Tuesday, 19 February 2013
Magdalen Laundries Report: Statements
I begin by thanking Dr. Martin McAleese and his team for their excellent work on this report. I thank, equally, the women who met with them to assist in its compilation. I also thank the religious orders who co-operated fully with Dr. McAleese. Together, they have helped provide Ireland with a document of truth.
The Magdalen laundries have cast a long shadow over Irish life and over our sense of who we are. It is just two weeks since we received this report, the first ever detailed report into the State’s involvement in the Magdalen laundries. It shines a bright and necessary light on a dark chapter of Ireland’s history.
On coming to office the Government was determined to investigate the facts of the State’s involvement. The Government was adamant that these ageing and elderly women would get the compassion and the recognition for which they have fought for so long, deserved so deeply and had, until now, been so abjectly denied. For 90 years Ireland subjected these women and their experience to a profound and studied indifference. I was determined because of this that the Government, and this Dáil, would take the necessary time not just to commission the report but to study it and, having done so, to reflect on its findings. I believe that was the best way to formulate a plan and strategy that would help us make amends for the State’s role in the hurt of these extraordinary women.
I am glad that so many of the women themselves agreed with that approach, and I am glad this time of reflection gave me the chance to do the most important thing of all, which was too meet personally with the Magdalen women and to sit down with them face to face to listen to their stories. It was a humbling and inspiring experience.
Today, as their Taoiseach, I am privileged to welcome some of these women to this House, many of whom have travelled long distances to be here. I welcome every one of them to their national Parliament, to Dáil Éireann. What we discuss today is theirstory. What we address today is how they took this country’s terrible secret and made it their own, burying it and carrying it in their hearts here at home or with them to England, Canada, America and Australia on behalf of Ireland and the Irish people. From this moment on they need carry it no more, because today we take it back. Today, we acknowledge the role of the State in their ordeal.
We now know that the State itself was directly involved in over a quarter of all admissions to the Magdalen laundries, be it through the social services, reformatories, psychiatric institutions, county homes, the prison and probation service and industrial schools. We have, in fact, decided to include all the Magdalen women in our response, regardless of how they were admitted.
Dr. McAleese set out to investigate five areas in particular: the routes by which the women entered the laundries; regulations of the workplace and State inspections; State funding of and financial assistance to the laundries; the routes by which the girls and women left the laundries; and death registrations, burials and exhumations. In all five areas there was found to be direct State involvement.
As I read this report and as I listened to these women, it struck me that for generations Ireland had created a particular portrait of itself as a good living and God fearing nation. Through this and other reports we know this flattering self-portrait is fictitious.
It would be easy to explain away all that happened and all we did with those great moral and social salves of "the culture back then", "the order of the day" and "the terrible times that were in it". By any standards it was a cruel, pitiless Ireland distinctly lacking in a quality of mercy. That much is clear, both from the pages of the report, and from the stories of the women I met. As I sat with these women as they told their stories it was clear that while every woman’s story was different each of them shared a particular experience of a particular Ireland that was judgmental, intolerant, petty and prim.
In the laundries themselves some women spent week, others months, more of them years, but the thread that ran through their many stories was a palpable sense of suffocation, not just physical in that they were incarcerated but psychological, spiritual and social. Their stories were enriched by an astonishing vividness of recall of situation and circumstance.
Here are some of the things I read in the report and they said directly to me:
The work was so hard, the regime was cruel. I felt all alone, nobody wanted me. They sent me because they thought I was going to a good school. I seen these older people beside me, I used cry myself to sleep. I was bold, I wasn’t going to school. I was locked up ... I thought I would never get out. We had to sew at night ... even when we were sick. I heard a radio sometimes in the distance. We were not allowed to talk to each other. Your letters were checked. I was so short I needed a stool to put washing in. The noise was desperate. I thought I would go mad from the silence. The heat was unbelievable. I broke a cup once and had to wear it hanging around my neck for three days. I felt always tired, always wet, always humiliated. My father came for me after three months but I was too ashamed to go home. I never saw my Mam again; she died while I was in there.
The Magdalen women might have been told that they were washing away a wrong or a sin, but we know now and to our shame they were only ever scrubbing away our nation’s shadow. Today, just as the State accepts its direct involvement in the Magdalen laundries, society, too, has its responsibility. I believe I speak for millions of Irish people all over the world when I say we put away these women because for too many years we put away our conscience. We swapped our personal scruples for a solid public apparatus that kept us in tune and in step with a sense of what was "proper behaviour" or the "appropriate view" according to a sort of moral code that was fostered at the time, particularly in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. We lived with the damaging idea that what was desirable and acceptable in the eyes of the church and the State was the same and interchangeable.
Is it this mindset then, this moral subservience, that gave us the social mores, the required and exclusive "values" of the time that welcomed the compliant, obedient and lucky "us" and banished the more problematic, spirited or unlucky "them"? To our nation’s shame it must be said that if these women had managed to scale the high walls of the laundries, they would have had their work cut out for them to negotiate the height and the depth of the barricades around society’s "proper" heart. For we saw difference as something to be feared and hidden rather than embraced and celebrated. Were these our values? We can ask ourselves for a State, least of all for a republic, what is the "value" of the tacit and unchallenged decree that saw society humiliate and degrade these girls and women? What is the "value" of the ignorance and arrogance that saw us publicly call them "penitents" for their "crime" of being poor or abused or just plain unlucky enough to be already the inmate of a reformatory, or an industrial school or a psychiatric institution? We can ask ourselves as the families we were then what was worthy, what was good about that great euphemism of "putting away" our daughters, our sisters, our aunties?
Those "values", those failures, those wrongs characterised Magdalen Ireland. Today we live in a very different Ireland with a very a different consciousness and awareness. We live in an Ireland where we have more compassion, empathy, insight and heart. We do, because at last we are learning those terrible lessons. We do, because at last we are giving up our secrets. We do, because in naming and addressing the wrong, as is happening here today, we are trying to make sure we quarantine such abject behaviour in our past and eradicate it from Ireland’s present and Ireland’s future.
In a society guided by the principles of compassion and social justice there never would have been any need for institutions such as the Magdalen laundries. The report shows that the perception that the Magdalen laundries were reserved for those who were offensively and judgmentally called "fallen women" is not based upon fact at all but upon prejudice. The women are and always were wholly blameless. Therefore, I, as Taoiseach, on behalf of the State, the Government and our citizens, deeply regret and apologise unreservedly to all those women for the hurt that was done to them and for any stigma they suffered as a result of the time they spent in a Magdalen laundry. I hope that the publication of the McAleese report and this apology makes some contribution to the healing process.
In reflecting on this report, I have come to the view that these women deserve more than this formal apology, important though it is. I also want to put in place a process by which we can determine how best to help and support the women in their remaining years. One of the many things I have learned during my recent meetings with the Magdalen women is that their circumstances and current needs vary greatly from person to person. That is why the Government has today asked the President of the Law Reform Commission, Mr. Justice John Quirke, to undertake a three month review and to make recommendations as to the criteria that should be applied in assessing the help that the Government can provide in the areas of payments and other supports, including medical cards, psychological and counselling services and other welfare needs. The terms of reference for Mr. Justice Quirke will be published later today and I will also arrange for the representatives of the women to be fully briefed on this process. When Mr. Justice Quirke has reported, the Government will establish a fund to assist the women, based on his recommendations. I am confident that this process will enable us to provide speedy, fair and meaningful help to the women in a compassionate and non-adversarial way. I am determined that the fund will be primarily used to help the women, as is their stated and strong desire, and not for legal or administrative costs.
The McAleese report also refers to women who recounted similar experiences in other residential laundries, such as the laundry offering services to the public that operated in the training centre at Stanhope Street, Dublin. The Government has decided that these women should be included in both the apology I have extended today and in the fund.
I am also conscious that many of the women I met last week want to see a permanent memorial established to remind us all of this dark part of our history. I agree this should be done and intend to engage directly with the representative groups and as many of the women as possible to agree on the creation of an appropriate memorial to be financed by the Government separately from the funds that are being set aside for the direct assistance for the women.
Let me conclude by again speaking directly to the women whose experiences in Magdalen laundries have negatively affected their subsequent lives. As a society, for many years we failed you. We forgot you or, if we thought of you at all, we did so in untrue and offensive stereotypes. This is a national shame for which I again say, I am deeply sorry and offer my full and heartfelt apologies.
At the conclusion of my discussions with one group of the Magdalen women one of those present sang "Whispering Hope". A line from that song stays in my mind: “When the dark midnight is over, Watch for the breaking of day”. Let me hope that this day and this debate heralds a new dawn for all those who feared that the dark midnight might never end.
I join the Taoiseach, my fellow Ministers in Government and, I believe, every Member of this House in offering, on behalf of the State and the Irish people, a heartfelt apology to the survivors of the Magdelen laundries. I say to all of those women, some of whom are with us today: We have heard you, we believe you and we are profoundly sorry for what was done to you, and that what happened to you, as children or as adults, should not have happened. It was Ireland that was wrong, not you. As a Government, we are determined to work with you in the weeks ahead to give a concrete expression to our apology and to provide a tangible expression of our regret and acknowledgement of the wrong that was done. We want to work with you, and we ask you to work with us.
