Written answers

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform

Magdalene Laundries

9:00 pm

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Dublin South East, Labour)
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Question 547: To ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the position regarding a meeting (details supplied); if he will confirm that the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform sent women on remand to the Sean McDermott Street Magdalene following the introduction of the Criminal Justice Act 1960; if a capitation grant was awarded to the Magdalene laundries where these women were held on remand; if the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform holds records of all the women who were held on remand in this Magdalene laundry under the Criminal Justice Act 1960; if a State official ever inspected, regulated or approved the Magdalene laundry which was used for remand purposes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48571/09]

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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I can advise the Deputy that following a request for a meeting, officials from my Department met with representatives of Justice for Magdalenes on the 14th of December, 2009. There was an exchange of information and my officials are pursuing some of the issues raised. My officials have also been in touch with the Department of Education and Science following that meeting.

It is the Courts who have power to remand a person charged with a criminal offence in custody pending trial and sentencing. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is responsible for ensuring that there are places of detention which can be used for remand purposes but the Department itself has no power to send a person to a particular institution. Following the enactment of the Criminal Justice Act, 1960, the then Minister for Justice approved both St. Mary's Magdalen Asylum, Sean McDermott Street, Dublin 1 and Our Lady's Home, Henrietta Street, Dublin 1 (not a Magdalen Asylum) for use as a remand institution for female persons aged from 16 to 21 years. Prior to 1960 the only option to the courts was to remand such persons to Mountjoy female prison. Payments were made by the Department of Justice for those remanded by the Courts to the two institutions in question. Limited records for one or two years linking payments with the names of individuals remanded to Our Lady's Home, Henrietta Street have been located. The records indicate that periods of remand rarely exceeded seven days and one or two days was the norm. Further research is being carried out to establish if more comprehensive records were kept.

Part of the arrangements with the two institutions was that those remanded were to have same rights and privileges as provided for remand prisoners in the 1947 Prison Rules Part III, and that they would be visited from time to time by a Probation Officer and by the Superintendent of Prisons.

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Dublin South East, Labour)
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Question 548: To ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the position regarding a meeting (details supplied); if his attention has been drawn to the practice whereby the Irish judicial system routinely arranged for women to be sent to a Magdalene laundry upon receiving a suspended sentence or upon being given probation; if his further attention has been drawn to the fact that such a practice had no statutory basis; if he will confirm that despite the awareness of this fact, his Department never informed the women that they could have left the Magdalene laundries at any time; if he will produce court records for every woman so referred; if he will contact the religious congregations who ran these Magdalene laundries and ensure that they provide full access to the relevant records; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48572/09]

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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I can advise the Deputy that following a request for a meeting, officials from my Department met with representatives of Justice for Magdalenes on the 14th of December, 2009.

In response to points raised, my officials have undertaken some research into the matter. The Deputy will appreciate that the issue predates the foundation of the State and the historical records available are not exhaustive. For that reason my answer has to be limited to the information currently to hand.

There is no statutory power for a court to sentence a person to be detained in a Magdalen laundry or any other such institution as an alternative to imprisonment.

The Probation of Offenders Act 1907 allows a person found to have committed a criminal offence to be subject to a probation order under which the offender is released on entering a recognizance to be of good behaviour and subject to conditions. The duration of the order cannot exceed 3 years but if it is breached the recognizance can be forfeit and the offender can be brought before the court for sentencing for the original offence. It has been established that in 1922 and subsequent years courts did on occasion include a condition in a probation order that the female person who had been found to have committed a criminal offence reside in a particular institution for a specified period (not exceeding 3 years). From the material available, it would appear that the institution used most frequently for this purpose was a home in Henrietta Street. This was established at the end of the 19th century by the Discharged Female Prisoners Aid Society. The Sisters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul subsequently carried on the work of this society. This home did have a laundry attached but it was not a Magdalen laundry. In the 1940's there was a request for funding for this institution. The home was inspected by an inspector from the Department of Industry and Commerce and the finances reviewed and in 1945/46 monies for capitation grants for "probationers" in this establishment were provided for in the District Court Vote. From the files it is clear that payments were limited to the duration of the relevant probation orders. The review at the time indicated that there were 18 "probationers" in Henrietta Street and another 20 to 30 probationers in other institutions mainly in the four Dublin Magdalen laundries. As far as can be made out at this stage, payments were not made to other institutions (except those designated as remand centres after 1960).

The Commission of Inquiry into the Reformatory and Industrial Schools System 1934-1936 states that judges were reluctant to send girls to female prisons and would overcome the difficulty by sending the offender to a Home conducted by a Religious Order provided the girl consented to go there and the Home agreed to accept her. It is not clear if this refers to imposing a condition in a probation order or to a more informal arrangement.

It appears that these orders/arrangements were made by the courts without reference to any Department of State. The requirements of a probation order, including its duration, would be made known by the court to the offender. The records of such orders are court records.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform does not have any legal authority to instruct a religious organisation to provide full access to their records.

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Dublin South East, Labour)
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Question 549: To ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will instruct his officials to ensure access to all relevant records within his Department relating to the Magdalene laundries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48573/09]

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Dublin South East, Labour)
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Question 550: To ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if there are records in his Department which indicate the number of women who were sent to Magdalene laundries since the foundation of the State; if so, if he will allow access to them; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48574/09]

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 549 and 550 together.

I can advise the Deputy that my Department does not hold records that would indicate the number of women who were sent to Magdalen Laundries since the foundation of the State.

There are incomplete records held by my Department and in the archives relating to payments made in respect of persons remanded to St. Mary Magdalen Asylum, Sean McDermott Street, Dublin and I will be happy to allow access to them in the normal way. However inquiries made to date indicate that many older files were destroyed by flooding and that it is the practice to destroy support documentation relating to payments after 7 years.

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