This is an interesting insight into just what the Government thought about the issue of the Magdalene laundries. It wouldn’t be the first time it had a less than positive opinion on documentaries on the subject
The Government was very worried about redress for Magdalene survivors before setting up the McAleese inquiry. In fact, then justice minister Alan Shatter felt an inter-departmental committee would “strengthen the position of the Government” in dealing with the issue. Mr Shatter also had a scathing opinion of the IHRC report on the laundries.
The Government was “conscious of the danger” of offering redress for Magdalene survivors just months before setting up the McAleese inquiry to investigate the issue.
Released under the Freedom of Information Act, it states that the then justice minister, Alan Shatter, was “conscious of the danger” of redress and of Finance Minister Michael Noonan’s view that proposals raised in an earlier memo “would very likely generate pressure for opening redress”.
Mr Shatter felt an inter-departmental committee, which he proposed be headed by his department, would “strengthen the position of the Government in dealing with the ongoing campaign”.
The committee to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalene laundries was formally established some three months later — headed by Martin McAleese.
The Department of Justice memo states categorically that, despite “various ‘documentaries’ and the report of the Irish Human Rights Commission”, the State had no case to answer in respect of the Magdalene Laundries.
It says government departments were concerned that “engaging with the religious orders might give the impression that the State was accepting responsibility in this area”. “The department is not aware of any facts that would give rise to State liability or responsibility for abuses in Magdalene Laundries… If there were any abuses in Magdalene Laundries, the individual abusers concerned and the religious orders who ran them are responsible.”
“The department is not aware of any facts that would give rise to State liability or responsibility for abuses in Magdalene Laundries… If there were any abuses in Magdalene Laundries, the individual abusers concerned and the religious orders who ran them are responsible.”
The memo also details Mr Shatter’s scathing opinion of the IHRC report on the laundries. It states the then justice minister had “serious reservations about the methodology, accuracy, and conclusions”.
“Of most concern is the lack of balance and any evidence to support the conclusions. The IHRC report is effectively based on allegations put forward by JFM (Justice for Magdalenes) and no effort was made to obtain clarification, information or observations from the State or (apparently) the religious orders on any of the issues raised.”
When in opposition, Mr Shatter stated there was “irrefutable evidence” within the Department of Justice that the State was “directly complicit” in “barbaric cruelty” that occurred in the Magdalene laundries.
Claire McGettrick of Justice For Magdalenes Research said that the memo highlighted the “cynical approach” taken by the Government when dealing with the Magdalene issue and expressed concern the upcoming mother and baby homes inquiry would be treated in the same manner.
“The Government must include the Magdalene laundries in the upcoming Commission of Investigation. The contents of this Government memorandum illustrate that openness and transparency are absolutely imperative in the investigation as the Government’s position is likely to be one of defensiveness rather than a desire to genuinely facilitate a truth-telling process,” she said.