Today is not the end for the Magdalen survivors. No apology, no matter now sincere, can ever erase what happened. We cannot turn back the clock and undo what was done to so many. What we can do is acknowledge the wrong, apologise and work to translate that apology into a better future for those who remain.
There are moments in the history of our nation when we come face to face with our past, when a door, long kept shut by fear, neglect or design, is forced open and a light shines on the country we think we have left behind. Today is such a moment. The Magdalen laundries are the product of a different Ireland, an Ireland so different that many today find it hard to understand what this country once was, as a State and as a society.
I join the Taoiseach in thanking former Senator McAleese for the work that he has done and thank the team that worked with him. The McAleese report shows how the history of the Magdalen laundries lumbered in step with the history of independent Ireland. What was remarkable was not how much changed when Ireland became independent, but how little - how the newly independent State lauded the notion of republicanism but was, in reality, a profoundly conservative, theocratic and unaccountable place where state bowed to church and where the rights of citizens could be trampled if they did not fit in with the official line. It was a society where appearance was everything and nothing and no-one could be allowed to challenge the conservative consensus, a society where incarceration in an institution was so normal as to be banal - recorded in the green books of factory inspectors, unremarked by doctors on their rounds - an informal safety-valve in a state which, despite, by 1961, having the highest levels of institutionalisation in the world, still struggled to contain the symptoms of its failure. It was an Ireland where a citizen could be committed to an institution for being poor, for being an orphan, for being a bit different, for being pregnant and for being a woman, and an Ireland where the State, the dominant church and society colluded in making it so.
It is clear from former Senator McAleese's report just how fluid was that culture of collusion - a probation officer could as easily be a volunteer from an organisation concerned with public morality as an agent of the justice system, the person who committed a woman to a laundry could as easily be a parent as a priest and teenagers could graduate from a reform school to a Magdalen asylum spending their entire childhood and early adulthood in the grey area between the civil and the church authorities. Nowhere in any of this did the word or concept of citizenship, personal rights and personal freedoms appear, and all the while the high, windowless walls of the laundries stood alongside busy main streets, part of the local economy.
What happened to the thousands of women who walked through those doors, down the decades, happened in plain sight, but there is nothing so blind as the blindness imposed by a dominant ideology and a subservient State, a blindness that can subvert what our human intuition knows to be right and wrong, that saw tens of thousands of small children locked up in industrial schools, that often punished the abused rather than the perpetrator, that would banish a young woman from her community for the so-called crime of getting pregnant, that did not question a long absence by a sister, niece or aunt and that did not trouble itself about an industry built on unpaid, involuntary labour.
The most reliable litmus test of freedom, and of the separation of church and state, is how that state treats its female citizens. By this standard, Ireland was, until recent decades, a virtual theocracy. It was a country where women were cast out for having sex outside of marriage, where they were denied contraception, denied work if they were married and, as we have seen, committed to an institution, sometimes for little more than being an inconvenience.
This was an Ireland where justice and morality were conflated so that there was much in the way of morality but little in the way of justice, and justice was not done for these women. Their moment has been a long time coming, and it began with rolling back the dominance of one church and one morality in Irish society.
The battle to liberalise Irish laws, to separate out in practice church and State was, at its heart, about freedom. It was about the individual and about personal dignity. It was about the kind of society we wanted for ourselves and for our children, not a society that forced women into giving up their babies, not a society where poverty split families apart or required unhappy ones to stay together, not a society that survived on secrecy.
We look back on the Ireland former Senator McAleese describes and it is like a foreign country, but the Ireland of today was forged in the face of profound opposition at every step. I am proud of the role my party, its members and its elected representatives played in that transformation. It was not an easy task, nor was it always a popular one but the Ireland of the Magdalen laundries is now a historical curiosity for a new generation of our citizens because of that campaigning vision.
I am proud, too, of the refusal to forget the victims of that repressive Ireland, of the members of my party who would not go quietly as long as this historic wrong was ignored. I pay particular tribute to my colleague, the Minster of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, for her long-standing solidarity with and commitment to justice for the women of the Magdalen laundries. It is no coincidence that the Government which established an investigation into State involvement in the Magdalen laundries and the Government which will offer some recompense to the women of the Magdalen laundries, is one of which Deputy Lynch is a member.
That path to justice has been a long and hard one. In the words of Councillor Sally Mulready of the Irish Women Survivors Network, the women of the Magdalen laundries endured "years and years of misery and rejection", and "as a consequence remained out in the wilderness for years trying to find a path to justice".
As a State and as a people, we can never make sufficient restoration to the women of the Magdalen laundries for what they have experienced. We can never give them back their past, their youth, their opportunities or, for some, the children they gave up.
However, we can tell them that we believe them. We acknowledge that what happened to them was wrong, that the stigma they have been branded with was false and that we are sorry.
The picture that emerged from former Senator McAleese's report was complex. It reflects an Ireland where the lines between personal morality and civil authority were blurred, sometimes beyond distinction. To draw a straight line, and to distinguish between those women who were committed to the Magdalen laundries by the State and those who entered by other routes is to ignore how the very fabric of Irish public, civic and private life supported those institutions. What is more it is to ignore the role of the four religious orders which managed the laundries, and which controlled the entry and exit of women into and from these institutions.
As a people, we cannot undo the past, but we can and will make a contribution to a more comfortable, secure future for the women of the Magdalen laundries. There is also a role for the religious orders, which ran the laundries, to make a fair contribution along with the taxpayer. These laundries were private businesses run by those orders, which benefited from the unpaid labour of the women committed to them.
The past does not belong to the State alone. As a people, we have become better at looking back and at acknowledging the wrongs that were done, particularly to those who most deserved our care and protection. However, it is one thing to learn the bitter lessons of history; it is another to apply those lessons to Irish society today. What are those lessons? How it upholds human rights, and not any one version of morality, is a core barometer by which we should judge our State, its services and our society. The principles of human rights, personal freedom and personal dignity should not only underpin the State's relationship with its citizens, but also the relationship between citizens and powerful institutions, such as banks, the media and large corporations - indeed, all our relationships with each other. They are the lessons which can only benefit us all - the lessons of a fairer, more compassionate Ireland.
Today is about the women of the Magdalen laundries. It is about standing by those women, whose futures were stolen from them. It is about doing the right thing by them. It is about remembering how they suffered. It is about eradicating once and for all the stigma that blighted their reputations. It is about recognising their needs. Most of all, it is about recommitting ourselves to the values that will ensure that what happened to them can never happen again. Never again, as a people, as a society, will we walk past a high wall and fail to ask what lies behind it.
Over many decades thousands of women spent time in Magdalen laundries because the State put them there. Thousands more went to the laundries because they had no alternative. They worked and lived in harsh conditions, often deprived of the most basic freedoms. This should not have been allowed. The State failed in its duties towards its citizens and it is right and proper that on behalf of the State and on behalf of society, the Taoiseach has offered a sincere, heartfelt and comprehensive public apology. I commend the Taoiseach's speech and warmly welcome his heartfelt apology. I also warmly welcome and salute the efforts he has made in the past week to engage with and speak to the survivors of these institutions.
The most important part of making such an apology is to understand that it is not the end of dealing with the issue - in many ways, as has been said, it is only the beginning. The State has now acknowledged its role. It has yet to provide a forum where the comprehensive testimonies of survivors can be gathered and their experiences fully understood. It is only now beginning a process of redress.
As I said two weeks ago in the Dáil and as my colleagues said last week, we fully acknowledge the failures of all who participated in public life and did not act to intervene. Earlier consideration should have been given to this issue and there is no doubt that the women of the Magdalen laundries deserved earlier intervention. I accept that steps should have been taken earlier to make this apology. I am sorry that did not happen over the past decade while I was a member of Government - I say that in a heartfelt and genuine way. In terms of the process that has been outlined by the Taoiseach - there will an opportunity to give a more detailed response to that - the specific proposals need to be discussed with the survivors, as has been said. People need to engage with them so that their wishes are respected and their needs addressed.
The apology for the State's gross failures relating to abuse in industrial and reform schools was accompanied by a comprehensive list of measures which had been drawn up after discussions with survivors. They were also amended after further discussions and the process of engagement was permanently maintained. This must also be the case for the survivors of the Magdalen laundries.
Tribute must also be paid to the UN Committee Against Torture which gave very significant momentum to this issue in its investigations of the cases. Dr. Martin McAleese and his interdepartmental committee have produced a good report. I thank him and his team for their work. However, it is not a comprehensive report - it was given necessarily narrow terms of reference. It needs to be more expansive to provide an opportunity to give a voice to the experiences of the women who survived the laundries. It was clearly mandated to answer the basic question of what was the State's involvement in these laundries. The answer is that the laundries were integrated within the State's judicial and social policies. They were not the same as industrial and reform schools, which were funded and operated fully under the legal powers of the State, but thousands of the State's citizens spent time in them because it was the policy of the State and society that they should.
