruelties. One of the ways of making sure these things do not happen again is to make sure they are never forgotten.

When I lived in Germany some years ago I visited the museum of Dachau concentration camp. I found it strange that it was left open as a museum.

I visited the camp with my friends and when we left, we realised why it was left as it had been, namely, because it reminded us, as much as was humanly possible, of the atrocities that occurred. I am not comparing what occurred in the camp and in the laundries; my point is that, in the case of the laundries, we need to do something similar so future generations will know what occurred. If we do not forget what happened, there is some hope it will not be repeated.

6:45 pm

Photo of Alan ShatterAlan Shatter (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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I am sharing my time with Deputies Catherine Byrne, Seán Kenny, Michelle Mulherin, Arthur Spring, Jerry Buttimer, Anne Ferris and Regina Doherty.

Before the debate on this motion began last night, Deputy Niall Collins issued the following statement: "This motion gives all members of the Dáil the opportunity to put politics aside". Deputy Collins and his party knew well that there was to be a full debate in this House on the report within two weeks of its publication. Rather than wait another week while the report could be fully considered and the views of those affected by it sought, why did Fianna Fáil choose to seek to have the matter debated in Private Members' time this week? Was it to give this House an opportunity to put aside politics? Is anyone seriously expected to believe that? Instead, this is a shameful attempt to make political capital from a report dealing with the hurt felt by many women during and as a result of the time they spent in a Magdalen laundry.

Deputy Collins also said the motion gives all Members of this House an opportunity to "unite in our response to the suffering of these women". I do not question the personal compassion of any Member of this House for the women affected but it is reasonable to ask where was the concern, compassion and quest for truth during the 14 long years when the party opposite was in government and during which time it chose to take no action to deal properly with this serious and important issue. Where was Deputy Collins and when did he raise this issue during those 14 years? Now we are to take at face value Fianna Fáil's concern that two weeks is too long to devise a considered response to this report, and that the Government should not even take the time to listen to the response to the findings of the report of those who were admitted to and worked in Magdalen laundries.

This breathtaking level of opportunism, cynicism and hypocrisy, even by the standards of Fianna Fáil, is not confined to that party. Sinn Féin also supports the motion. It also seems to believe that two weeks is too long a period to take in order to respond fully to this report, yet it took nearly 17 years after Detective Garda Jerry McCabe was murdered, and only after another detective garda suffered the same dreadful fate, before it saw fit to apologise in this House. In the debate last night, Deputy Ó Caoláin, without any apparent sense of irony, accused others of "mean-spirited and defensive utterances". I believe I will be forgiven for not taking lessons from Sinn Féin in how to respond properly to people who have been caused pain and hurt.

In regard to the two weeks that will have elapsed between the publication of former Senator McAleese's report and the Government's substantive response, I draw the attention of the House, and in particular the attention of the Members opposite, to the fact that it was always the Government's stated intention that the report would be considered by it following publication and that it would be responded to thereafter. On 13 March 2012, in response to a priority question tabled by Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan in regard to the Magdalen laundries, I stated:

The report of the interdepartmental committee will provide us with the additional information we need. It will be published, considered by Government and appropriate decisions will be made arising out of it.
In fairness to Deputy Ó Cuív, whose thinking contrasted starkly with the base opportunism demonstrated by the timing of this motion, he had the decency to acknowledge in his contribution that the Government needed time to produce a detailed response and that he would be happy if the Taoiseach came to the House next week with a considered response. I can assure the House that the Government will not be distracted from responding fully and properly to the McAleese report by this ill-timed debate.

I was not surprised by the conclusion of Dr. McAleese's report that there was significant State involvement in regard to the Magdalen laundries. I had maintained this publicly long before my appointment as Minister for Justice and Equality.

When Members opposite expressed regrets last night for not having done enough in government, which is just a euphemism for having done nothing at all, it was not for the want of my and others pointing out on countless occasions that there were issues that needed to be addressed. In December 2009, a former Fianna Fáil colleague in Dublin South, Tom Kitt, and I raised this issue in the House but got no substantive response from the Government.

A short time after my appointment, I was glad that I met, with the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, some of the women who were residents in the Magdalen laundries and the religious congregations to facilitate our obtaining a full comprehensive narrative of the years of the laundries. I am glad we were in a position to set aside years of neglect in relation to this issue by asking the then Senator Dr. McAleese to chair a group to examine exactly the level of State involvement. We now have, for the first time, clear and comprehensive answers.

In the first instance, I thank and commend the courage of the women who told their stories of their experiences in a Magdalen laundry. I also thank the religious congregations for making their substantial records available.

I thank Dr. McAleese for his work. I am personally very grateful for the calm compassion with which he approached his task and cast a light into an area where darkness was allowed linger for far too long.

We owe it to the women who were admitted to and worked in the Magdalen laundries to try to understand as fully as we can everything there is to know about the operation of the laundries. Dr. McAleese's report is fundamental to that understanding. He points out in his introduction that, "There is no single or simple story of the Magdalen Laundries." Those who have read the report will well understand the truth of that and why it is said at the very start. This is because, beyond the immediate issues which the Government is addressing, the report raises fundamental questions about how our society lived over the decades. I am conscious that any society rejects much of what was done by previous generations and of the dangers of judging by today's standards the behaviour of our predecessors. However, we are all still entitled to be shocked that some foster parents left children in the laundries when their foster payments stopped and that a significant number of people went into the laundries of their own volition, presumably because they felt that life would be better for them there than it was on the outside. The bleak reality is that this may very well have been so. The report points out that many girls and women were placed in the laundries by their families for reasons we may never know or fully understand. There were also the referrals by, or on behalf of, the State which the report outlines.

What obligations do we, as a people, now have for what went on in some areas of Irish life since the foundation of this State and how do we fulfil those obligations? That is the key question we are trying to address. The women who were admitted to and worked in the laundries deserve the best supports the State can provide, but it would be to mislead this House to suggest, in the light of the complexities outlined in the report, that there is an instant, simple, complete answer to that question. What I can say is that we are determined, having listened to some of the women concerned, to resolve all these issues in a fair and compassionate way, and that is a matter which will be returned to in next week's debate.

