The Magdalene redress scheme that only added to the hurt

The Ombudsman has been scathing of the Department of Justice over the Magdalene redress scheme and its ‘inexcusable’ treatment of survivors, writes Conall Ó Fátharta.

It has not been a good week for the Department of Justice. Still embroiled in the Maurice McCabe email controversy, the Ombudsman has now heaped more woe on the beleaguered department.

It comes in the form of the findings of its almost year-long investigation into how the department administered the Magdalene redress scheme. It’s findings are scathing.

Central to the investigation was evidence uncovered by the Irish Examiner and reported in June 2015 — namely an unpublished HSE report from 2012 that found that the An Grianán training centre and the High Park Magdalene laundry in Drumcondra in Dublin were “one and the same thing”.

So how did information relating to An Grianán lead to a full formal investigation into the Magdalene redress scheme?

It all started with the determination of two former residents of An Grianán deciding to go to the High Court to fight a decision by the Department of Justice to exclude them from the scheme.

In June, the High Court ruled that the women were denied fair procedures in how that decision was reached.

They were denied access to the redress scheme by the department because they had been admitted to An Grianán and not to the laundry directly.

The view of the department — and which was publicly stated on numerous occasions by then justice minister Frances Fitzgerald — is that An Grianán was a separate entity to the High Park laundry which served a different purpose.

The Government also repeatedly defended the exclusion of the training centre from the scheme by stating it was included in the Residential Institutions Redress Board scheme (RIRB).

After the Department of Justice refused the women on appeal in June and October 2015, proceedings were lodged.

Separately, in June 2015, the Ombudsman upheld a decision by the department to refuse three women who were in An Grianán access to the scheme.

The Ombudsman’s decision came on June 2, 2015 — just two days before the Irish Examiner revealed evidence that the HSE has found that An Grianán and the High Park Magdalene laundry were “one and the same thing” — in an unpublished report in 2012.

This HSE evidence relating to An Grianán was to become central to the High Court case and the Ombudsman’s investigation of the Magdalene redress scheme.

The three women sought a judicial review of the Ombudsman’s decision and in December 2015, as part of a settlement, the Ombudsman agreed to re-examine the cases.

By April 2016, the Ombudsman completely changed its position on the matter and had formed the view that An Grianán residents should be eligible for the Magdalene redress scheme.

Documents obtained by the Irish Examiner in June of this year then revealed an extraordinary nine-month dispute between the Ombudsman and the Department of Justice over the latter’s interpretation of An Grianán and over the redress scheme itself.

It was to culminate with the Ombudsman stating, in December of last year, that it had no choice but to launch an investigation into whether the scheme had been administered fairly.

That report, published yesterday, found that the Department of Justice wrongly refused some women access to redress.

Speaking at the report’s launch, Ombudsman Peter Tyndall said that from the start, there were “elements of injustice creeping into the way the scheme was administered” and that it “showed no evidence of good administration”.

He also said the investigation by his office was “totally exceptional” and that he was “very disappointed” at how the department had handled the issue.

“Normally my office, when we have launched reports of this kind, we’ve launched them in conjunction with the department or agency concerned.

“In the course of the investigation, we would reach an agreement with the department as to what’s gone wrong and also reach agreement with them about what they are going to do to put it right. This has been totally exceptional in my experience as Ombudsman.

“I am very disappointed by it. I think the evidence is very powerful, particularly the testimonies of the women.

“I should say that, in the course of the investigation, not only did we see evidence that the department had seen, but when we looked at some of the cases we found evidence that was available that hadn’t been considered,” he said.

The report found that the department gave “undue weight to the evidence supplied by the religious congregations “to the exclusion of other evidence” when wrongly excluding some women access to the Magdalene Laundries redress scheme.

“It is the manner in which the history of the individual applicant and the available information was interrogated and followed up on by the department that is at issue. It was ad hoc and at times incomplete, with gaps, questions, or inconsistencies left unanswered.

There was an over-reliance on the records of the congregations and it is not apparent what weight, if any, was afforded to the testimony of the women and/or their relatives.”

The report further stated: “Interviews with applicants were a last resort and were only undertaken late in the day and in a small number of cases which were not resolved one way or the other.

“In other words, an applicant could be excluded on the basis of a record showing she was not admitted to one of the 12 named institutions and she was not interviewed as part of the process.”

The Ombudsman noted “a flawed administrative process” where women had to apply for a scheme without being told what the criteria was, and where “great reliance” was placed on the congregations’ records “to the exclusion of other evidence”.

The report noted that the department would have been aware of the links between units where the women lived and the Magdalene laundries and that the evidence it uncovered showed that training centres and industrial school located in the same building, attached to or located on the grounds of the laundries were in reality “one and the same” institution.