The report has shown a more complex picture of the working of these laundries than many people had previously appreciated. It has been shown that just below 27% of those who lived and worked in the laundries were referred directly by the State in one form or another. However, it would be deeply wrong to say that we can therefore ignore the other 73% of the women. What the report refers to as the "secrecy, silence and shame" which characterised these laundries was not limited to the women who were there because of a direct action of the State. This was a broader societal issue within which the State colluded.
As the report points out, Magdalen asylums first appeared in the mid-18th century. They were not uniquely Irish or Catholic institutions - in fact other religions which put an earlier emphasis on what was viewed as moral probity took the lead. The very use of Magdalen was intended to convey the idea of working to reform supposedly "fallen" women. They were found in Europe, America and Australia. Institutions on the basic model of these laundries were in place here by the middle of the 19th century. Through a range of different routes, women found themselves in these laundries where they were marked as unsuitable for wider society. That was an era of a state which showed no interest in even the basic welfare and rights of citizens. However, this system was allowed to survive well into the second half of the 20th century. While much progress was seen in promoting the welfare and rights of the wider society, these women were excluded. They continued to live and work in conditions which were morally unacceptable and should have been stopped.
The report references a number of detailed academic studies on the laundries in the 19th century. When these are set against the report's figures for the post-1922 period, it is impossible not to be struck by the fact that the figures are almost the same for how women came to be in the laundries.
It has been said that these laundries formed part of “inherited networks of social control” at the foundation of the State. That is clearly true. Where the new State failed was in not only leaving many of these institutions in place but strengthening them. It is hard not to be shocked by the contents of the 1928 Report of the Commission on the Relief of the Sick and Destitute Poor, the recommendations of which are based not on the idea that the State could not afford a new policy but on a twisted morality which sought to keep alive what can only be described as savage ideas. It proposed that women spend one year in a Magdalen laundry or similar institution for every pregnancy out of wedlock and referred to the need to segregate those who have become sources of evil, danger and expense to the community. The laundries were not therefore just a place for so-called "fallen’"women or those who got into some form of trouble with the law rather they were at times the place for women for whom the State had no place or concern. The role played by poverty and class is unmistakable.
The manner in which these laundries were established, named, written about, built and operated and the role which wider society viewed them as playing combined to mark the women within their walls as separate. Survivors have talked about how they felt shame. They should never have felt this way. The shame was on a State and a society which excluded them.
This is a good report. However, I would suggest that one of the weaknesses of it is that it has been prepared within narrow terms of reference. While as a result of it the role of the State has been clarified and articulated, we need to do more to give a stronger and more expansive voice to the Magdalen survivors. The presentation of legal and statistical information without the testimonies of the survivors is clearly inadequate. For example, many survivors have spoken of abuse within these institutions. Some feel their stories have not been fully captured.
Over the last decade, survivor groups and others have done an immense amount of work to gather testimonies. Many of these have been made publicly available. They are detailed, emotional and convincing. They deserve to be much more widely read, and equally deserve to be collected and published by the State as part of a more comprehensive report on the laundries. It is right that programmes of individual support be offered to the survivors. As the Taoiseach said, there are different needs and circumstances, all of which require different responses. The Health Service Executive should be directed to establish a dedicated counselling service. We are all agreed that simply acknowledging this issue is not adequate.
It is important to note the statement in this report that no cases of abuse were identified. It could be argued that this was inevitable because of the lack of power or resources to seek out a comprehensive picture in this regard. In contrast, the Ryan commission, which had such powers and resources and was able to engage with survivors on a confidential and respectful basis, states that there were cases of abuse in the laundries and that women placed therein from other institutions had experienced tough conditions including, "continuous hard physical work". I believe the State should commission and sponsor significant further work to ensure that every survivor is offered the opportunity to give her testimony and that this should be studied and made publicly available. As has been said, the State should in addition engage with survivors on the issue of a permanent memorial.
There is no doubt that compensation is owed, including unpaid wages. There is also a need for an acknowledgement of the unacceptable conditions to which the State and society confined women over a lengthy period. However this is to be done, it must not I agree be adversarial. In addition to the process outlined by the Taoiseach, the Government should in my opinion establish a special unit in the Department of Justice and Equality which would have responsibility for co-ordinating the State’s response to the women in the areas of social protection, health and education. This would be a significant action that would give the women practical assistance in the short term.
During compilation of the McAleese report the four religious orders who ran the laundries co-operated fully in relation to records. Some gave stronger apologies than others. These orders should be asked to give unequivocal apologies for their part in the treatment of these women and, if possible, should contribute to the redress of the women. It is only fair that this happens.
It is important that as a society we learn from the mistakes of the past. I welcome the apology that the Taoiseach has given to the women on behalf of the State and its citizens. This is only the first step. There should a consensus that more needs to be done to ensure that the women receive adequate redress and steps should be taken to acknowledge the women who did not get an opportunity to take part in the McAleese report. I welcome the inclusion in the process, which will shortly commence, into the Stan Hope Street and Summerhill laundries. The women incarcerated in these laundries want their testimonies heard. I welcome that they are to be facilitated.
I look forward to working with Government and examining its response to this issue in the coming weeks and months. I sincerely hope that the groups representing the women and highlighting this issue for many years are satisfied. They should be commended for their work. As stated by the Tánaiste, over the last decade we have unearthed a great deal about Irish society, many of our institutions and many strands of Irish life since the foundation of the State. Much of what we have learned about how Irish society organised itself is not a pretty picture, in particular the dominance of institutionalism in caring for people who were poor and their failure to provide these people with a decent quality of life and, more important, with basic social and human rights which were their entitlement.
I welcome the survivors of the Magdalen laundries who are in the Visitors Gallery and the hundreds of other people who are following this debate intently. I particularly commend the women and the groups and individuals who advocated on their behalf and shone the light so that the rest of us could see. Táimíd fíor-bhuíoch díobh. Táimid uilig go han-bhrónach faoi na rudaí a dhearna an Stát ar na mná cróga, iontacha seo. I also acknowledge and thank the Taoiseach for his fulsome and comprehensive apology to the Magdalen women on behalf of the State and commend his remarks.
The 1916 Proclamation, which has yet to become a reality, addresses itself to Irish men and women giving recognition to that reality. It is a mission statement of Irish republicanism at the start of the 20th century which remains as vital and relevant today as it was then. It is a charter of rights for citizens, which guarantees religious and civil liberties, equal rights and equal opportunities for all. It is a charter of rights for equality, solidarity and freedom for all the people of this island. This is not what emerged in our partitioned island post-1916.
The women of the Magdalen laundries had no rights. They were objects of a conservative dispensation governed by conservative elites in the Church and political establishment. In the manner of their incarceration and treatment in the Magdalen laundries, these women were slaves of a brutal and inhuman regime to which Irish Governments turned a blind eye. Successive Governments endorsed and used these institutions.
Anti-Slavery International's definition of slavery is where "People are sold like objects, forced to work for little or no pay and are at the mercy of their 'employers'." There are common characteristics which distinguish slavery from other human rights violations. These include when a person is forced to work, dehumanised, treated as a commodity, physically constrained or has restrictions placed on his or her freedom of movement.
Last September I listened to President Obama state, "When a woman is locked in a sweatshop or trapped in a home as a domestic servant, alone and abused and incapable of leaving, that’s slavery." These are descriptions with which I am sure the Magdalen women - the survivors - listening to this debate will immediately identify. It was an essential part of their life experiences in the laundries. In a recent article James M. Smith gave a graphic example. He described how two sisters were put to work. One of the two, aged 14, was placed in the Good Shepherd Convent in New Ross. He recounts the horror of her existence:
For the next five years she washed society’s dirty laundry and received no pay. When she refused to work the nuns cut her hair as punishment. The hair grew back but to this day the loss of her education angers her. To her, it was a prison in all but name. There was no inspector, no child welfare officer. She was abandoned and no one cared.This was slavery and, as the Taoiseach stated, the State failed to challenge or end it or provide for its victims. On the contrary, as we now know the State employed the system for decades.
Sixty years later this woman lives with the stigma and shame attached to these institutions. These are the indelible stains on her life.
In July 1960, James Connolly's daughter, Nora Connolly O'Brien, addressed the Seanad on a criminal justice Bill. That piece of Government legislation, according to Nora Connolly O'Brien's contribution to the debate, would permit young women on remand to be legally committed to St. Mary Magdalen's Asylum. Nora warned that any girl held there would "suffer for the rest of her life the stigma of having at one time been an inmate of that asylum". The Bill provided that girls would have a choice of going to St. Mary Magdalen's Asylum or prison, and Nora Connolly O'Brien's objection to the Magdalen system was so great she stated that if asked for her advice she would wholeheartedly tell girls to choose prison.
Much of what went on in the laundries and the ill-treatment inflicted on women and young girls, some as young as nine, has also been described in previous reports. The Ryan report detailed the women's forced unpaid labour in the laundries and stated their working conditions were harsh, that they were completely deprived of their liberty and suffered physical and emotional abuse. Those who tried to escape and who were caught were returned to these institutions.