A considerable concern of many of the women has been the unfair stigmatising labels that were often attached to those who were in the Magdalen laundries. The cruel myth has been laid to rest beyond doubt by this report. The report represents the most authoritative account we have of the laundries and it acknowledges in detail for the first time the level of State involvement. It acknowledges the reality of the lives that the women who were admitted to and worked in the laundries had to lead. We believe the accounts they gave and believe clearly what the report sets out.

The reporting procedure gave people who had experience of the laundries the opportunity to give their first-hand testimony. The report mentions that, in some cases, young girls were not told why they were being admitted to the laundries, how long they had to stay there or when they could leave. Some feared they were to be incarcerated for the rest of their lives. Added to that unthinkable uncertainty, over the years they, like the many others who were admitted to the laundries, lived in the shadow of not knowing when, or if, their stories would be told.

Their stories have been told now. Having got to this point, we are determined to play our part to try to bring about healing and reconciliation and possibly even help bring some closure on what they endured. The women's stories have been told and are believed. That is of substantial importance to many who felt that, for too long, they were ignored, including for 14 years by the party opposite which saw fit to table this motion. The approach taken by the Government is right and considered. It involves our engaging with those who lived in the laundries and listening to what they have to say following the publication of the report. That is why I recommend the amendment to the House.

Photo of Catherine ByrneCatherine Byrne (Dublin South Central, Fine Gael)
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Let me repeat words attributed to Edmund Burke that rang in my head when I was reading the report: "All it takes for evil to flourish is for good people to stand by and do nothing." I found these words very relevant when reading the report.

I thank former Senator McAleese and his colleagues for the work they put into the report and establishing the facts of State involvement in Magdalen laundries.

The report on the laundries is over 1,000 pages long and provides a stark and disturbing account of the lives of the women who worked in these laundries for many years, earning the hurtful and totally unjustified stigma of fallen women. Approximately 10,000 women are known to have entered the laundries from the foundation of the State in 1922 to their closure in 1996. In a dark and cruel time in our history, these unfortunate women, victims of the circumstances of their birth, were abandoned by the church, the State and in some cases by their families. These women are the human face of injustice and the voices of those who are no longer with us. They were the outcasts of society, deprived of education, and were victims of all the degrees of emotional abuse one could imagine. They were exploited because they had nobody else to whom they could run. They endured miserable working conditions without pay and were stripped of their identity. Many of them were only identified by a number. We have listened to and read the stories and our hearts are broken for these women and for what they endured.

Time is now of the essence for the survivors of the Magdalen laundries. They are survivors. We now have responsibility to ensure that the wrongs done to these women will be put right. This is not a time for political point-scoring. These women are tired, frail and suffering, and their families have suffered. We must acknowledge that. The Taoiseach and Tánaiste met a number of the women last week and I am confident that they listened to their harrowing stories with empathy and compassion, and will respond accordingly.

The horrific abuse inflicted on innocent children by the members of the religious orders has been well documented in recent years, and it can never be forgotten. However, it is also important to remember that many of the religious congregations were a positive force in communities through the years. Many poor and deprived families benefited from the generosity of good men and women in religious congregations. The four religious congregations that are the subject of this report did not set out to recruit women for forced labour. They were asked by the State and the church to take over laundries which had already been in existence since the 18th century. They were seen to be offering places of refuge to women coming from difficult situations in their families or personal lives. However, the subsequent treatment of many of the women and young children who entered the laundries was appalling. Sadly, this is the legacy these congregations must endure.

6:55 pm

Photo of Seán KennySeán Kenny (Dublin North East, Labour)
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It has been said that people in Ireland today under 40 years of age might be unaware of what Irish society was like during the era that is described in the McAleese report. The writer and journalist John Cooney published a book in 1999 entitled John Charles McQuaid: Ruler of Catholic Ireland. In his well-researched work, Mr. Cooney refers to the Magdalen laundries in the archdiocese of Dublin during Archbishop McQuaid's stewardship. On page 152 he states: "Worse even than the austere regime which applied in industrial schools such as Artane for boys and Goldenbridge for girls, were the conditions for "fallen women" engaged in laundry and menial work in the four Magdalene laundries in the [Dublin] archdiocese, at Donnybrook, Drumcondra, Dún Laoghaire and Lower Gloucester Street. A particular harrowing story was that of 14-year old Martha, who was sent to Drumcondra in 1942 to repent for "telling a shameful lie" - she had been indecently assaulted by a relative, but her aunts did not believe her". On page 278 of the same book Mr. Cooney refers further to the Magdalen laundries: "Unmarried mothers were placed in "Magdalene Laundries" where they were forced by nuns to engage in slave-labour as laundry workers and cleaning women."

This was also a period when Ireland was ruled politically, for the most part, by Fianna Fáil Leader Éamon de Valera as Taoiseach. He was later President of Ireland. This period is often referred to as "de Valera's Ireland". In his book John Cooney describes, in chapter ten, how Éamon de Valera as Taoiseach intervened in 1940 to convince Pope Pius XII to appoint John Charles McQuaid as Archbishop of Dublin and to appoint the Maynooth professor Michael Browne as Bishop of Galway.

In 2011, I welcomed the establishment of the interdepartmental committee of inquiry, headed by the former Senator, Dr. Martin McAleese, and I was pleased to learn that all Government Departments and their records would be made available for the committee's work. I also said at the time that I welcomed the assurances of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, to the Justice for Magdalenes campaign that the development of a narrative of State interaction with the Magdalen laundries would consider acts of omission on the part of the State, particularly the State's failure to inspect and regulate, and thereby prevent abuse in, the laundries.

