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Ó Caoláin calls for apology to Magdalene detainees

7 July, 2011 - by Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD

Cavan-Monaghan Dáil Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin hosted a briefing session for Dáil Deputies and Senators and their support staff in Leinster House on Tuesday 5th July 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.

Deputy Ó Caoláin has with other Deputies been a long-term campaigner for justice for the Magdalene Women and has raised the issue repeatedly with appropriate government Ministers.

Welcoming representatives of the Justice for Magdalenes campaign group to the AV Room in Leinster House, including Katherine O’Donnell, Senior Lecturer, UCD; Maeve O’Rourke Harvard Law School Human Rights Fellow; Claire McGettrick, Co-Founder Justice for Magdalenes and James M. Smith, Boston College, Deputy Ó Caoláin delivered an opening address to the well-attended meeting.

In the course of his remarks the Sinn Féin Health and Children Spokesperson said:

"The long struggle by Justice for Magdalenes on behalf of the thousands of women held in the Magdalene laundries, and on behalf of their children, has done much to advance their cause. 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.

"This year their efforts have achieved another landmark success. 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.

"In response, the government has pledged to establish an independently-chaired interdepartmental committee to 'clarify any State interaction with the Magdalene Laundries'. This committee will be chaired by Senator Martin McAleese, an appointment which I welcome. Minister Alan Shatter (Justice, Equality and Defence) and Minister of State Kathleen Lynch (Disability, Equality, Mental Health and Older People) will meet with the religious orders to seek the release of all available information about former residents and those who are still in their care. They will also seek to establish a “restorative and reconciliation process”. Representative groups of the survivors will also be met. An initial report on the committee’s process will be requested three months after its establishment.

"The promise of this long-overdue investigation is welcome. However, it is regrettable that the government did not see fit to issue an apology along with its announcement. The Minister believes 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.

"In recent weeks there have been many revelations about the vast sums of money that the religious orders linked to the Magdalene Laundries have access to. A Parliamentary Question I tabled revealed that three of the four orders have received a total of €87 million from the HSE in the past five years alone. This week, the Examiner has begun to disclose the extent of the orders’ property dealings. 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.

"Finally, I would like to endorse JFM’s support for the inclusion of the Bethany Home survivors in the Schedule to the Residential Institutions Redress Scheme and take this opportunity to send good wishes to Derek Leinster who I understand is currently in hospital," concluded Deputy Ó Caoláin.

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