As far back as November 2010 an assessment report on the Magdalen laundries for the Irish Human Rights Commission called on the Government to establish a statutory inquiry and provide redress for the survivors. The following May, the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment commended that the Irish State should ensure survivors from the laundries obtain redress. It also expressed its grave concern at the failure by the State to institute prompt, independent and thorough investigations into the allegations of ill-treatment of the women. In June 2012 the Government, and it is to be commended for doing so, established the interdepartmental committee to clarify whether the State had any interaction with the laundries. I welcome the publication of the McAleese report and thank Martin McAleese and his team for their work. However, the Government's strictly limited terms of reference mean some of the Magdalen laundries and the stories of some of the women are not included in the report. According to Amnesty International today, this also includes previously unknown laundries in the North. Neither does the report cover the scandalous and equally harsh conditions in Bethany Home. These significant gaps must be addressed if a comprehensive and effective resolution of the treatment of girls and women by the State in institutions is to be achieved.
I welcome the meetings the Taoiseach, the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Tánaiste have had with some of the survivors. I also have had the honour of meeting some of these women, and they are remarkable women who are living witnesses of a terrible injustice. They have told the Taoiseach, as he has told us, of their personal experience and of the horrendous and brutal conditions endured by more than 10,000 women in Magdalen laundries. Some of the survivors feel the 1,000 page report by former Senator McAleese does not accurately reflect the abuse and suffering all the women endured in these institutions. The report states only a minority experienced physical abuse and none suffered sexual abuse. Many will take issue with this statement.
The Taoiseach's apology this evening for what occurred will be warmly welcomed. What is now needed is a process of redress by the State which treats all of the Magdalen survivors on the basis of equality and provides for their future in a comprehensive fashion. As the Taoiseach acknowledged clearly, the starting point must be that their incarceration was wrong, that they were treated as slaves, that their basic rights as citizens and human beings were trampled on and that the State must bear the burden of putting this right. Time is of the essence. Many of these women are elderly and unwell. They have lived with the stigma of Magdalen laundries and the brutality they experienced during their incarceration for their entire lives. The Government has responsibility to act quickly. We cannot compound the women's trauma by failing to respond promptly and in a satisfactory way. The Dáil may have concerns about the redress scheme announced, and on which the Taoiseach has commissioned a report from Mr. Justice John Quirke. We want to hear more of the details of this.
The State has responsibility to care for citizens and protect them from abuse. Our acknowledgement that the State failed all of the girls and women without any exception whatsoever requires we bring forward a non-adversarial redress scheme. The women must be compensated for lost wages and pensions. Any of their immediate health, housing and counselling needs must also be promptly catered for. A package needs to be prepared for these women to compensate them for the effects of the abuse they suffered in the laundries, and this requires a transparent compensation package. This will be the mark against which the Government's proposals will be judged.
As Martin McAleese records in his report, the women endured unspeakable horror. He states, "None of us can begin to imagine the confusion and fear experienced by these young girls, in many cases little more than children, on entering the Laundries - not knowing why they were there, feeling abandoned, wondering whether they had done something wrong, and not knowing when - if ever - they would get out and see their families again."
We are all agreed the Magdalen women have suffered for long enough. They now need justice. Despite their experiences, all of those whom I have met have remained feisty, strong, resilient and good-humoured, and some of them have campaigned relentlessly for justice over many years. They are more than victims. They are more than survivors. They have become role models for the rest of us on the island, and others beyond, who seek justice, equality and freedom. The Magdalen women are an inspiration, and the Dáil and the people of the island owe them a debt of gratitude for their endeavours on behalf of each other and all those who are victims of abuse.
I now call representatives from the Technical Group. Deputies Maureen O'Sullivan, Joan Collins, Richard Boyd Barrett and Mick Wallace will share 20 minutes with five minutes each.
I remember attending a play written by Louise Lowe which was set in the laundry on Sean McDermott Street. Three audience members were brought in at a time. We were brought through the various stages by the people playing the parts of the ladies. In character, one of them said, "Will you tell?". I reacted and asked, "Who will I tell?"
I was only thinking about it afterwards and I thought, who would I have told if I was aware of what was going on? The State, church, Garda and Judiciary were involved, as well as so many other departments in society and families also, so there was nobody to tell.
I was struck by that because the Constitutional Convention is examining the Constitution. When I spoke on behalf of the Independent Members at the opening of that convention, I said that the Constitution defines who we are and how we want to be identified. A number of us expressed our disappointment that initially there was not more in the convention on economic, social and cultural rights.
None the less there are positive aspects to Bunreacht na hÉireann. If they had been invoked, this would never have happened to the ladies. Article 40.1 of Bunreacht na hÉireann states that "All citizens shall, as human persons, be held equal before the law." There was no equality, however, for the ladies of the Magdalen laundries, the children of the industrial schools, the ladies who suffered symphysiotomy procedures, thalidomide survivors and the post-polio group. Despite this, Article 40.1 of the Constitution says that "All citizens shall, as human persons, be held equal before the law."
The abuse of the Magdalen ladies' human rights, and the others I have mentioned, was in violation of our Constitution. The abuse of human rights also contravened a number of international human rights laws, including the European Convention on Human Rights, which Ireland ratified in 1953. It also violated other covenants on civil, political, economic and cultural rights. It violated the Convention on Discrimination Against Women. The 2011 review by the UN Committee Against Torture found the abuses reported by the ladies fell within the category of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment. The ongoing failure to provide reparation amounts to a continuing violation of the Convention Against Torture.
It is absolutely heart-breaking to read and listen to the testimonies of the ladies and their families, including hard labour, very long hours, the psychological punishment of being kept in solitary confinement, being deprived of food, physical and psychiatric illnesses, and emotional damage. In addition, there was the loss of the right to achieve one's full potential. I remember speaking to ladies who told me of their ambitions that were not realised. Article 42 of Bunreacht na hÉireann refers to the right to education, but those ladies were all deprived of that right.
The Magdalen report found evidence of State involvement. Regardless of the report's criticisms concerning length of stay, physical punishment, non-inclusion or recognition of certain testimonies, the report is an indictment of what went on. There was deprivation, abuse and, sadly, a loss identity for the ladies involved. There is a sad account in today's edition ofThe Telegraph of a woman who found her birth mother after a number of years. The birth mother had become pregnant on two occasions, yet when she found her birth mother, the lady had no recollection of that, such was the trauma of being in a laundry.
There are disturbing stories of connections between the laundries and psychiatric institutions. There are also disturbing stories of women who took their own lives. There are untold stories of babies who were forcibly given up for adoption.
For one reason or another, there are those who have not yet told their stories. They might be encouraged to do so by what is happening. They need the space to voice what has happened. I want to support the Magdalen archival and oral history project. I hope the State will support this and the names project which will eventually give dignity to those who have passed away. Some of them lie in unmarked mass graves. Most particularly, we must get rid of the terms "penitent" and "sinner".
We see that some European countries preserve concentration camps and prisons as museums. In this regard, one of the laundries could be preserved as a museum or memorial to commemorate the women.
I want to acknowledge what the Taoiseach said earlier, including the heartfelt apology, but most especially the reaction of the ladies in the Visitors Gallery. They are the people whose reactions matter most, not ours. I accept what the Taoiseach said about the need for two weeks between the report's publication and today's debate, but the extra pain that was caused in that time could have been avoided. I hope that the establishment of a review under Mr. Justice Quirke will not delay the process further.
The ladies speak about shame and stigma, but they have no reason to feel that way. The shame and stigma is on our part and that of society.
According to the McAleese report there was no single or simple story of the Magdalen laundries. A system of slavery, servitude and enforced labour is the single, simple story of the Magdalen laundries. I am glad that the Taoiseach recognised that in the apology given on behalf of the State concerning that era when women were subjected to such treatment over the decades. The women in the Visitors Gallery really said it all by welcoming the apology. That will make the difference.
Whether a girl or a woman was put into the laundries by the criminal justice system, the Legion of Mary, a parish priest or family members, their human rights are equal to those of anybody else. Church and State ignored these women's rights over the decades.
State inspectors visited these institutions to check them, but walked out and said nothing. The Garda accepted the status quo and implemented it. I remember seeing a picture of the Magdalen women at some church event, with a line of gardaí beside them so that they could not run away. If they did try to run away they would be pulled back in again. That must have been a terrible situation to face for young women who did not know why they were there. The same applies to others in industrial reform schools and psychiatric institutions. The Bethany homes have not been mentioned here but they should be referenced in this regard.
This was an Ireland that ignored the League of Nations' 1926 convention on abolishing slavery. It was ratified in 1930. It also ignored the International Labour Organization's convention on forced labour, which was ratified in 1931. It was aimed at suppressing the use of force in regard to compulsory labour. It also ignored the European Convention on Human Rights in 1953. Despite this, church and State allowed the laundries to continue, ignoring the rights to liberty and freedom from arrest and detention. They also ignored the right to be free from criminal, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, as well as the right to respect for family life and the right to participate freely in the cultural life of the community.