It also noted a “serious inconsistency” in the application of the eligibility criteria in that women were admitted to the scheme who were recorded as admitted to one particular
institution closely associated to a named laundry while women who were recorded as admitted to different institution closely associated with another named laundry, were refused admission to the scheme.

The report recommends that, where there is evidence that a woman worked in one of the listed laundries but was officially recorded as having been “admitted to” a training centre or
industrial school located in the same building, attached to or located on the grounds of one of the laundries, the department “should fully reconsider their application with a view to admitting them to the scheme”.

It has been asked to commence these reviews“immediately”, provide an estimate of the numbers involved, and the anticipated timeframe for completion.

A report should be provided to the Ombudsman within three months at the latest.

The Ombudsman is particularly critical of the department in how it dealt with a group of women who do not have the capacity to make decisions on their own behalf.

Some 18 women — nine of whom had spent more than a decade in the institutions and were therefore entitled to the maximum payment of €100,000 — have been approved for
redress but have yet to be issued a payment due to a delay in fully enacting the Decision-Making (Capacity) Act.

Mr Tyndall said these women had been “effectively forgotten” and that the delay in paying the women redress they were entitled to since 2013 was

This was particularly so when Mr Justice Quirke alluded to the delay in his report while it was
also flagged in internal communications within the department.

“Despite this, the department failed to consider other options to address this issue and facilitate payments to the women concerned.

“It is therefore my view that the actions (and inactions) of the department in this regard constitute maladministration as being the result of negligence and carelessness, improperly discriminatory and otherwise contrary to fair or sound administration,” notes the report.

As a result of the delay, the Ombudsman said he had “reluctantly” accepted the department’s request that these women be made wards of court.

Perhaps the most damning conclusion of the Ombudsman was his finding that the very scheme set up to offer redress and healing to women who worked for years in laundries for no pay ended up adding to their pain.

“It [the redress scheme] was supposed to contribute to healing and reconciliation, but unfortunately for some women these failings in how the scheme was administered served to reinforce their feelings of marginalisation and deep hurt, and to undermine the restorative effect of the emotional apology delivered by Taoiseach Enda Kenny in February 2013 when the McAleese Report was published.


Verdict in Magdalene case may be far-reaching

The determination of the Department of Justice to fight any efforts to give redress to a small number of women who worked in High Park Laundry but were admitted to the An Grianán Training Centre is revealed in a bitter nine-month behind the scenes row with the Ombudsman. It led the latter to launch a full investigation into how the scheme is being administered.


THE determination of two women to go to the High Court to fight a decision by the Department of Justice to exclude them from the Magdalene redress scheme has led the Ombudsman to launch a full investigation into whether the scheme has been administered fairly.

While the case has received the smallest amount of publicity, it could have far-reaching consequences for the Department of Justice in terms of how it has administered one of the largest redress schemes in recent years.

The Ombudsman has confirmed it is to investigate possible “prima facie evidence of maladministration” of the scheme by the department — a significant development by any stretch.

The inquiry will consider whether the application process operated in an open and fair manner and whether the department relied on information that was irrelevant and/or incomplete, when deciding on a person’s eligibility under the scheme.

It will also look at how the department sourced, gathered, and evaluated information on the Magdalene laundries and other institutions covered under the redress scheme.

The investigation will cover issues raised in nine of the 30 complaints the Ombudsman has received from women who were excluded from the scheme but will also involve a wider investigation into the administration of the scheme generally.

In a letter to one of the women involved in the case, the Ombudsman bluntly states that, following a re-examination of her case, he has concluded that there is “on the face of it, evidence of maladministration”.

So how did it get to this?

It began with two women who had been admitted to An Grianán training centre which was located on the grounds of the High Park Magdalene laundry operated by the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity.

Both women worked in the laundry as young girls. This was not disputed. However, they were denied access to the redress scheme by the Department of Justice because they had been admitted to An Grianán and not to the laundry directly.

The view of the department — which was publicly stated on numerous occasions by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald — is that An Grianán was a separate entity to the High Park laundry which served a different purpose.

The Government also repeatedly defended the exclusion of the training centre from the scheme by stating it was included in the Residential Institutions Redress Board scheme (RIRB).

All women admitted to An Grianán were entitled to full compensation for the entire duration of their stay under that scheme.

After the Department of Justice refused the women on appeal in June and October 2015, proceedings were lodged.

Separately, in June 2015, the Ombudsman upheld a decision by the Department of Justice to refuse three women who were in An Grianán access to the scheme.