The State, including the Government and individual Deputies like myself, must remember that the issue of the Magdalen laundries is fundamentally about the women who spent time in the institutions. It is also about their children. Most of the survivors are aging and elderly. Some women feel that both church and State pursued a policy of denial for as long as absolutely necessary. It is for their sakes that the church and State should consider offering an apology. I also wish to put on the record, as I said in 2011, that I believe society owes these women an apology, not merely the State or the church. The reality is that the Magdalen laundries could not have functioned in Irish society without the implicit consent of that society. In many respects, the blame rests on all of us.

Photo of Michelle MulherinMichelle Mulherin (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Whenever abuse such as that described in the Magdalen laundries report comes into the public domain, it is met, quite correctly, with a cry for action. The legacy of abuse suffered by these women was continued over the years, even after they had left the laundries, when previous Governments failed to respond to and acknowledge the wrong done to them in these church-run laundries, facilitated by a dominant mindset at the time in our society which was compounded by the support of the State.

Now, after so many years, for many of these women seeking justice and healing, having to recount repeatedly their desperate personal stories of alienation and shame and of their dehumanising and unacknowledged experiences in the hands of authority in these Magdalen laundries, the public outcry for atonement for their pain and loss is overpowering. This public outcry has taken the form of a demand directing the Government and especially the Taoiseach on how they should act. This, too, is understandable. However, an accusation of failure to confront and deal with these dark issues and episodes in the history of our country cannot be levelled at this Government, whether it be wrongs in our social or our economic history.

In the wake of the Cloyne report on clerical abuse, the Government, under the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, and the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, proved decisive and thorough in dealing with the issues raised, with the injury to the victims involved being of paramount consideration. In fact, Government action on the Cloyne report represents a milestone in our history, marking a departure for the State from covering up or making excuses for institutions which abused their positions of trust and authority and towards protection for the vulnerable and restitution for those who were abused. I have no doubt this will be the case in the wake of the Magdalen laundries report. The report was commissioned by this Government and we are all coming to terms with it. Can it seriously be said that two weeks' consideration is too long, after everything that has happened? I appeal to all those who feel strongly about the content of this report to have no doubt that justice will be done for victims and their families and, most importantly, for the integrity of the Irish people standing for right against wrong.

Finally, I acknowledge a debt of gratitude to the former Senator, Dr. Martin McAleese. With very limited resources and with the assistance of officials in various Departments, he put together this long overdue and considerable body of work. I have no doubt that if consultants were engaged to prepare a similar report, the cost to the taxpayer would have been considerable.

Photo of Arthur SpringArthur Spring (Kerry North-West Limerick, Labour)
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First, I thank the Minister and Minister of State for bringing this to the attention of the House tonight. It is fitting that we have finally closed a chapter for our society in which the State and church were interdependent to the point at which nobody could answer the question of whether one or the other was involved in delivering a process that is ultimately a tragedy.

As a person of a generation that did not see the Magdalen laundries in operation, I feel it is one of the greatest tragedies that occurred in a society that looked to the State and the church to give leadership, without having a full comprehension of what it was to have a society that was equal, fair and just. This report will bring justice for people who were underprivileged and who were put into pigeonholes that were not to be dealt with because of whatever misfortune they suffered or circumstances in which they found themselves.

We have a far better society now. As Deputy Séan Kenny said, it is society in general that has been to blame not political parties or the State. It will be addressed over time.

Private Members' time is usually a political joust but this joust is a step too far. The Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, and the Minister, Deputy Alan Shatter, have been advocating on this issue for a number of years. I decided to examine the Fianna Fáil manifesto and found that the motion is a case of Johnny-come-lately. Fianna Fáil did not set down a motion until the report appeared. It did not really care about it. The Sinn Féin manifesto does not mention the Magdalen laundries either and Sinn Féin did not mention it during Private Members' time until the report was issued either. The programme for Government set out that it would deal with the Magdalen laundries and produce a report. As the House will see next week, the Government will frame an appropriate apology, redress and rehabilitation.

I hope that should something of this magnitude happen during my tenure as a parliamentarian, it will be brought to my attention and that we will be able to act. Shame on those who knew about this but did not act.

7:05 pm

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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The report and debate are not about politics but about the women who deserve not just our sympathy, apologies and sorrow but our support. I remind Deputy Niall Collins and other Fianna Fáil Deputies reading the report that the House is united in its response to the suffering of these women. The House is united in its desire to build an Ireland which is kinder, gentler, more tolerant and more accepting. We will learn as a society from the mistakes we made. Deputy Séan Kenny was eloquent and right when he said it was an indictment of our society.

I was struck by a quote in the report from one of the women who gave testimony:

[There was] never any communication to tell me the reason for anything... No one ever spoke why I was there. In our heads all we could think of is we are going to die here. That was an awful thing to carry.
A second quote that struck me was:
there was never a reason given for anything, we never thought we'd see the outside of the world again... While you were in Ireland they knew exactly what you were doing. You had to leave Ireland to escape them.
We should never have been here to debate this report, the Cloyne report or the Murphy report, but we are. Government has an obligation not just to act but to reflect. That is what Government asked for and that is what Government will do. I commend the Minister of State, Kathleen Lynch, and the Minister, Deputy Alan Shatter, for their campaigning to assist the women concerned, for commissioning the report and for publishing it unvarnished and without spin. I record my appreciation for former-Senator Martin McAleese.

I regret very much the motion that is before the House. It is nothing but a cheap, political shot. It ill-becomes the Members opposite to put it down. I know the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, as a person and a Government Leader. He is a decent, compassionate, caring and loving man. He and his Government will do the right thing. They always have, unlike Fianna Fáil which put the party first and country second. That is why we will do things differently. The House will debate the report in a few weeks. It is important that it does. I received an email from a friend living in the United States of America who read in Time magazine "The Magdalen Laundries: Irish Report Exposes a National Shame". He asked me if we Irish were ever going to stop. I hope the report represents a watershed moment and that we will learn from the past and act.

