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Dublin: 2 °C Sunday 23 November, 2014

Magdalene survivor group ‘not happy at all’ with redress package

Members of the group Magdalene Survivors Together have demanded the religious orders which operated the laundry system be held responsible for the abuse that went on inside them.

Image: Jennifer Wade/TheJournal.ie

Updated 22.10

MAGDALENE SURVIVORS TOGETHER, a group of former resident of the Magdalene Laundry system, has responded to the recommendations for compensation as outlined by the government this afternoon by saying they are “not happy at all”.

Speaking following the publication of the report, which accepted all recommendations outlines by former judge John Quirke, Magdalene Survivors Together rejected the fact that religious congregations would not be compelled to contribute to survivors’ compensation package.

‘Bringing closure’

Earlier today, Minister Shatter said he hoped the report would mark “the start of bringing closure”, adding that “it should have happened a long time ago”.

“I think we have an obligation to do it regardless of the finances of the state,” he said, adding that is why following publication of Justice Quirke’s report he, Minister Lynch, and their colleagues had an opportunity to consider the report. I’m very pleased we are where we are,” he said.

When asked about the church congregations being asked to make a contribution to the redress fund, Shatter said: “I am a believer in giving people a little space to respond. Now you may say that the congregations have known about the Magdalene laundries for many years… I think they are entitled to reflect on the report.”

Minister Shatter announcing the government report today. (Image: Jennifer Wade/TheJournal.ie)

‘Great disappointment’ in Cabinet if the congregations failed to contribute

Shatter said he believed “there would be very great disappointment in Cabinet if the congregations failed to contribute”, adding: “I think the taxpayers of Ireland would expect [the congregations] would make a contribution.

However, the Minister added that he doesn’t want this “to be a confrontation between Government and the congregations because we have had very constructive respectful meetings”.

He said the congregations are “doing everything possible to cooperate in provision of records” and noted that many of the nuns who had engaged with the government on the issue were anxious to meet some of the Magdalene women they hadn’t met, and to engage in the reconciliation process.

Shatter also noted that he and Minister Kathleen Lynch had met with representatives of the religious orders on several occasions, explaining that the package for survivors should be seen as a “reconciliatory” scheme and, as such, congregations should make a contribution.

He said that the congregations had “correctly” noted that they were making a contribution already – namely by caring for more than 100 former residents of the Magdalene Laundries and providing them with continued accommodation and supports. Representatives of the orders added that they would also be contributing by locating the records of those who had lived at the institutions in order for former residents to make applications.

“We would hope and expect that the congregations would make a contribution, but I don’t want to put a figure on that. I hope they will constructively respond,” Shatter said, adding that he hoped there would not be disappointment with what is on offer in the redress scheme, describing it as “a detailed proposal”.

Not all international recommendations have been implemented

survivor advocacy group Justice for Magdalenes Research (JFM Research) said it “broadly welcomes” the publication of The Magdalen Commission Report, saying it “satisfies many of the questions and concerns we shared with Mr Justice Quirke through our various submissions”.

In particular, JFM Research welcomes the Report’s recommendations providing for contributory pensions, lump sum payments, enhanced medical cards, and a dedicated unit to ensure easy access to services and supports. These measures go some way toward compensating for the women’s experiences of arbitrary detention, compulsory or forced labour, and cruel, degrading treatment or punishment.

However, JFM Research is also mindful that the recommendations of both the United Nations Committee Against Torture (UNCAT) and the Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) to establish a prompt, thorough and independent investigation have not been implemented.

The group acknowledged and welcomed that the scheme will provide advocates for women still under the care of the religious congregations and/or the HSE. “However, JFM Research is concerned on this point and strongly recommends that the advocates are independent and independently appointed.”

‘Our lives were ruined’

Meanwhile, members of the Magdalene Survivors Together group rejected the government’s approach to religious congregations this afternoon.

Survivor Marina Gambold described the report as “disgusting”, adding: “For years I was a nervous wreck; what was offered was terrible. We should get something [for what] we went though. We never saw our families and even when we came out of it we had no confidence. Our lives were ruined.”

Survivor Mary Smith also criticised the Taoiseach for failing to deliver what he promised to survivors, after meeting with them to discuss their experiences earlier in the year: “What we were promised was a different scenario altogether – not only from Mr Kenny, the Taoiseach, but also from judge Quirke. What was in that package today, I’m actually appalled.

Smith explained the devastating effect the laundry system had had on her life: “My mother was put into the Magdalene Laundries when she was four months pregnant with me. I never saw her face. I don’t know what a mother is. I’m left to wonder – what is a mother?”

She took a moment to remember those survivors of the system who have since died, saying “Never forget the people that passed on before us.”

Demand for religious orders to take responsibility

“I emphasise here, very clearly, that the religious orders – who are 150 per cent responsible for what happened to us – they should cough up. And with the millions and billions that they have, they should come along and say: ‘we were the perpetrators.’

“No money will ever compensate us. The psychological damage and trauma, we’ll take to our graves. But these people who are calling themselves religious, why have they not gotten it into their brain and heart – if they have heart – that, yes, we can do something for these people when they are alive.”

Smith demanded that the government, including former judge Quirke, ask the religious orders “to take into consideration the damage that they did to us”.

“They don’t give a damn,” she added. “Care? That wasn’t care they gave us, that was abuse.”

This evening, Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald TD called for a Dáil debate on the Magdalen Commission Report, questioning the scheme remains ‘ex gratia’ payments given the advanced age of some of the former residents. “Many of these women are elderly and unwell. Receipt of their full lump payment would significantly increase their quality of life,” she said.

Women in the UK

This evening, Sally Mulready, Chairperson of Irish Women Survivors Support Network UK, said that the group welcomes the scheme and the recommendations.

She said that they appreciate that Magdalene laundry women “can finally look forward to a fair and just settlement” and that today they think of the women who had been in the laundries and “passed away and never experienced justice”.

She added:

We welcome especially the decision to provide a contributory pension to every Magdalene Laundry woman as there  was a very strong desire on the part of the Magdalene women to have their years of forced, unpaid labour recognised. This is a very significant decision and dignifies the women as workers who made their contribution to society and who deserved recognition for that.

Mulready also said the group supports the call to the congregations to contribute to the redress and that they should recognise they have a role in ensuring the fund is sufficient to take care of the needs of the women for the remainder of their lives.

Additional reporting by Aoife Barry

Originally posted 19.00

Read: ‘Today is about justice’: Magdalene redress scheme details announced
Read: Human Rights Commission: The State failed Magdalene women
Read: Call for immediate independent redress scheme for Magdalene women

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