“While the fact that you worked in the laundry attached to St Mary’s Refuge is not in dispute, I do not see anywhere in the file where there is any dispute regarding the fact that you were admitted to An Grianán and not St Mary’s Refuge.

“Therefore, as you were not admitted to one of the 12 listed institutions, I do not see a basis for concluding that there was maladministration in the team’s decision not to approve your application on the basis that you did not qualify for funding under the Scheme,” he said.

The Ombudsman’s decision came on June 2, 2015 — just two days before the Irish Examiner revealed that evidence that An Grianán training centre and the High Park Magdalene laundry were “one and the same thing” was uncovered by the HSE in 2012.

This evidence was to become central to the High Court case that followed and the current investigation of the scheme.

The three women sought a judicial review of the Ombudsman’s decision and in December 2015, as part of a settlement, the Ombudsman agreed to re-examine the cases.

According to the correspondence obtained by the Irish Examiner, within four months, the Ombudsman had changed its position and had formed the view that An Grianán residents should be eligible for the Magdalene redress scheme.

This sparked a remarkable nine-month dispute between the Ombudsman and the Department of Justice over the latter’s interpretation of An Grianán and the scheme itself. It ended with the Ombudsman feeling it had no choice but to launch an investigation into whether the scheme has been administered fairly.

Remarkably, none of this had been revealed to the two women taking the case against the department or their legal team until last January.

The row began in April 2016, when a senior investigator at the Office of the Ombudsman, Tom Morgan, wrote to assistant secretary at the Department of Justice and Equality Jimmy Martin stating that the latter’s decision to refuse a Ms McG access to the scheme “should be reviewed”.

He stated this should be done as the department’s assertion that An Grianán was a “specific and separate” institution from High Park laundry that had been dealt with by the Residential Institutions Redress Board (RIRB) was “not supported by the evidence”.

“Having considered the facts of this case again, we cannot agree with this contention and do not believe it is supported by the evidence. From the information available, it appears that any division between An Grianán and St Mary’s laundry can only be considered quite artificial and did not reflect the reality of everyday life there,” states the letter.

Mr Morgan stated that while alterations were carried out in 1971 partitioning off a second floor of the laundry, this was “not enough to show that separate entity was created”. He also refers to the HSE evidence uncovered by the Irish Examiner in support of this view.

“Furthermore, the HSE accepted (in a memo dated June 2012) that St Mary’s and An Grianán were “essentially one and the same”. This would appear to be a reasonable conclusion in view of the fact that the women and girls all shared the same buildings and had to automatically spend a portion of each day working in the St Mary’s laundry, regardless of what part of the building they slept in.

Mr Morgan also points out that while the woman (Ms McG) received an award from the RIRB, such women are not excluded from the Magdalene redress scheme.

A lengthy response was issued by Mr Martin at the department on May 4, in which he accepts that, as An Grianán was not a separate entity until 1971, Ms McG would be admitted to the scheme.

However, he argued that there was “strong evidence” that they were separate institutions by the very fact that it was eligible for the RIRB and those in the laundry were not. He also states that An Grianán was a certified place of detention for remand and probation and was an approved residential childrens home by the Department of Health.

“It is clear from 1971 that a newly created unit called An Grianán Training Centre, with its own access was established and more formal education was provided,” he states.

Mr Martin also states that the HSE memo stating that An Grianán and High Park laundry were “one and the same thing” did not “in any way constitute acceptance by the HSE that St Mary’s and An Grianán were one and the same”.

“The author of the memo was not in effect in a position, nor do not believe it was the intention of the memo, to establish whether St Mary’s and An Grianan was ‘essentially one and the same’.

“He was considering if records relating to An Grianán should be submitted to the McAleese committee.”

Mr Martin also took issue with the Ombudsman’s views that women who received a payment under the RIRB could access the scheme pointing out that the terms of reference make it clear that institutions covered under the RIRB are not included in the redress scheme.

“If An Grianán was to be included in the scheme it would be necessary to seek a further Government decision on expanding the scheme to include a further institution. We would also need to ask the Government to consider including an institution which was provided for in the Residential Redress Board Scheme resulting in a situation whereby some women will receive double compensation for the same period of time spent in the one institution.”

By June, the department had issued the Ombudsman with a document certifying An Grianán as a place of detention in 1971.

Mr Martin also supplied correspondence with the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity in 2013 in which they “clearly set out the services they provided in High Park and clearly state that, in 1971, a newly-created unit was established with completely separate living space and its own access which could accommodate 15 girls and was called An Grianán Training Centre”.

However, the material was not enough to sway the Ombudsman. In fact, it only confirmed its view that the two institutions remained intrinsically linked post 1972.

