Magdalene Laundries PMB
25 September 2012
Speech by Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD, Sinn Fein Health & Children spokesperson:
“This is a very important motion and let us hope that it is also another significant step on the road to justice and truth for the former detainees in the Magdalene Laundries.
“I want to commend the Justice for Magdalenes campaign group for their work. They have given a voice to women who were appallingly treated over decades. They were the forgotten women and girls of Ireland whose lives meant little or nothing to Church and State authorities and whose memory was erased by official Ireland. Until they themselves spoke up through Justice for the Magdalenes, very few in this country knew the reality of what they endured.
“This is no small scandal. We are talking about the illegal confinement, detention and treatment of thousands of innocent women forced to work in the so-called Magdalene Laundries over several decades. These women had nothing. They did not know their rights. They had no-one at that time to advocate for them. Like the children abused in other residential institutions, they were surrounded by a wall of silence and ignorance.
“I commend to all Deputies the submission from Justice for Magdalenes to the Inter-Departmental Committee in May of this year. I cite one extract:
The reality is that incarceration in the Magdalene Laundries was very similar to being sent to prison. The survivors clearly express this view - one recalls “I felt as if I was being sentenced to a prison. Indeed, at a certain level I was a prisoner”. Another says “Definitely it was a prison … You get paid in a prison, But this was a prison. There was no doubt about it, it was a prison”. A third says simply “These were prisons”. The State had resisted calls to establish a prison for young girls similar to the “Borstal” type institutions for young boys. The availability of the Magdalene Laundries operated by the Catholic religious orders enabled the State’s judiciary to use them as an alternative to imposing a prison sentence.
“With other Deputies in the last Dáil and before, I was proud to support this campaign. In July of last year I hosted a briefing session for Dáil Deputies and Senators and their support staff here in Leinster House on the issue of the confinement, detention and treatment of thousands of innocent women forced to work in the so-called Magdalene Laundries over several decades.
It was the hard work of Justice for Magdalenes that conclusively disproved the state’s claims that the women were in these institutions 'voluntarily', or solely at the behest of their families. That fiction has now been firmly laid to rest, thanks to documents uncovered by JFM.
“In response to the Justice for Magdalenes submission, the UN Committee on Torture called for an independent investigation into the abuse carried out in the laundries, and redress for the women held there. It also recommended prosecution and penalties for those who perpetrated the abuse.
It is regrettable that the government did not see fit to issue an apology along with its announcement of the inter-departmental group investigating the role of the State. Minister Shatter said he believed it would be more appropriate to wait until the outcome of the investigation. Some of the survivors may not be able to wait that long. They are all entitled to an apology now. To issue it would not preclude a further apology when the full extent of the government’s complicity is revealed.
“A Parliamentary Question I tabled last year revealed that three of the four orders involved in running the Magdalene Laundries have received a total of €87 million from the HSE in the past five years alone.
“During the so-called ‘boom years’, the Sisters of Mercy made €165 million in land sales. The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity earned €61.8 million on the land surrounding the mass grave of Magdalene victims that was discovered in 1993. The contrast with the funds available to the Laundry survivors could not be starker: they received no pay for their years of forced labour, are in receipt of no pension and were excluded from the Residential Institutions Redress Scheme.
“I would like to reiterate our endorsement for Justice for Magdalenes support for the inclusion of the Bethany Home survivors in the Schedule to the Residential Institutions Redress Scheme.