We are collectively responsible for the wrongs done to all the women of the Magdalen laundries. They will obtain redress and will have an enforceable right to compensation. Some 20 months ago, the European Court of Human Rights gave the State a year to rectify this matter. I welcome the Taoiseach's statement that Mr. Justice John Quirke will make recommendations within three months. The terms of reference have not been set out, but I hope they will be those advocated by the Justice for Magdalenes group which has called for a dedicated unit within the Department of Justice and Equality to facilitate access to pensions and unpaid wages, as well as services including houses and medical cards. They also want a commission for financial reparation and the preservation of historical records. In addition, they are insisting on a transparent and accountable appeals process.
The four orders should apologise and should play a part in the redress scheme. We must insist, however, that this would not delay any movement by the State to provide funding.
I salute the women who never gave up believing in themselves. They recognised themselves as human beings. I do not know if I would have had the strength to fight on this issue over such a long period. We see, hear and believe them.
In many ways I feel out of place speaking on this subject. I feel that the women themselves should have the first chance to respond to what the Taoiseach has said today on behalf of the State. Their reaction is the most important thing. Things are as they are, however. Given that, I will try to do justice to the issues as I see them following the Taoiseach's statement.
As the Taoiseach and others have stated, the history of the Magdalen laundries is a dark and utterly shameful chapter in the history of the State. It is a history of 90 years in which more than 10,000 innocent women, who did nothing wrong, were imprisoned, enslaved, exploited, stigmatised, abused and denied their most basic human and civil rights. It is a history in which the church and religious institutions, which claimed to be the moral guardians of society, were the jailers, abusers and torturers of these women. These institutions were agents for the daily humiliation and incarceration of these women and were responsible for obscenities one would have thought would be unthinkable in a civilised society. The thought that in a society claiming to be civilised, there would be mass graves in which the number of bodies was not matched by the number of death certificates simply beggars belief in a modern civilised society. As I listened to some of the speakers at the vigil outside Leinster House, who described and mentioned the names of people who did not survive but who lived and died inside these institutions and who talked about how those women were in these institutions for 20, 30, 40 or 50 years, it simply beggars belief.
If, however, the church and religious institutions were the direct agents of such horrific treatment of these women, the State colluded every step of the way. It did so by sending thousands of women to these institutions, by inspecting these institutions but ignoring the plight and the treatment of the women inside them, by funding these institutions, by trading with and profiting from these institutions and by failing to uphold human and civil rights, not just as we understand them today but as were in place even then in international law. It did so by failing to ensure the right to education of these women and thus blighting their future possibilities. Moreover, the State was at the centre of facilitating a much wider architecture of oppression and abuse that included the Magdalen laundries, Bethany Home, the industrial schools and a more general culture of repression and control in which women, the less well-off, those who were different or who failed to conform to oppressive social and moral norms were the chief victims. It beggars belief that it has taken this long for these women to get the acknowledgement and apology they have so long deserved. It beggars belief that the last of these institutions closed down only in 1996 - this was only a few years ago when many Members of this House were involved in politics - and that it has taken until now for the women finally to get the apology they deserve. The fact they have got it is a tribute to these women. They are the leaders who have led where the State has failed, where politicians have failed and where we have all failed in public life.
In conclusion, if we apologise, as the Taoiseach rightly has done, that apology must now have meaning and substance. It appears as though there is not much to consider in this regard. The women have led where we have failed. They have indicated what they need for redress and compensation and we should simply give it to them in order that they no longer are obliged to wait and suffer in the way they have for far too long. If apologies are to have meaning, we must act immediately.
More than a year ago, I was approached in the Italian quarter by a woman who had been in one of the Magdalen laundries. She had spent 16 years in an industrial school, was found by her mother and moved with her to England, where she stayed for nine months. She left because she was being abused by her stepfather and on her return to Ireland, she was picked up by the gardaí and brought to the laundry at High Park in Drumcondra. She told me that on her first night there, she was stripped naked and all her hair was cut off. She was told to smoke three cigarettes a day to quieten her down. There were 60 people in one dormitory and they were only allowed to bathe once a week. Moreover, when they did, all 60 of them were obliged to share the same bathwater. She spent four years there and she was regularly beaten.
I also welcome the Government's apology and its promise to provide redress. Full credit should go to the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste for their excellent speeches. It is important to perceive this as a start and that there is no let-up in the effort to bring justice to these women. The announcement made today should not be portrayed as a grand benevolent gesture on the part of the Irish State. This is disgracefully overdue and it is about giving these women what they are owed. I refer to unpaid labour, social insurance contributions that were never paid, pension entitlements that were never accrued and medical services, including disability supports and counselling and psychotherapy, as well as other services. All the women who spent time in the Magdalen laundries - and their families - must obtain redress. It is of crucial importance that the redress system be independent, properly resourced, accessible, non-adversarial, transparent and open. The scheme must be placed on a statutory footing with proper monitoring and oversight and must include an appeal system.
Amnesty International has made some important observations in this regard. It pointed out that in June 2011, the United Nations Committee against Torture recommended to the Government with regard to the Magdalen laundries that the State is obliged, under the United Nations Convention against Torture, to ensure all victims obtain redress and have an enforceable right to compensation, including the means for as full a rehabilitation as possible. The Government, rather than the women, has the responsibility of bringing to account the religious orders which ran the Magdalen laundries for their role in the abuse there. Amnesty International also pointed out that it is clear from the report that girls and women who spent time in Magdalen laundries experienced serious human rights abuses, including servitude, forced labour, inhuman and degrading treatment and denial of educational opportunity. In addition, girls and women were subject to arbitrary detention, since they were de facto detained in these institutions.
In respect of the McAleese report, it is striking that not once in a report of more than 1,000 pages are the words "slavery" or "torture" mentioned. Women were imprisoned, forced to carry out unpaid labour and subjected to severe psychological and physical maltreatment. Never does the aforementioned report name the incarceration of these women and girls for what was, namely, torture and slavery. It appears at times as though the language in the report tries to explain away the internment of girls and women. The detention of women and girls in the laundries by the State is labelled in the reports as "referrals". According to the report, none of these women was imprisoned, committed or incarcerated; they were simply referred from the health and social service sector, industrial and reformatory schools, the criminal justice system and mother and baby homes. It of course is welcome that the report established what it set out to do and found evidence of significant and direct State involvement in the Magdalen laundries. The committee fulfilled its mandate, which was to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen laundries.
I will conclude. However, the committee also went beyond its brief to provide information on the living and working conditions in the laundries and on their financial viability. The report implies that little physical abuse took place in the laundries. However, as Amnesty International has pointed out, the report also cited psychological punishments, which also should be deemed to be physical, namely, the use of solitary confinement cells and the deprivation of food for those girls and women who refused to work. Furthermore, the committee did not include in its report the 800 pages of written testimony provided by the Justice for Magdalenes advocacy groups.
These testimonies, both from survivors and other witnesses, illustrate that many women experienced physical punishment during their times in the laundries. I would like to finish with a quotation from a woman whose testimony was published in the Ryan report:
The older I get I find these years haunt me, I will carry it to the grave with me... The nuns made you feel as if you’re a nobody and you never have any roots... As the years go by you try not to be spiteful, I try not to be bitter... I have bad days and then I have good days.
Today is a very important day for former residents of the Magdalen laundries. It is the day the Taoiseach, on behalf of the State, acknowledged their hurt and apologised for their suffering as a result of their being admitted to and working in a Magdalen laundry and the stigma many of them have felt throughout their lives. It is the day the State acknowledged the extent to which time spent in the laundries tragically blighted the lives of so many, and it is the day the State is finally opening its heart and accepting its moral duty to those who felt abandoned and lost and believed they had no future.
Dr. McAleese, in the introduction to his report, says that, for many years, the chronicle of the laundries was characterised by secrecy, silence and shame and, therefore, I express my deep gratitude to the women of the Magdalen laundries who began a journey a long time ago to have the truth of what happened told and acknowledged. There must have been times on that journey when they wondered if it was ever going to end, if indifference and evasion were the only responses they would receive. With courage and tenacity, they persisted. Due to their efforts, the veil of secrecy surrounding the laundries has at long last been lifted and it can never be replaced.
This is not a day for recriminations about past failures to respond to these women's quest to establish the truth. I merely want to record that, upon my appointment as Minister for Justice and Equality, I was determined our Government would address the wrong done to those consigned to the Magdalen laundries and determined to see this day come. We will all accept that the work done by Dr. McAleese and all those who assisted him has been vital in allowing us to get where we are today. I am deeply grateful that he accepted my invitation to head a committee that would, once and for all, establish the truth of the State's involvement in the laundries. As I said in the House last week, I am personally grateful for the calm compassion with which he approached his task. I undertook in the House that we would publish the report once we had it and then consider our response. That is what the past fortnight has been about. We owed it to the women concerned to read and fully understand this story before responding and meeting them.