Photo of Anne FerrisAnne Ferris (Wicklow, Labour)
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They say the past is a foreign country and that they do things differently there. When it comes to the Magdalen laundries, I wish the church and State had done things differently. Wishing, however, does not make it so. We must live in the present where a meaningful apology is owed by the congregations and the State to so many women who spent part or most of their lives caught in the atmosphere of laundries described as cold with a rigid and uncompromising regime of physically demanding work and prayer with many instances of verbal censure, scoldings and even humiliating put-downs.

I met recently with Justice for Magdalenes to hear what the survivors need. They told me their stories which were difficult to tell and to hear. Their stories are more harrowing and descriptive of physical abuse than those contained in the McAleese report. It is important to state clearly that I believe the women. I will read the testimony of Kathleen, a survivor from the Good Shepherd laundry in Sundays Well. She described her first impressions of Sundays Well:

I was frightened like, going into the unknown... Going into a big laundry then the following morning, I was on one of the mangles and the sheets come along and they boiling hot and oh terrible, Perspex glass over you and sweat pouring off you. I drank my sweat, drank my sweat girl I did there. Then I was looking around at all the old women and saying, God, I am never going to be here all my life am I?.
This testimony is but one of the thousands that could be given. It is one that could have come from any woman here this evening or from a sister, mother, aunt or friend. I am saddened that the McAleese report does not contain the written submissions from Justice for Magdalenes. While I was at a meeting with the group yesterday, a text message came through from one of the survivors to say she was on page 90 of the report but had not found her own testimony. Unfortunately, she had to be told that her words were not included. An apology is certainly owed but more than that, redress must be made. Church and State must make what amends they can. Reparations in the form of appropriate compensation ought to be established in as fast and fair a way as possible.

I turn to address briefly the disappointment I feel that I am speaking on a Private Members' motion from a party that did nothing for these women. The hypocrisy of Fianna Fáil in calling for an apology and redress is quite galling. I have every faith the Government will do the right thing. When it comes to the Magdalen laundries, the past may be a foreign country but the moral crimes committed there will not be forgotten and reparations will be made. I reiterate that I believe the women.

Photo of Regina DohertyRegina Doherty (Meath East, Fine Gael)
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Last week's report by former-Senator McAleese laid bare a harrowing picture of humiliation and exploitation suffered by women and girls who were sent to a network of Irish workhouses. It characterised those institutions as lonely and frightening places. Over a 70 year period, at least 10,000 women were housed in the laundries. The youngest was aged nine years and the oldest 89 years. Over recent years, we have seen and heard of a terrible catalogue of abuse, hurt and betrayal of trust within our institutions. Society continues to reap the consequences of being in the grip of organised institutional abuse whether it was by the church, the State or our schools.

Since the 1990s, Ireland has undergone a painful catharsis regarding widespread child sexual and physical abuse in what were once revered and feared institutions of church and State. We have seen the publication of 14 high powered and damaging reports into the abuse and exploitation of children in church-run orphanages, industrial schools and, unfortunately, in our parishes. The late Mary Raftery's documentaries "States of Fear, Cardinal Sins" and "Behind the Walls" showed time and again the immense bravery it took to challenge the consensus and expose previously untouchable figures in society. She showed that change could be effected and the lid lifted on Ireland's institutions where for a long time being mentally ill or simply an inconvenience could have had one locked away for life. She reported that this nation used to lock up more of its own people in those institutions than any other country including the old Soviet Union. That is some legacy.

I hope the report enables us finally to draw a line in the sand and to recognise that saying or doing nothing or engaging in a downright cover-up is as bad as the perpetrators' abuse. If there is a common theme running through the reports, it is that institutions put their own interests before those of our children or our women. The situation we have had to deal with in Ireland in terms of institutional abuse in industrial schools and orphanages is uncannily similar to what is emerging in the United Kingdom through the Jimmy Saville inquiry.

I am very proud to be part of a Government which last year introduced the heads of the Children First Bill which makes it a legal obligation to report suspected abuse of children to our authorities. In the past, politicians had a kind of obsession with the seal of confession, and the focus on the Catholic Church meant a failure to prioritise every case where children and violence were concerned.

I pay a huge tribute to those women who have come forward to the various inquiries, which must have been at a terrible personal cost. In his findings, Dr. McAleese and his co-authors said they hoped that the report would bring healing and peace of mind to all concerned, most especially the women whose lived experience of the Magdalen laundries had had a profound and enduring negative effect on their lives. I share that hope.

The girls who were sent to the Magdalen laundries had committed no crime, but they could easily have been taken by the police and locked away in prisons funded by the State.

7:15 pm

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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I commend Deputy Calleary on moving this motion and Dr. McAleese on the publication of the final Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen Laundries. Martin McAleese said that there is no single or simple story of the Magdalen laundries and the report shows significant State involvement in referring women to the laundries. We are calling on the Taoiseach for an apology and for a dedicated unit within the Department of Justice and Equality to deal with the forms of redress which should be provided. In The Irish Times last Saturday, the journalist, Breda O'Brien, asked whether there was any section of Irish society that did not have some involvement in the Magdalen laundries. Religious orders ran them, and family members, priests, the Legion of Mary, the NSPCC, the courts, the Garda Síochána, industrial schools, mother and baby homes and psychiatric hospitals all sent women to these laundries.

Ten Magdalen laundries operated in the State by four religious orders were included in the mandate of the report, and I very much regret that one of those laundries was in Galway. It was run by the Sisters of Mercy at Forster Street. The sisters also operated the laundry in Dún Laoghaire. A statement from the order concluded that they would like to extend an invitation to anyone who may have spent any time in Dún Laoghaire or Galway to come and meet them if they so wished. The Galway Advertiser quotes the McAleese report that no reliable figures are available for the numbers of women sent to the Magdalen laundry in Galway. The report reveals blank or missing records but there are hints that it was one of the few in the State operating on an economic surplus. Many people view it as having been a profitable operation. The report states that the Galway laundry had a capacity of 120 residents.