On June 10, Mr Morgan informs Mr Martin that the Office of the Ombudsman has conducted a review of 30 complaints to its office from women had applied to the scheme and had decided that 13 “warrant further consideration”.

Three further cases shared the same characteristics as Ms McG’s case and Mr Martin is advised that they “should be treated accordingly”.

“There are another four applicants who resided in An Grianan between 1972 and 1980 and who worked in the laundry. It is our view that the lines between An G and St Mary’s continued to be blurred after 1972 when it was certified as a remand centre.

“The Order certifies it as a remand centre for four girls but there were 15 there at any one time. Even the report of the inspection [supplied to the Ombudsman by the Department Of Justice] refers to reserving ‘one bedroom for remand girls accommodating about four’.

“It was separate in so far as the sleeping arrangements were concerned but there is no evidence that it was separate in any other real way, such as kitchen, dining room or any other communal areas.”

Mr Morgan also points out that the correspondence from the Order themselves in 2013 confirms that girls continued to work in the laundry up to 1980.

“As this is a restorative justice scheme, it is our view that the absence of evidence to the contrary, the benefit of the doubt should be afforded to these applicants and these further four complainants should be entitled to redress under the scheme,” he wrote.

The senior investigator also points to two other applications raising a similar issue to An Grianán “in that the institutions may have been one and the same and we intend to consider this further”.

“While we have had sight of 30 cases, you will have received a far greater number of applications and we would expect that any applicants who were resident in An Grianán should automatically have their case reviewed.

“I should point out that we received a new complaint from an applicant as recently as this week, therefore, we cannot say that this is the totality of cases under consideration by us,” writes Mr Morgan.

However, the department refuses to budge on the issue and the following month restates its opinion that that High Park and An Grianán were separate institutions and that any effort to include the latter in the redress scheme would require a decision from Government.

By July 15, the Ombudsman’s annoyance becomes clear and the first mention of a possible investigation of the administration of the scheme is mentioned.

Mr Morgan points out that no decision of Government is required as all of the women under review by the Ombudsman had worked in one of the 12 listed institutions by dint of the fact they all worked in the High Park laundry.

“It is our view that any individual who underwent forced labour at the behest of the State without pay should be entitled to redress under the scheme… While we are of the view that the operation of the scheme itself may show evidence of prima facie maladministration, if it is intended through the Memorandum for Government or otherwise, to interpret the scheme as including these individuals, then we would be satisfied to resolve the complaints on that basis.

“If, however, that is not the intention, then we will need to consider whether an investigation into the operation of the scheme is warranted,” states Mr Morgan.

However, the threat of an investigation did little to sway the department which asks for any evidence of maladministration to be forwarded on.

On September 30, Mr Morgan replies to Mr Martin outlining a case where the Ombudsman felt it was “unclear” why the department relied on a specific date of discharge for a Ms R.

“According to correspondence on file, Ms R was admitted to St Mary’s Refuge/An Grianán on xxx. The department has stated that she was discharged on xxx. However, it is not clear from an examination of the file, why this date was chosen as other possible dates of discharge are also referred to in correspondence. Ms R has stated that she did not leave An Grianán until around xxx.

“The amended social insurance record, as provided by the Department of Social Protection, shows a date of entry into insurable employment as 1981/82. In light of this, and in the apparent absence of any other independent evidence, it is our view that Ms R’s testimony in this regard should be accepted.”.

Mr Morgan states that the above amounted to “prima facie evidence” that the decision to refuse Ms R’s application for the whole of the period she worked there “may have been taken on irrelevant grounds, based on erroneous or incomplete information, improperly discriminatory and otherwise contrary to fair or sound administration”.

By October 21 last, relations between the two parties deteriorated further with the Ombudsman unhappy that the department’s responses go “back over old ground hat has already been covered and makes general assertions that do not adequately address the specific facts and issues raised in the above cases”.

Mr Morgan again states that if the department is not willing to review the cases of women who worked in An Grianán up until 1980 “the Ombudsman will have no alternative but to institute an investigation encompassing the outstanding cases”.

On November 3, Mr Martin informs the Ombudsman’s office that it had sought the advice of the Attorney General on the matter and simply wished to “reiterate” what had previously been argued in relation to the status of An Grianán.

Mr Martin also states that it is the view of the department that the Ombudsman is acting outside of its remit, as including residents of An Grianán to the redress scheme amounts to adding an institution to the scheme.

“It is our understanding that the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction is confined under section 4 of the Ombudsman Act 1980 (as amended) to the examination of the administration of scheme such as the Magdalene Laundries Restorative Justice Ex Gratia Scheme and that the Ombudsman does not have jurisdiction to engage in matters of policy.