While today is primarily about acknowledging and seeking to make amends for the hurt experienced by the extraordinary women, some of whom I am pleased are with us this evening, we would do a great disservice to ourselves and to future generations if we did not try to learn lessons from what happened. For decades, our society was prepared to use institutions, including but not limited to the Magdalen laundries, to deal with a host of problems and perceived problems. Apart from the girls and women placed in the laundries by the State, the range of purposes for which society used the Magdalen laundries can also be seen in the report - some were young girls rejected by their foster parents when maintenance from the authorities ceased; some were young women who had been orphaned or who were in abusive or neglectful homes; others were women with either mental or physical disabilities; others still were simply poor or homeless; and many girls and women were placed in the laundries by their own families for reasons that we may never know or fully understand but which the report indicates "included the socio-moral attitudes of the time as well as familial abuse".
The women's accounts, as cited in the report, describe the laundries as cold, harsh and lonely places. Sadly, this reflects a truth we must all recognise: that Ireland itself, for many decades, could be a cold and harsh place for the vulnerable among us. That is not for a moment to suggest that what went on in the laundries was acceptable or to minimise what was endured by girls and women there but if we are to learn what we can from what happened, we must not blind ourselves to what are, we hope, the past realities of Irish society. The report found that a significant number of women admitted themselves to the laundries voluntarily. Presumably, this was because they had nowhere else to turn or because they felt that life would be better there than anything else which society offered. It is tragic to think of those women and the choices they faced but this again is a reality on which we must reflect.
Dr. McAleese points out at the beginning of the report that there is no single or simple story of the Magdalen laundries. More than 10,000 women are known to have entered the laundries from the foundation of the State in 1922 until the closure of the last laundry in 1996. Each of those girls and women were individuals with their own stories and experiences, before, during and after their time in the Magdalen laundries. It would be a great injustice to them to define their lives by the fact that they were in the laundries.
There is an obligation on us to address the women's needs arising from the hurt they experienced during, and due to, their time in the laundries. We wish not only to acknowledge the experiences many of the women had in these institutions but also to look to addressing their future needs. In particular, I want to pursue measures that will promote healing, reconciliation and, in so far as possible, provide closure to them. Attributing blame or taking an adversarial approach to this issue will not promote the well-being of the women concerned.
The Taoiseach has gone to some lengths to meet as many of the women concerned as possible. The largest grouping of women are those represented by the Irish Women Survivors Network based in the UK. The Taoiseach, the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, and I travelled specially to the UK to meet this group last Saturday. In Ireland, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste met women represented by the Magdalen Survivors Together and the Taoiseach also met women currently living in nursing homes or sheltered accommodation under the care of the religious congregations. I had met many of these women in the past, prior to the establishment of the McAleese committee, and Dr. McAleese also met many of them once he took up his appointment.
The concerns they expressed on their own behalf in all of these meetings were quite consistent. They had felt ignored for many years and wanted their stories listened to. Through the mechanism of the McAleese committee established by the Government, the women have had the opportunity to tell their stories, to have them listened to, acknowledged, recorded and believed. We have received letters or messages of thanks from both representative groups for this, expressing their appreciation for, and satisfaction with, this process and the manner in which it was conducted.
Another major concern expressed directly by the women themselves was their lasting concern and undeserved sense of shame due to the stigma they felt attached to them because Magdalen laundries were associated in the popular mind with what used to be referred to as "fallen women". The facts set out in the McAleese report clearly address this point and put an end forever to any stigma of this or any other kind.
The question of an apology has been addressed by the Taoiseach and, as Minister for Justice and Equality, I unreservedly endorse that apology. What remains is the question of what supports should be provided in the future. The Government decided earlier to establish fund for the benefit of the women who were in these institutions. The Government does not wish to see any of this fund wasted on lawyer's fees nor does it wish to go down the road of an adversarial approach where individual women will have to prove they were traumatised. We are concerned about providing speedy and effective practical help and support. This is also a message we received clearly from the women directly concerned.
The Government has given consideration to a number of purposes to which the fund might be put. As I mentioned, the largest single group of women who have come forward are based in the UK and represented by the Irish Women's Survivors Network. The Irish Survivors Advice and Support Network, ISASN, has worked with and provided advice and support to more than 2,000 survivors of industrial schools and laundries. It is proposed that the step by step centre for Irish survivors be established as a holistic and person-centred service that not only would offer accessible specialist advice and support to those affected, but also focus on ensuring their future health and well-being. The Government has made a decision in principle to pay out of the fund an initial sum of €250,000 to the UK step by step centre for Irish survivors of industrial schools and the laundries. I envisage this payment being made as soon as the legal technicalities have been clarified.
The fund is aimed at women who spent time in Magdalen laundries. However, the stories of a certain number of women who were admitted to and worked in the residential laundry in Stanhope Street in Dublin reflect those of the women in the Magdalen laundries. In recognition of that, the Government has decided to include the women who worked in the Stanhope Street laundry without pay within the scope of the fund. A number of women, in particular those represented by Magdalen Survivors Together, were keen to have some form of memorial for the story of the Magdalen laundries as we now know it.
It is appropriate that the women themselves now consider the nature and location of a memorial they would deem suitable.
The needs of individual women vary considerably and, as I noted, the Government wishes to have a system in place that will be open and transparent and at the same time will avoid a complicated administrative system. While I appreciate that any further lapse of time may not be very welcome, I hope, on balance, the women will see the advantages in our decision to appoint an independent person to advise on these matters in a relatively short timeframe. To this end, the Government has appointed retired High Court judge and current president of the Law Reform Commission, Mr. Justice Quirke, to examine how, taking into account the McAleese report, the Government might best provide supports, including health services such as medical cards, psychological and counselling services and other welfare needs for the women who need such supports as a result of their experiences. Mr. Justice Quirke is being asked to advise on the establishment of a scheme under the fund, which is to operate on a non-adversarial basis, to make payments to individuals from the fund. This will include identifying the criteria and factors to be taken into account, such as work undertaken in the laundries for no remuneration. He will advise on the operation of the fund and, in particular, the nature and amount of payments to be made out of the fund. He will further set the procedure for the determination of applications in a manner that ensures the moneys in the fund are directed only to the benefit of eligible applicants and not on substantial legal fees and expenses.
Mr. Justice Quirke is being asked to report back within three months. Everyone concerned is anxious to avoid unnecessary delays and I share this concern. For this reason, I have instructed officials in my Department to start the process now in anticipation of the entry into operation of the fund. To this end, with effect from tomorrow, people may contact my Department to register their interest in being considered to receive benefits or supports from the fund when it enters into operation. This will allow people time to gather the necessary basic documentation that will be required to verify their identity and stay in one of the relevant institutions. It may also give some indication of the numbers who have an interest in such a fund. I hope the religious congregations will co-operate in facilitating the operation of the system which will facilitate the making of payments to those who seek them.
The contact details will be as follows: Magdalen Laundry Fund, c/o Department of Justice and Equality, Montague Court, Montague Street, Dublin 2. There will be a notice on my departmental website, which will provide a telephone number, e-mail addresses and a website, www.idcmagdalen.ie. I do not expect anyone to remember the website addresses but the details will be readily accessible on my Department's website at www.justice.ie. My Department will also be in touch with the representative groups on this matter.
It will be a matter for Mr. Justice Quirke to decide how he will carry out his task. He will receive whatever assistance he needs from the relevant Departments and will, no doubt, take into consideration the views expressed by representative and advocacy groups. We are determined that the money in question will be solely for the benefit of the women. In that context, I am confident Mr. Justice Quirke will devise a scheme which will be straightforward and include every administrative assistance for applicants.
I know the women present this evening will be the first to agree that we should also remember that the greater number of women who were admitted to and worked in the laundries are, sadly, no longer with us. There are other women too, as the report points out, who never want to tell anyone of their time in the laundries. That is their right but I hope today that they, too, if only privately, can take some comfort from this day of acknowledgement.
We accept that what we have done today may not completely satisfy everyone concerned. No matter how much we want to, we cannot undo the hurt that has been done. However, what we have tried to do, having listened to the response of the women concerned to the report, is to attempt to resolve the issues faced by them in a fair and compassionate way, in so far as that is possible. Beyond what we have set out today, the greatest respect we can pay to their stories of the laundries is to say that those stories and the lessons from them will never be forgotten and are truly believed. We are committed to do whatever we can to be of assistance.
This time last week, I asked the Taoiseach to give a voice to the voiceless and tonight he did so. I welcome the heartfelt and genuine apology he made as the Taoiseach and a citizen of the State. His apology is owed to all of the women concerned. He has given a voice to those whose voice was stolen from them and in finding their voice, the survivors of the Magdalen laundries and their supporters have shown great courage, dignity and inspiration. Those of us who have met the women in recent years could not help but be inspired and humbled by the manner in which they have approached their experience. I have never seen the Gallery as alive or emotional as it was when the Taoiseach spoke. There were tears of joy at this achievement, which is a compliment to the Taoiseach.