I recently attended the opening by Garry Hynes, artistic director of the Druid Theatre, of a new premises for the Galway Rape Crisis Centre in Forster Street. It is located at the rear of the Magdalen laundry in property made available by the Sisters of Mercy. It is ironic that they made it available. All credit is due to the sisters for providing this building and I commend also the work of the Galway Rape Crisis Centre.

We are informed that up to 120 were present in the laundry in Galway, 32.5% of whom came from the mother and baby home in Tuam, 16% from the Mater Dei Legion of Mary in Limerick, 26% from the convents and clergy, and 10% of whom were referred by their family. As well as the call for a State apology and a dedicated unit, Justice for Magdalenes has referred to an assessment of financial reparation and the historical record to restore the identity and dignity of all the women who died in the Magdalen institutions and to fund an appropriate national memorial to commemorate the Magdalen laundries and the women confined therein. In that way the State is committed to protect against the erasure of this chapter in the nation's history.

I believe what the Magdalen survivors have said, and many of their testimonies have been quoted in this debate. In every decade, sad events have happened and we must apologise, but we must also take action on the issues that are raised. I also believe the Irish Primary Principals' Network which said last month that as a consequence of food poverty, schools were seeing far more children arrive hungry and therefore unable to learn properly. Child poverty may be brought up again in ten or 20 years time when we look back at this decade. This is not to detract from the suffering experienced by women in the Magdalen laundries. They are a small group of women, many elderly, and they deserve an apology and a special unit dedicated to deciding on the form of redress to be provided.

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal North East, Fianna Fail)
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I commend my party colleague, Deputy Calleary, and our justice spokesperson, Deputy Niall Collins, on bringing forward this motion. I also commend the dedicated work and personal commitment of Dr. Martin McAleese in putting this report together at very little cost to the State. I believe the testimony of those women who suffered in the Magdalen laundries, parts of whose lives were blighted by that experience and many of whom were scarred for years. They had a great burden to deal with and overcome as they went about their lives. It is appropriate that this motion is before us tonight. I heard the comments of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, when he questioned our bringing forward this motion, as he questioned our last Private Members' motion on the closure of Garda stations.

For those women who suffered, not only because of their experience but also because for many years no one listened to them, the report was a significant watermark in their lives and their fight for justice, but the way it was handled in this House and the Taoiseach's response was not his finest moment and not appropriate. It made publication of the report more difficult for the survivors of the Magdalen laundries. It is, therefore, entirely appropriate that we discuss the matter tonight because we felt that we should address the way it was handled and an opportunity should be taken to make a full and proper apology to the survivors. The Taoiseach met them in the past couple of days and that was positive. I hope that when it comes to be debated here again next week, an apology will be forthcoming and wholehearted. That could have been done tonight but the fact that Dáil time was given to the matter this week was important.

Some of the key findings of the McAleese report are harrowing. He has brought statistical definition to what took place by quantifying the number of women who experienced the Magdalen laundries at 10,000 since 1922. The routes of entry for 8,000 are known, 26% of them, significantly, being State referrals. The average age at entry was just under 24 and 61% stayed less than a year.

There were five key principle areas in which Dr. McAleese found State involvement. These were the routes by which the girls and women entered the laundries, the regulation of them as workplaces, State inspections of the laundries, State funding and financial assistance of them and the registration of deaths, burials and exhumations. The committee found the laundries were, as workplaces, subject to the Factories Acts. Accordingly, they were inspected in the same way and to the same extent as commercial and non-religious operated laundries. Although the State did not direct or inspect the overall management of the laundries, apart from the workplace inspections, State oversight or follow-up in the cases of these women occurred in many other ways. An example of this was that the committee found consistent evidence that in cases where girls or women were referred for probation by social services, there was follow-up with probation officers and social workers. It was found there were payments under the Public Assistance Acts whereby the State provided subventions for certain individual women placed there by local authorities. There were more generalised payments under the Health Acts in recognition of the laundries performing work the State was endorsing.

For these reasons alone, it is only right and proper the State would apologise for its role in this. This is a reflection, unfortunately, of a time when the State's actions and involvement in other aspects of life did not meet expected standards. We know of too many instances where the State failed its citizens, not just in the case of these laundries, but in educational institutions and mental health facilities as well. The fact these laundries continued up to the mid-1990s is an indication that we cannot absolve ourselves of responsibility for them. There are facilities today which are not deserving of our citizens, particularly some of our residential institutions for people with severe disabilities. I know of one facility where people with profound disabilities are in dormitories with up to seven and eight people. We are still awaiting the full HIQA, Health Information and Quality Authority, regulations to be applied to many of these facilities. There are still legacy issues in parts of our public services which need to be addressed.

I urge the Taoiseach next week during the wider debate on the Magdalen laundries to give a full apology on behalf of the State. I hope we will put in place a structure to ensure supports are provided for the some 1,000 survivors of the laundries to make their lives comfortable, as well as showing reparation and penance for the State not looking after them in a way it should have done.

7:25 pm

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry South, Independent)
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I thank Fianna Fáil very much for bringing this Private Members' motion before the House. Of course it is prudent and proper that this motion be discussed. I take grave exception to people who condemned this motion, ridiculed it and accused it of something it is not. Members have said that tonight we should look back at the events of last week to size up in a sensible and prudent way what exactly happened. The report on the Magdalen laundries is to be welcomed and I am grateful to Dr. McAleese for his work on it. It was the Government's, particularly the Taoiseach's, reaction to the report, however, that has to be noted. The Taoiseach gave a poor response to this very important report. It was as though he was speaking with one hand tied behind his back. Why was this the case last week? Why did it take the outrage of Opposition politicians, the victims and people across the country to force a U-turn on the Government's reaction to the report?