“It is our view that any suggestion to nominate new institutions or to change the nature or scope of the scheme is to question the underlying policy and is ultra vires the Ombudsman’s role under the Act.”

On December 9, Mr Morgan informs Mr Martin that the Ombudsman is launching an investigation into the scheme. This was formally issued by Ombudsman Peter Tyndall to secretary general of the Department of Justice Noel Waters.

Mr Tyndall stated the investigation would examine whether the application process operated in a clear, open, fair and consistent manner; whether the Department relied on irrelevant and/or incomplete information when deciding on a person’s eligibility under the scheme and the various practices of the department in sourcing, gathering and evaluating information on the institutions covered by the scheme.

What Cabinet privately feared on Magdalene Laundries: further inquiries into mother and baby homes and a redress bill

Despite the many pronouncements on the Magdalene Laundries, the State is hugely concerned at the payout it may have to make, writes Conall Ó Fátharta.

FEW people will forget the apology offered by Taoiseach Enda Kenny in February of 2013 on behalf of the State to the women who suffered in the Magdalene Laundries.

He spoke of a “nation’s shame” and of women taking the country’s terrible secret and making it their own.

“But from this moment on you need carry it no more. Because today we take it back. Today we acknowledge the role of the State in your ordeal,” he said.

However, less than two years earlier in June 2011, many members of his Cabinet were determined to distance the State as far as possible from any liability.

A series of cabinet observations on a Department of Justice memorandum for Government seeking permission for the establishment of what eventually became the McAleese Committee reveal a Cabinet concerned about three things — not conceding on the issue of that State liability, calls for further inquiries into issues like Mother and Baby Homes and foster care settings and avoiding a redress bill.

The memorandum seeks approval for the establishment of an inter- departmental committee (later the McAleese Committee) as well as the issuing of a letter to the religious orders providing them with a copy of the November 2010 Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) assessment of human rights issues arising in relation to the Magadalene Laundries and the observations of the UN Committee against Torture (UNCAT) and inviting them to make their records available and to enter a restorative justice process with former residents.

Observations provided by a number of ministers express concerns about redress, admitting State liability and, notably, that an investigation into Magdalene Laundries may lead to calls for inquiries into other related issues and instititions like Mother and Baby Homes, psychiatric hospitals and foster care settings.

The observations of then Minister for Education and Skills Ruairí Quinn state that while he supported the approach outlined in the Memorandum, he noted “that there may be demands for enquiries into other situations”.

“Following the publication of the Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (the Ryan Report), there were renewed demands for the Redress Scheme to be extended to include other institutions, such as Magdalene Laundries, mother and baby homes, psychiatric hospitals and foster care settings.

“The Government decided against any extension of the arrangments and the Department for Education and skills has circulated a draft Memorandum for Government for observations, which deals inter alia, with the winding-up of the Residential Institutions Redress Board.”

This possibility of demands for other inquiries is noted by then Justice Minister Alan Shatter who states that and his proposal “only deals with the issue of Magdalene insititutions”.

The issue of financial redress is also front and centre in the Ministerial observations.

Mr Shatter is recorded as being “conscious” of the Minister of Finance Michael Noonan’s view that the proposals in the memorandum “would very likely generate pressure for opening up redress.”

However, then minister for public expenditure Brendan Howlin goes even further stating that it should be made clear that no redress would be paid to women, even if the State is found liable.

“In the circumstances the minister accepts the proposals in the memorandum. However, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform considers that the issue of possible financial or other redress supported by the Government must also be considered in advance of the measures in the memorandum.

“If this is not done, it is likely that there will be strong immediate public pressure for an agreement in principle to financial redress, which may lead to an open-ended commitment for the Government.

“In view of the severe constraints on public expenditure, the minister proposes that the Government make clear in the press release that it does not have the resources to allow for the establishment of redress measures should they be appropriate in this case.”

The importance of not conceding on the issue of the State’s liability in relation to inspection of the laundries was stressed in the observations of then minister for jobs enterprise and employment Richard Bruton.

“The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation wishes to point out that, whether under employment rights or health and safety codes, there neither was, nor is there now any obligation on the State to inspect every workplace. It is clear that the State does not have the resources to inspect every workplace.

“The minister recalls that, in another context, the ex-miners compensation issue, his department was advised by the Attorney General, that the mere fact that statutory regulation exists in relation to a sector does not , of itself, impose any duty of care on the State in relation to the employees of that sector.

“The minister believes that great care should be taken to ensure that this fundamental principle is not conceded by any action or statement of the Government on this issue.”

Mr Bruton also noted “the absence of evidence to support the claims made and no formal complaints have been made to the gardaí.”