Over the weekend, the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, set a high bar for the person charged with the task Mr. Justice Quirke has since been appointed to complete. I believe Mr. Justice Quirke will reach the bar and bring great experience to the role. The job specification and timeframe within which he must deliver is challenging. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, addressed some of the more practical questions we had on the role of Mr. Justice Quirke.
The Government's commitment to have a memorial is appropriate. It should not be a statue or monument but a living memorial, somewhere where the testimonies of all of those who were in the laundries and institutions is recorded for posterity. This will ensure that once this generation, which has learned so much from the survivors and their stories, passes, subsequent generations will not forget and will be able to read and see the survivors' testimony. We need a living as well as a physical memorial, and a proper scheme that is delivered quickly will also serve as a living memorial. I welcome the Minister's commitment to ensure the scheme will be non-adversarial. The survivors have endured enough adversity and fought long enough to reach this stage. Tonight, we remember those who were in the institutions and have gone to a better place. They and their families are in our thoughts.
I welcome the Government's commitment to establish and fund the step-by-step centre for those living in the United Kingdom. It is one of the features of the Magdalen women that many of them left the country that abandoned them so many years ago. Tonight, as those of them who live abroad look in, I welcome the commitment to the step-by-step centre and hope those who are living in countries other than the UK will receive the same service.
I welcome the commitment to include in the scheme women who were in the Stanhope Street laundry. It was one of the ironies of the McAleese process - I compliment former Senator McAleese - that the laundry which provided all of the images used to depict Magdalen laundries was excluded from the report. The inclusion tonight of Stanhope Street is welcome. I seek clarification on whether survivors of another laundry in Wexford will be included in the scheme.
Many people have walked the journey and tonight is their night. Many have given a voice to the ladies in question and many groups have given them a chance. Film makers brought their stories to life in a way that was precluded before technology. Tonight is a night for the women and their families who went through this journey in so much secrecy and pain for many years. Today, in The Irish Times, James Smith from Justice for Magdalenes cited the following poem by Patricia Burke Brogan from the play "Eclipsed":
Make Visible the Tree/ This is the Place of Betrayal.The tree is now visible and the stone has been rolled back but the work must go on. If we are finally to make the tree fully visible, we must see through tonight's announcements fairly and quickly as the people concerned do not have time.
Roll back the stone/ behind madonna blue walls.
Make visible the tree.
Above percussion of engines
from gloom of catacombs
through a glaze of prayer,
scumble of chanting,
make visible the tree,
its branches ragged
with washed-out linens
of a bleached shroud.
In this shattered landscape,
of sulphur-yellow bulldozers
slice through wombs
of blood-soaked generations.
This is the place
forsaken, stares and stares
at a blank towel.
Last week, Deputies from all parties read into the record some of the testimonies. We ended with the simple words "We believe". We believe every one of the survivors. Tonight, the country believes. Tonight is their night.
The Taoiseach's welcome apology on behalf of the State was long overdue. The Magdalen women have waited, hoped and prayed for this moment. Many of them despaired that it might never come, but it has. Today saw a full acknowledgement of the wrong done to them. They were wronged. The State was complicit in their detention and abuse in the laundries. It oversaw a system of slave labour, had commercial relationships with and inspected the laundries. The State was a party to the wholesale violation of the basic freedoms and rights of girls and women detained in those laundries. Their arbitrary detention, their servitude and their forced labour were illegal. The State broke the law repeatedly for decades. It is liable for these unlawful acts and for failing in its legal duties to uphold and vindicate the rights of the girls and women.
This is what today's apology is about. The acknowledgement of the hurt and suffering is essential for the women, but the State's acceptance of its responsibility, liability and failures is the crucial part. The apology is just a first step in securing justice for the women. Redress and compensation must follow to make some amends. In other words, the apology must be matched with actions.
The story of the Magdalen laundries brings us face to face once again with the all too familiar themes of shame, stigma, silence and secrecy, themes that have defined the systemic abuse of women and children in Irish society for generations.
If I may be unorthodox and overrule the Acting Chairman, I will say to the people in the Public Gallery to work away.
This is not the stuff of history. We would be fooling ourselves but no one else in the course of this debate if we believed for a second that this approach to vulnerable women and children was a thing of the past. It is not. It lives with us yet in society.
Deliberate cruelty was visited on young, vulnerable women for decades with the active connivance of the State. All the while, society looked the other way. It might be convenient for us at this distance to claim we did not know, but it would be more honest to say we did not want to know. The truth came out slowly, but forcefully. The work of courageous journalism, most notably that of the late Mary Raftery, the inquiries into industrial schools, the diligence of human rights activists and advocacy groups and, above all, the immense bravery of Magdalen women and their families put the truth on the record.
We have known of the trauma endured by women and girls for some time. The 2009 Ryan report made an explicit reference to the abuse suffered in the Magdalen laundries. Archival material and the women's testimonies painstakingly gathered by Justice for Magdalenes had long established a history of abuse and State involvement in same, yet it took the UN Committee against Torture to force the State's hand to address the issue. In 2011, just 20 months ago, the instinct of the State was still to look the other way and to deny its part in the Magdalen laundries.
The McAleese review was set the task of establishing the extent of State involvement in the laundries. The report published two weeks ago confirmed again State complicity in the detention of women and in breaches of their constitutional and human rights. The report is to be commended for reiterating these facts. However, it needs to be said that the report is not a full nor final account of the laundries and the women's experiences therein. The information and records examined by the committee was incomplete and the report acknowledges that statistics on routes of admission and lengths of stay are substantially incomplete. The route of entry for almost half of the women and girls is not recorded. In the case of length of stay, there are no data for 58% of admissions. The lack of information relating to the laundry in Dún Laoghaire and the partial records for Galway are noted in the report. The exclusion of the Stanhope Street and Summerhill laundries from consideration by the committee and from the report represents another large gap in the story.
The committee heard from just 119 surviving women from the laundries. It was a disappointment that the written submissions of survivors were not fully reflected in the report. The finding that there was no physical abuse gave rise to most commentary because it does not tally with the available evidence. Not only does survivor testimony flatly contradict this finding, but the report itself instances occasions of solitary confinement and deprivation, which are by any definition physical abuse. However, the McAleese report confirms State collusion with the Magdalen laundries. This is its central achievement and it is to be commended.
I noted with interest the Government's announcement this evening of the appointment of Mr. Justice John Quirke to report within a period of three months. That is a rather lengthy period for deliberation and I ask the Government to reconsider it.
I welcome the Government's commitment to a non-adversarial redress process. This is how it must be. However, I wish to sound a note of caution. It cannot be left to one individual, no matter how honourable or eminent, to adjudicate on these matters. It is essential that the redress process accord with rules of natural justice and fair procedure and be fully transparent. For this reason, any redress scheme must be put on a statutory footing, have adequate oversight and have a right of appeal. I am concerned, as the indications are that this rigour, clarity and transparency might not apply to what the Government has in mind. I ask it to revisit this approach.
No one wants the redress procedure to be a bonanza for the legal profession. The survivors certainly do not. However, I would be equally concerned if the Government ruled out the spending of any money on the legal advice the survivors might require. It would be ill-judged and could prove detrimental to the process and unfair to the women. We will revert to these issues another day.
For all of the women, there is no way in which we can fully compensate them. We cannot give them back the years spent in slavery in the institutions.
We cannot give them back their youth, innocence or optimism.
I am also conscious that for many of the women there can be no redress because they are no longer around. The most traumatic part for me of what is a deeply traumatic story is the manner in which some of the women died and were buried. They had lived without the dignity of their name and they died without it also.
The Magdalen women have done this State a great service. Their testimony and stories have sharply confronted the historic ambivalence of the State about physical abuse of women and children. That ambivalence still exists. The Magdalen women put it up to all of us to confront and rectify abuses in the system both historic and current. I instance the Bethany Home. It is disgraceful that yet again those victims and survivors are excluded from yet another redress mechanism. That is not good enough and it cannot continue. I instance the enforced illegal adoption of Irish babies in this country and abroad. It is a scandal simmering just beneath the surface with which we must deal. I instance the victims of symphysiotomy – all 1,500 women - who were butchered in State and State-funded voluntary hospitals and who have yet to have any acknowledgement. The Magdalen women have made it very clear that when women are wronged that women will demand justice. They have led the way and we owe them a very great debt.
Today, the full vindication of the Magdalen women begins. Their truth, their stories, their lives, above all their courage and dignity, have brought us to this moment of apology. Girls and women were held against their will, enslaved, belittled and damaged, yet today they triumph. Today, the responsibility of the State - its neglect, collusion and complicity - in the abuses of the laundries is acknowledged fully and finally.
As we are speaking earlier than expected it is not clear if Deputy Halligan will arrive in the Chamber. I appreciate the forbearance of the Acting Chairman.
I am happy to add to the statements made by the party leaders and the Head of Government, An Taoiseach. I compliment the Taoiseach on his fulsome, honest and heartfelt apology on behalf of the Government, the Cabinet, backbenchers, his party and, more importantly, the people of this country.