Government Members are condemning this motion because they are hurting over the Government's reaction to it. They know the Government handled it poorly. I am very sorry the Minister for Justice and Equality has left the Chamber because I hate speaking about somebody when I cannot look into his or her eyes. The breathtaking arrogance of his speech earlier is only matched by his incompetence as a Minister who has lost the support and confidence of rank and file gardaí across the country. He came in here tonight looking down his nose at a perfectly genuine and sensible proposal simply to say sorry on behalf of the Government. How anyone could find fault with such a proposal is beyond belief. I remember years ago during a debate on the Magdalen laundries, when the Minister was on the Opposition benches, he jumped up and down in his contribution. Why was he not jumping up and down last week when the report came out and apologise on behalf of the Government? For some unknown reason, but only known to themselves in government, he dropped the ball.

Tonight is about remembering the horror and the torture that these ladies went through in their time in these laundries. We must all respect that people have a short length of time on this earth. We think of these young women with their lives in front of them being robbed of the best years of their lives. Of course the Taoiseach should apologise. He should have done it last week instead of being forced into doing so. However, it is better late than never. I would welcome if the Taoiseach made an apology on behalf of all of us next week. No recompense will replace the torture these women went through but some structure needs to be put in place even if it is belated.

Something went wrong last week in the heart of Government.

Where it came from, whether it was based on legal advice from the Department of Justice and Equality and what it meant, we may never know. I compliment Dr. McAleeese for his work. I have cited the low cost at which he produced this excellent report. I imagine the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, knows that few solicitors working in tribunals would get out of bed for €11,000 but Dr. McAleese produced his report for €11,000. I support the motion but I am deeply hurt at the reaction of some of the members of Government who tried to ridicule it.

7:35 pm

Photo of Billy KelleherBilly Kelleher (Cork North Central, Fianna Fail)
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At times one speaks in the House in a debate and one wishes it would develop in a non-partisan way. This debate should be about the survivors and their families, how the State can address the issues and how it can make some form of redress or provide a recognition of the wrongs that were done to the survivors of the Magdalen laundries. I regret that in some way it is perceived as opportunistic or partisan for us to table the motion. Our motion reads simply and is not a criticism of any Government or body. It states:

"That Dáil Éireann:

notes the comprehensive and substantive report on Magdalen Laundries completed by Senator Martin McAleese;

agrees that, given the evidence in the report, an apology should be given to the women of the Magdalen Laundries by the Taoiseach, on behalf of the Oireachtas and all citizens of the State, for what they had to endure; and

further agrees to the establishment of a dedicated unit within the Department of Justice and Equality to co-ordinate remaining aspects of the State's response including all forms of redress which should be provided."
That is a clear and concise motion but it is not opportunistic. It calls on the House to reflect what broader society believes anyway. It ill-behoves people to come to the House and suggest otherwise. It is our duty as an Opposition party to put forward views that may be contrary to Government opinion but which simply reflect broad public opinion. More important, they reflect what the survivors of the Magdalen laundries have been saying for years.

These people want an acknowledgment that a wrong was done to them by the State and they want some form of redress. The starting point must be an acknowledgement by the leader of the Government and by the Oireachtas that a wrong was perpetrated on these people by the State. The first part of acknowledging this must involve an apology but more must flow from it.

I believe the testimony of each of these women. It was painful and difficult for them to come forward to express their views on what they endured but they did so bravely. We should at the least acknowledge in this Parliament what they went through. The Taoiseach has an obligation and duty as leader of the Government to speak on behalf of the Parliament, to issue an apology and to address immediately the outstanding issues with regard to redress and ensuring that these women are compensated in whatever way they believe is necessary to buy back the time they spent in Magdalen laundries, often again their will and in appalling conditions. That can in no way be described as partisan, as suggested previously by the Minister for Justice and Equality who, at times on this side of the House, campaigned strongly. I admired that person for campaigning. However, when he went to the other side of the House things changed. A little consistency especially on an issue as sensitive as this would be much appreciated from Minister for Justice and Equality on this occasion.

Let us consider the McAleese report, including the recommendations and the summary. The report points out that the State was complicit in sending women to the Magdalen laundries in more than one quarter of cases. There were several routes to their entry to the laundries but the overwhelming view of the McAleese report was that the State was complicit. Further, the State was complicit by its failure to inspect the institutions and ensure that people were being treated properly, fairly and with dignity. None of this happened and the State neglected its duty to ensure that citizens were not being held against their wishes or at times held because the were sent without any legislative back-up or by the courts on foot of convictions. At time they were simply sent by society and systems that were at the least abusive of decency and the human rights we would expect for every citizen and which we would expect every citizen to uphold for others.

Approximately 1,000 survivors of the Magdalen laundries are still alive but behind this figure are the families of the survivors as well. This means 1,000 people were directly affected by the fact that they were held in these institutions, often against their will and at times abused in the most appalling way, verbally and physically and as a result of the conditions under which they lived and worked. The story of the families must be told and listened to as well. This is why there was a clamour last week from the basic consciousness of the people. They wanted an apology because they felt complicit as well. They did not realise at the time what was occurring behind the walls of the various laundries throughout the country, including St. Mary's, Cork Road, Waterford; St. Mary's, New Ross, Wexford; St. Mary's, Pennyswell Road, Limerick; and St. Mary's, Sunday's Well, Cork. For many decades behind the walls of these institutions appalling abuse was being carried out, in more than one quarter of cases at the behest of the State. In all cases there was a failure of the State to ensure that these women were protected with basic working conditions. This is why the people believe there is an obligation on the Parliament and on the Head of Government to issue an apology. They want an apology issued on their behalf. They walked and cycled past the walls of these institutions unaware of the appalling tragedies and abuse being perpetrated on the freedoms of individuals. Their rights were trampled on for decades and this is why the apology is necessary.