“This strongly suggests that it would be unwise, in this case, to depart from the principle that the State is not responsible for alleged tortuous acts by third parties for whom it does not have responsibilities,” state his observations.

The lengthiest observations, however, were provided by the Office of the Attorney General which stressed the “limitations” of the proposed independent committee given its lack of any powers to compel witnesses or procure documents.

“It will need to exercise great care not to make any finding that could reflect on the good name of any person affected. It will not be in a position to make findings in terms of liability, causation, or culpability. These factors will be important in managing the expectations of interested parties.”

The Attorney General also stressed the need to address the possibilty that the planned independent committee may not be seen as objective and that this was an important issue in terms of the “management of expectations”.

“Furthermore, while it is the case that the committee and its work might be perceived as a serious and detailed response by the State, chaired as it will be by an “independent” chairman, we are concerned as to whether it will actually be regarded as ‘objective’ or ‘at arms length’ from any State involvement.”

While these are matters of policy for the department (and indeed for the Government as a whole), this also is an important issue as regards management of expectations. Failure to address these issues can lead to pressure for statutory inquiries and for redress.

The Attorney General also advised the Government that the religious orders were “likely to be suspicious” of any overtures by the State on Magdalene Laundries and that their attitude from a legal perspective “may be robust”.

“The congregations have in the past brought litigation in relation to fair procedures and to protect and vindicate the names of their members and to protect the good names of their congregations as a whole.

“They have both at meetings and in the media felt that they felt ‘bounced’ by the State into redress in respect of residential childhood abuse,” states the AG advice.

On the issue of redress specifically, the AG’s office states that the proposals contained in the memorandum would “very likely generate pressure for opening up redress”.

“We note from the terms of the Memorandum, that to date no form of oppression has been proven against the congregations who ran the Magdalene Laundries. As the department itself comments, the IHRC Report is full of supposition and qualifcations. It falls short of making any factual findings.”

This rather negative view of the November 2010 Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) report on the Magdalene laundries taken by the Office of the Attorney General is mirrored by then justice minister Alan Shatter who is recorded as having “serious reservations about the methodology, accuracy and conclusions” of the report.

“The IHRC report is effectively based on allegations put forward by JFM and no effort was made to obtain clarification, information or observations from the State or (apparently) the relevant religious orders on any of the issues raised.”

It is noted that the women involved “have apparently chosen not to make any complaints to the gardaí or to pursue a civil action”.

“There is an underlying presumption that any inquiry will confirm that there were serious abuses and that the State responsibility rather than the religious orders should provide redress.”

Questions over section of McAleese Report

Questions surround a section of the McAleese Report which states it asked the Ryan Commission to contact seven women mentioned in the Ryan Report who were in Magdalene Laundries.

Chapter 19 of the McAleese Report outlines how it asked the Ryan Commission to write to the women it spoke to and inform them of the McAleese committee and its work.

This was done as it was not possible for the Ryan Commission (CICA) to clarify to the McAleese committee what sections of the chapter referred to Magdalene Laundries, rather than other institutions because of legal issues.

“As a second step, the Committee requested the CICA Secretariat to write to any women who had complained to it regarding a Magdalen Laundry informing them of the existence of the Committee and providing contact details should they wish to make contact,” states the McAleese Report.

However, minutes of a meeting of the McAleese Committee on June 26, 2012, obtained under Freedom of Information, which deal directly with its interaction with the Ryan Commission, completely contradict this claim.

In the minutes, it is stated that it was agreed with the Ryan Commission that it would not contact any of the women.


“The possibility was discussed of the secretariat of the Commission and/or Redress Board to contact those women to inform of the existence of the Committee and to provide the questionnaire for persons wishing to submit their stories to assist the Committee in fulfilling its mandate.”

“It was agreed that this might present a number of difficulties, in particular in relation to privacy issues. In light of the significant publicity which the Committee’s work had generated, it was considered unlikely that these women would not be aware of the Committee’s work.

“It was agreed that the Commission and the Board would not be requested to contact those women,” state the minutes.

The McAleese report ultimately concluded that it could not determine if any of the women’s experiences cited in the Ryan Report actually related to the 10 Magdalene Laundries within its scope.

The Irish Examiner requested clarification on the issue from the Ryan Commission and to the Department of Justice, which set up the McAleese Committee.

In a statement, the Ryan Commission said it could not respond to the request as the communications of the commission were “absolutely privileged under Section 17 of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act”.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said a clarification could not be provided at the present time as the person dealing with queries concerning the McAleese Report was on leave.