I welcome the remaining members of the Magdalen women who are present in the Gallery this evening. I met them outside the gates of Leinster House. They did themselves proud with the dignity with which they held their silent, candle-lit vigil as dusk was falling. They gave a nice rendition of the sad song from which the Taoiseach quoted a line in his speech. That tells its own story.
The Magdalen women are a coterie of people who have been abused beyond all recognition. No words of mine, the Taoiseach or any Member of this House can ever bring back the lost lives, lost time and the separation, anguish and trauma they experienced in the Magdalen laundries. Neither will it bring back the loss of friendship and the comradeship of siblings, parents and loved ones throughout the time of their incarceration.
Times have changed. I thank former Senator McAleese for his report. I welcome the fact that the Government bestowed the job of chairmanship of the committee on him. It cost €11,400 for a 1,000 page report. However, pages and volumes of books do not matter; it is what the reports contain that is important. I refer to the telling and moving stories. I salute the women who had the courage to recount with humility and honesty the awful stories of what happened to them in spite of the memories they evoked. It was a truly shocking and appalling vista that emerged.
We could say it happened at a different time in the past but the State must take the blame for 28% of the women and what went on at the time. Some women went into the laundries voluntarily and others were put in by their families. They must examine their consciences, as we all have to. We knew of people in our neighbourhood who were put away for whatever reason. Thankfully, some women of whom I am aware were taken back into the community in later years and reunited with their families. In a case of which I am aware an excellent service was provided by an individual in minding her siblings and playing a full part in my local community. I knew her affectionately as Peg. I never knew she existed or was in a laundry until she arrived back and played a full and honest part in the community. One would not meet a finer lady. She went through trauma but she did not discuss it with anyone. She carried it with dignity and played a full part in her home.
I welcome the fact that pension rights will be considered for the rest of the women who are alive today. I am a fervent supporter of most of the sisters, brothers, priests and clergy but the religious orders must pay some compensation because the laundries were a business that were based on slave labour. That cannot be tolerated. Pension rights must accrue to those people and pensions must be paid. I am pleased that an eminent judge has been appointed to examine the situation. I am particularly pleased, and I hope and pray, that any redress will not become a legal quagmire. We do not want that. We have had too much experience of tribunals and the gravy trains they became for lawyers. People were left even more embittered following court cases and related situations. Deputy Halligan has arrived. I ask you, Acting Chairman, to tell me how much time I have left in order that we have five minutes each.
I will conclude. I listened to the Tánaiste especially today. The Minister of State, Deputy Jan O’Sullivan is present. He indicated that everything has changed but that is not the case. I again put on record my disdain for the fact that the House approved the expenditure of €3 million for a referendum on the rights of children and €1.1 million of it was stolen by the Government. The Supreme Court found that was the case and severely reprimanded the Government, yet we could not have a debate in the House on the issue.
It has a lot to do with it. It has been said that this country has moved on but that is an example of the abdication of democracy in the House. This House voted €3 million to fund a referendum on children’s rights but the funding was hijacked by the Government.
No, I am not straying. I am saying we can move on. We have heard a lecture from the Tánaiste about modern Ireland and the new type of country his party has so bravely championed in spite of opposition, yet he can allow money the Oireachtas voted - €3 million for the referendum last November – to be misappropriated, abused and misspent. They are not my words; they are the words of five Supreme Court judges. A debate in the House on the matter was refused. Where is the modern democracy, the new transparency we have been promised by the Government? We have witnessed crocodile tears this evening. I put it to the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O’Sullivan, to make the point to her Cabinet colleagues.
The Martin McAleese-led interdepartmental committee’s report is to be highly commended on producing a comprehensive report in a professional manner.
It is written in lay person's language and it cost €11,000. That is in stark contrast to the high profile tribunals and inquiries that have cost the taxpayers millions of euro in the recent past. We should commission a person like Dr. Martin McAleese, and the group involved or similar to carry out any further inquiries into high profile matters in this country. The report gives us food for thought in that respect.
I welcome the Taoiseach's wholehearted apology on behalf of the State. It is very much due. I also welcome his assurance that full reparation will be made to all the victims and that all the supports will be provided and their entitlements will be met in tandem with that.
It is ironic that the Abraham Lincoln story depicting the horrific slavery regime in the southern United States is currently a box office hit in this country, coinciding with the release of this report. This report also demonstrates a similar miscarriage of justice and freedom in this country up to the 20th century. This was carried out with significant State involvement under the watch of successive Administrations until the end of the last century but, unfortunately, there was no Abraham Lincoln or people of the repute of the liberator, Daniel O'Connell, who were prepared to stand up and cry halt in this country. It was most unfortunate that it was allowed to continue until the latter years of the last century, up to 1996.
The testimonies of the survivors indicate that their treatment fits the definition of slavery. They were detained in these institutions, in which women and girls were made work without pay, where physical and psychological punishment was practised and sometimes they were placed in solitary confinement, doors were locked and any escapees were returned under the full rigours of the rules that were applied and the law at that time.
The 1930 Forced Labour Convention of the International Labour Organisation, which Ireland signed in 1931, states that the detention and use of women and girls without pay would amount to being categorised as forced labour. Also the European Convention on Human Rights, ratified by Ireland 1953, also prohibits torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The treatment of girls and women and the State's direct involvement in and failure to prevent and deprive them of their basic right to an adequate education contravened the personal rights provision of the 1937 Constitution. This episode in Irish history is a contradiction of many of the aspirations in the Constitution and, prior to it, the 1916 Proclamation. It is a sad episode in our history. The Constitution in 1922 coincided with our freeing the chains of foreign oppression we had in this country for more than 800 years and the initiation at that time of this abuse, which hopefully is now long gone.
I wish the very best to all the victims and I hope that they will be looked after following the commitment that was given here this evening.
I grew up on a street on which there was a Magdalen laundry, the Waterford Institution, which housed 120 women at any time. I lived across the road from it when I was a child. When I was growing up there was an average of 60 women in the Waterford Institution at any time. Although I was aware as a child that a laundry operated from the building, I had no idea that the building was the State's answer to many social problems that these women now face today. Given the State's failure to make provision to address these problems, the religious order had obtained an entirely unpaid and captive workforce for its commercial laundry enterprise.
Survivors groups have been telling for years what the McAleese report confirmed, that incarceration in the Magdalen laundries was similar to being sent to prison. The State's failure to monitor the conditions in the laundries amounts to a grave and systematic violation of the girls' and women's human rights. Surely a serious crime was committed in effectively kidnapping these women, forcing them to work for low pay and depriving them of all legal constitutional human rights. For this, we should call for accountability. The only way I see this happening is if the Government orders a full judicial review and criminal investigation into the Magdalen scandal in order that charges can be brought against all those responsible for this cover up. If we believe they were kidnapped and held against their will, we have a responsibility under international law and our own law to make sure that the people who did that are held responsible.
I will not accept the contention that these were very different times, something that has been said on a number of occasions. The fact of the matter is that we had legislation in place that should have protected these women but it was not applied.
We need to ask a few questions. Why did the State's factory inspectors who visited these commercial Magdalen laundries - they visited them in Waterford - not properly question why no rights were being given to these girls and women, some of whom were in their seventies and eighties and were working 12 hours a day, six days a week with no holiday entitlements? Why did school inspectors not investigate the fact that the State was not living up to its constitutional duty to educate the children in the Magdalen laundries? No checks were done on that. Why were gardaí used in an illegal manner to forcibly return escapees who were being held against their will? Why was the State's judicial system allowed to routinely refer women to the laundries, despite there being no legal basis supporting the court's use of these institutions to confine the women?
I do not want to go into how women have been let down by the country; all of that has been said, and I am grateful it was said. I thought the Taoiseach was excellent in his remarks today. The McAleese report states that 42 women died in the Waterford laundry between the establishment of the State in 1922 and 1982, with at least nine of these deaths never even being registered. It is crucial that this part of Ireland's history is not forgotten and that the State shows a commitment to remember these chapters of the nation's history.
I want to address my final remarks to the church which has been vociferous in telling politicians about children's and women's rights. Within the church was an organisation that participated in a cruel and premeditated exploitation of women. How women and children have been treated in the State by the church is reprehensible. The best thing the church could do at this stage is to shut up on women's rights, women's issues and children's issues. It is not capable of lecturing or giving advice with the history of child abuse in Ireland. Now we have the Magdalen laundries. We have to at all stages face down those, be it the church, the State or any political group, organisation or individual, who would precipitate cruelty on anyone else. For too long in Irish society the church has hidden behind some sort of Shangri-La that it does not know what it is or how it is but if its members pray and say they are sorry, everything will be forgiven. We should not forgive them because they have destroyed human lives. No matter what way we look at it they have destroyed human lives from the time these people were children until they reached adulthood and later on.
We are at nothing here if we do not have a judicial inquiry and deal with the people who perpetrated these awful crimes against women.
If, in 2013, we heard this was going on in a third world country or an African country, our Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade would be calling for what I am calling for now. We should do this. We will have achieved nothing if we do not bring those who were responsible for the cruelty inflicted on these women and children to justice.