Only a short time ago a previous Taoiseach apologised on behalf of the people and the State for the abuse perpetrated on young people in State or church institutions, including appalling sexual and physical abuse. That was the right thing to do. What flows from that is not the point. If there is a concern that by issuing an apology the State would be open to contingent liabilities then so be it. The first and overwhelming response is that an apology must be heartfelt and given for the right reasons, but not for political expediency or when a public relations machine can manage it better. It should be done there and then. The Taoiseach should say he is sorry on behalf of the State and the Parliament for the years of abuse perpetrated on these women by the State's failure to enforce the law and, more important, its failure to ensure that the freedoms and human rights of these individuals were vindicated. This is the reason there are concerns. The Minister of State, Deputy Costello, knows this full well. He has campaigned for years on the issue of justice for people. He has campaigned for justice for prisoners. These women were prisoners locked away in laundries for years. An apology should be made immediately. If I am called opportunistic or partisan for raising this issue from this side of the House then others can label me as such, but we do this for the right reasons and it is never the wrong time to do the right thing. This is the critical issue.

The Taoiseach will meet survivors of the Magdalen laundries in England during the week. I welcome this engagement and that he is ensuring he knows their stories and testimony. I know he believes in them. However, it is critical for the leader of the Government to attend the Parliament and say "Sorry". What flows from that is another day's work. Why should we be afraid of contingent liabilities? Why should we be afraid that the State be taken? Let that be the case. Let the State at least acknowledge that these people deserve an apology, their good name and that their integrity is vindicated. Then, when all is done and dusted, let us discuss how we can assist these women in practical ways to ensure they can live out their lives with at least some dignity. Let us find some way to make up for the time that was stolen from them by the State and by the failure of the Parliament to uphold basic human rights.

7:45 pm

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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These women deserve an apology and they will get an apology, but I do not agree with Deputy Kelleher that the first part of acknowledging the wrong that was done should have been an apology. The first and most important acknowledgement of the wrong that was done was the Government's decision to establish an inquiry. It is galling to see Fianna Fáil traipsing after Sinn Féin, which demanded an apology before it even read the report. Sinn Féin Members never even mentioned the issue until last year. Fianna Fáil is now coming in to demand an apology even though it was in Government for 14 out of the last 16 years and failed to set up an inquiry.

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Mayo, Fianna Fail)
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Former Deputy Tom Kitt.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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We have set up an inquiry and an apology will certainly be forthcoming. I welcome the opportunity to speak on the report by former Senator McAleese on the Magdalen laundries. Former Senator McAleese and the committee are to be commended on their excellent work in bringing to light what happened to these women and for setting out the role of the State in the operation of the laundries. I pay tribute to the Magdalen women who suffered so grievously and fought with dignity for many years for recognition and justice.

The bare numbers indicate the scale of what went on in the Magdalen laundries. More than 10,000 women spent time in the laundries since the foundation of the State in 1922. The State was involved in referring more than 2,000 of these women to the laundries. It is clear that the State played a major role in various aspects of the Magdalen institutions. Former Senator McAleese has pointed out that many of the women who testified to the committee experienced the laundries as lonely and frightening places. These women were often cruelly labelled as fallen women, which was an entirely inaccurate characterisation not borne out by the facts.

I lived beside the Magdalen laundry on Sean McDermott Street for 15 years and I have campaigned on the issue for many years. My initial involvement followed the attempt by the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity to exhume the bodies of Magdalen women buried at Hyde Park in Drumcondra in 1992. The exhumation was carried out to make way for a housing development. The sisters were selling the land to a private developer and were applying for planning permission before the deal was finalised. Little thought was given to the women buried there and what happened was callous in the extreme. Former Senator McAleese's report notes the careless use of a bulldozer to exhume these women. Moreover, when the undertakers finally carried out the exhumation in 1993 they discovered in unmarked graves the remains of an additional 22 women who were not accounted for in the original application. It was not until 2005 that all 155 women whose remains were exhumed were identified and matched to names and dates of death. A motion that I tabled condemning the action and calling for an inquiry was passed unanimously by Dublin City Council but nothing happened for a number of years.

I continued to be involved with the Magdalen memorial committee and in April 1996, I was involved in the unveiling of a small plaque on a bench in St. Stephen's Green to commemorate the Magdalen women. The plaque, which was unveiled by then President Mary Robinson, was dedicated to the women who worked in the Magdalen laundry institutions and the children born to some members of those communities and asked passers-by to reflect upon their lives. Until 1996, I remained closely involved with the women of the last remaining laundry on Sean McDermott Street. When the laundry closed that year, I engaged with the sisters to ensure the remaining women who were unable to cope in the outside world would be transferred to Hyde Park on a voluntary basis and after consultation with relatives.

The unveiling of the plaque in 1996 was an historic step in recognising the suffering the suffering of the Magdalen women and the wrongs done to them. Now that the facts have been set out in former Senator McAleese's report, it is essential that a formal apology is offered by the Government and that a suitable method of compensation and assistance is devised. I am confident that the matter will be resolved in a way that satisfies these courageous women.

I am sure the Government will not be found wanting in dealing with the outstanding issue of the Bethany homes, which were the Protestant equivalent of the Magdalen laundries. They were not nearly as widespread but women were detained in them against their will and the State also played a supervisory and complicit role. We must deal with the industrial schools for the children, the Magdalen laundries for the Catholic women and the Bethany homes for the Protestant women. We must establish a committee along the lines of that established under former Senator McAleese.

Photo of John McGuinnessJohn McGuinness (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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I acknowledge the role played by Tom Kitt and Michael Kennedy at the outset of this campaign. I recall the non-partisan way in which they set up a committee to hold hearings and give those who were involved in the Magdalen laundries an opportunity to put their experiences on record. I hope the report and this debate send a signal to others who believe their rights were trampled on by the State. There are many such individuals. The Minister of State mentioned Bethany homes but two workhouses, in Dublin and Wexford, respectively, were not mentioned in the report. It is astonishing they were not included. There was cross-party political involvement in allowing this issue to be discussed initially and facilitating the women in coming forward and sharing their experiences and difficulties. I commend Members across all parties on the work undertaken. I also commend former Senator McAleese on brining together the stories and setting out the extent to which the State neglected its responsibility to those who were in these workhouses. It did nothing to stop the violation of human rights.