In a follow up response, the Department said the reference in the minutes was “the initial position taken but was subsequently changed”. However, this is not noted anywhere else in the minutes, nor was proof of this change of position offered in documentary form.

So clear as mud then…


McAleese Report promised so much but delivered so little

The fallout from the McAleese Report is sure to continue, says Conall Ó Fátharta

A week that promised so much for the survivors of Magdalene Laundries ended up delivering little.

Despite the McAleese report finally rubber-stamping a fact that has been known for years — that the State was involved in all aspects of the Magdalene Laundries — no State apology has been forthcoming.

The Government and Taoiseach Enda Kenny parsed and prevaricated, clinging to the razor-thin argument that just 26% of women in the laundries were sent by the State.

The key point here is: Regardless of how women came to be there, the fact the State monitored, inspected, and had State contracts with the laundries make it responsible for all the women who worked for no pay in these institutions.

However, the more unsettling aspect of the McAleese report is the rewriting of a narrative that has long been accepted through testimony — that these were places where women suffered physical abuse. It is noteworthy that this was not the job of Martin McAleese.

What he presented in this regard is wildly at odds with what was established in the Ryan report, in more than 700 pages of survivor testimony presented to his committee — which is rapidly being treated as the historical narrative of what went on in these institutions.

As he gave no public briefing, it has not been possible to question Mr McAleese on these findings.

On Prime Time earlier this week, an angry Maeve O’Rourke, a human rights lawyer and member of the Justice for Magdalenes group, said Mr McAleese’s claim that little physical abuse occurred in the laundries was “an outrage”.

“It has been accepted for a long time that these were abusive institutions and the idea that they were not physically abusive — the thing that is coming out from this report — I think is an outrage. Martin McAleese did not refute that the women earned no money and that they were locked in,” she said.

“He spoke of the vast majority of women and girls never knowing when they would get out, if ever, and if they would ever see their families again. That was not refuted. If unpaid labour behind locked doors is not physical abuse, then I do not know what is.”

From the beginning, the attitude to the religious congregations is quite clear. The very first reference to the orders in the entire report is in the 12th paragraph, where Mr McAleese speaks of the “profound hurt” experienced by the Sisters in the way the laundries have been portrayed.

It is also worth noting that the orders themselves could have countered the allegations made against them in the past decade. They chose not to.

Meanwhile, the attitude to survivors from the start of the report speaks of the “confusion” they feel about that period of their lives.

Mr McAleese says most women said the “ill-treatment, physical punishment, and abuse that was prevalent in the industrial school system was not something they experienced in the Magdalene Laundries”, while the accounts of physical abuse are few and far between and very tame by comparison to testimony seen in the Ryan report or in the Justice for Magdalenes submission.

It is worth noting that a total of 118 women spoke to the committee. Of these, 58 are still in the care of the religious orders, indicating they have spent much of their lives institutionalised.

To supply a narrative outlining virtually no physical abuse, where half of the women interviewed remain in the care of the order, is hardly satisfactory.

Furthermore, unlike the Ryan report, the McAleese report made no public call for survivors to come forward and give testimony.

The Ryan report dedicates an entire chapter to abuse in Magdalene Laundries and is categoric in its opinion that physical abuse was routine.

More concerning is the suggestion that the committee discounted initial testimony of physical abuse from some women, as they said that under closer questioning it emerged that the women were “confusing” their time in industrial schools with time at the laundries.

Claire McGettrick of JFM outlines some concerns. “Initially, the committee didn’t even want to speak to women in person, but we fought for that. The women gave their testimony verbally and then we were given very little notice of a second meeting where we were to look at the format of the initial testimony.

“Instead, the women were brought in, one by one, for a meeting with the commission where they asked repeated questions. Their overall impression was that they were being checked to ensure that their memories were correct.

“The women came out of those meetings very quiet and subdued. None of them, none of us, had been expecting for them to be questioned like that.”

When you read the report, it is clear this was the case, as it confirms: “Subsequent meetings afforded the committee an opportunity to seek clarifications on areas of particular interest… Information provided by many of the women… included a clear distinction between some of the practices in industrial and reformatory schools and the Magdalene Laundries, in particular in relation to practices of physical punishment and abuse.”

Much of the comment has been on the final rubber-stamping of what was already well known: That the State was involved with the Magdalene Laundries. That much is now certain.

However, in recent days, survivors have expressed their outrage at Mr McAleese’s claim that they were not places where physical abuse was suffered.

It is likely that the fallout from this claim has some distance to run.

Dr Martin McAleese’s reputation ‘damaged by BBC’

The Department of Justice took serious issue with a BBC documentary on the Magdalene Laundries and accused it of damaging the reputation of Martin McAleese. You can read the 11 page complaint and response here (


The Department of Justice accused the BBC of damaging the reputation of Martin McAleese in an 11-page complaint about its “seriously flawed” documentary on the Magdalene laundries broadcast last summer.