The religious orders were also complicit and they, along with the State, should offer a full apology. I regret that the Taoiseach did not take the opportunity of the publication of the report to make such an apology. Everybody who followed the campaign was aware that the outcome could only have been what former Senator McAleese described. The apology should have been ready and accompanied by a commitment to introduce a redress scheme. We also cannot forget the families of the women whose rights were violated in the various workhouses.

I spoke with one women who only in the past several days came forward to state that she was cared for in three different foster homes before being taken without notice to an institution in Wexford. She escaped from the institution on several occasions because she endured a life of misery in it. She was not even recognised as a human being. She told me how they washed the terrazzo floors in these institutions. One of the girls who joined her was forced to do this work even though she only had one hand. Another girl who was fully able took the brunt of the tasks assigned to them.

One of the things she said to me was that as she developed friendships with other girls in that location, she and they were punished by being sent to the "hairy" room to have their hair hacked off so that they were then presented to the others in a way that embarrassed them. It is a shame that the State behaved like that. We all need to apologise to all of these families and to all of the women still alive. We need to encourage the Taoiseach and the State to be fulsome in their apology. They must also acknowledge that more needs to be done and that a redress scheme needs, without any great debate, to be put in place to recognise the work these women did while they were in State care, to recognise the abuse they received and the fact their rights were trampled on by the State.

7:55 pm

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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I am glad to have the opportunity to speak about the Magdalen laundries this evening. I have already said that I welcome the fact that the Government set up the interdepartmental committee last July, chaired by then Senator, Martin McAleese. His report is a very thorough one and it confirms for the first time that there was State involvement with these laundries.

The previous Government should have set up a group to examine State involvement with the Magdalen laundries and I am sorry it did not. However, I wish to acknowledge the work that my colleague, Deputy Dara Calleary, did with the groups, alongside other Deputies from across this side of the House. It is unfortunate that yesterday evening the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, decided to be extremely partisan in her contribution in the House. Tonight, we have seen more speakers on the Government side follow this ill-conceived tactic. This day last week at the Labour Party parliamentary party meeting, 12 Labour Party people spoke of the need for an immediate apology and put forward the view that the publication of this significant report was not handled properly. Some Labour Party members went on national and local radio to articulate and confirm this.

Fianna Fáil put forward this motion with one objective in mind: to support the women who were in the Magdalen laundries. The organisations representing the women welcomed the motion, as did the National Women's Council and other organisations. We believe an apology should be given and that a special unit should be set up in the department of Justice and Equality so that all the women's needs can be dealt with. This report is an extremely valuable account that vindicates the women involved. It ends the secrecy, silence and the shame that the women felt. I also want to acknowledge and commend the report done in 2007 by James Smith, the Boston-based academic who describes so well how difficult it is to "separate academic detachment from personal indignation, as moral outrage and academic detachment do not sit easily on the same page".

Evidence in the McAleese report illustrates the State involvement that was not fully evident previously, even when civil servants gave evidence to a high-level UN committee in 2009. The McAleese report confirms that 26.5% of the women in the Magdalen laundries were there due to State involvement. It confirms the validity of their accounts and the consequences of the humiliation they endured. It absolutely confirms their right to an apology and to comprehensive redress. The report is honest about its limitations, which are its terms of reference and "the small sample of women available". The women who came forward were very brave and must be commended for their bravery. They felt like slaves and were treated like slaves. Their personal testimonies, not only those in the report but also the ones given on radio and television, added to the anger felt when an apology was not given when the report was published. This failure added to the women's anger and distress. No doubt this outcome was not intentional, but unfortunately that was the outcome, whether the Government accepts it or not. Because these women vary in age and some of them are very elderly, the delay in apologising only added to their distress. It is obvious to me that the Government published the report prematurely. The groups had been expecting it for a few weeks, but could not believe that even though it was delayed, it was not published with an apology. It is in stark contrast to the Keane report, for example, which the Government considered for months before publishing it.

Everyone in this House agrees that what the women in the laundries went through was totally and utterly unacceptable. However, there were women in laundries across Ireland that were not included in the report, Stanhope Street and Summerhill in particular. Women were sent to the laundries against their will or with the consent of their parents or by the State and were expected to work for months and years without any pay. The work was very physical and days were long. While working they were deprived of education. They were not allowed leave and could only speak when they were spoken to. Today on Joe Duffy's show, women from New York outlined what they went through as well.

As a State we must stand up against this very sensitive, hurtful and complex part of Ireland's history, and there should be an all-party approach, if possible, to reaching a satisfactory solution. The women who resided and worked in these institutions were referred to as "penitents" or "inmates" and latterly as girls and women. Some were sent in as young as nine or 12 years of age. The duration of stay varied from months in some cases to years in others. Women's names were changed. Some women said they were held in locked dormitories with bars on the windows and the premises were surrounded by very high walls so that the outside world was invisible. Priests, nuns, parents and the State hid behind what happened in the laundries. It is time we all owned up. The women felt neglected and stigmatised and this feeling did not leave them when they left the laundries. They were not just institutionalised from their time inside; they have carried the burden for the remainder of their lives. They still carry it.

Even today, some women are still uncomfortable with being identified because of the stigma they feel. By recognising and accepting their accounts of what happened to them, we will enable them to start their healing. I believe the women. We all believe them. For the State to admit it is sorry will help the women start to feel vindicated. That is crucial at this stage. Counselling services should be provided and that is why we believe a special unit is justified.

I am aware that there will be statements in the Dáil next Tuesday on the report and I welcome that, but I regret that the women did not receive the apology they so richly deserved on the same day the report was published. Deep down the Oireachtas knows this should have been done. I look forward to the correct and right thing being done for the women and their families.

Amendment put:

The Dáil divided: Tá, 84; Níl, 46.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Paul Kehoe; Níl, Deputies Dara Calleary and Michael Moynihan.


Amendment declared carried.

Question, "That the motion, as amended, be agreed to", put and declared carried.