The complaint, by assistant secretary, Jimmy Martin, and partially released under FoI, related to the Hidden Bodies, Hidden Secrets programme broadcast by the BBC in September last year.

The letter was written in December of last year, after a series of communications from Mr Martin to the Department of Justice press office, the minister for justice’s office and the BBC in relation to a specific allegation made in the broadcast. These were not released.

In the complaint, Mr Martin said the broadcast was “seriously flawed”, contained “a number of serious inaccuracies, as well as unclear and misleading statements” in relation to the McAleese report and “damaged the reputation of Dr Martin McAleese and others”.
The complaint accused the BBC of failing to put the “serious allegations” in the broadcast to either Dr McAleese or the Department of Justice “either directly or indirectly”.

The complaint details a lengthy list of concerns about the broadcast, including how the Magdalene survivors who spoke to the programme were selected — stating that there were “questions about the extent, if any, of fact-checking performed by the programme makers in relation to the contributors prior to broadcasting their stories”.

The concerns of the department in relation to the information supplied by the Magdalene survivors to the BBC have been redacted but the letter states “all this reinforces our contention that your programme was unfair, lacked impartiality, contained serious inaccuracies and demonstrated serious breaches of your guidelines”.

The complaint concludes with the request for the following list “as soon as possible”:

  • a series of appropriate corrections and apologies receiving similar prominence as the Hidden Bodies, Hidden Secrets programme and transmitted at the same times in the different time zones as that programme variously transmitted;
  • a similar correction and apology to be broadcast on BBC 2’s Newsnight;
  • the removal of the programme and associated article from BBC online and YouTube and the removal of all references to the programme and associated article from any other websites.

In a lengthy response in March, the BBC robustly defended the broadcast against each of the points raised by the department. It outlined how it had sought a response from Dr McAleese, the Department of Justice and the Department of An Taoiseach, before offering it the option to take the complaint to a different section within the BBC.

 Mr Martin responded on May 19 expressing disappointment at the rejection of the complaint and stated the department had “no confidence in further internal BBC appeals” and that “a further appeal to the BBC Trust would not serve any useful purpose”.

Shatter backtracks on collusion of State in laundries

The difference between what a politician says in opposition compared to what they say when a cabinet member.


Justice minister Alan Shatter has backtracked on the question of State involvement in the Magdalene Laundries, despite saying in opposition there was “irrefutable evidence” of such collusion.

Speaking in the Dáil last month, Mr Shatter appeared to row back on previous comments by stating State involvement in committing women to Magdalene Laundries had a “very complicated” background that did not have a “simple, straightforward explanation”.

However, speaking in the Dáil as justice spokesperson when in opposition in 2009, Mr Shatter stated there was “irrefutable evidence” within the department he now heads up of such State involvement.

“There is now irrefutable evidence available from the Department of Justice that this State and the courts colluded in sending young women to what were then known as the Magdalene asylums and they ended up in the Magdalene Laundries and they were treated appallingly. Some of them have never recovered from the manner in which they were treated and their lives have been permanently blighted,” he said.

Mr Shatter went on to say that the State was “directly complicit” in such “barbaric cruelty” through court records and files held by the Department of Justice.

However, speaking in the Dáil last month, Mr Shatter seemed to have changed his stance when asked about the possibility of an apology, redress and the restorative justice process for the women involved.


He stressed that none of the Magdalene survivors have made a complaint to the Garda or have commenced legal action against the State.

“Many of the women who ended up being resident in the laundries, as late teenagers or in their early 20s came through all sorts of different sources. Some indeed were left there by their families in circumstances where the State had no involvement of any description. So this is not a simple issue but we are doing our best to address it in a thorough, comprehensive and sensitive way, engaging with all sides who are concerned about it,” he said.

Mr Shatter acknowledged there were women who “feel” they were badly treated in the laundries and who “believe” their lives had been blighted by the experience but said the Government had followed the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Commission by the setting up of the interdepartmental committee to “clarify” any state involvement in the Magdalene Laundries.

Justice for Magdalenes spokesperson Claire McGettrick said the group was continuing to bring evidence of State interaction with the laundries to the attention of the interdepartmental committee.

“Most living survivors were incarcerated as young girls and it is, therefore, a very simple issue that the State had a duty of care with regard to vulnerable children carrying out forced labour in the laundries, regardless of how they came to be there. We reiterate our call on the Irish State to immediately issue a full apology to all Magdalene Laundry survivors,” she said.