MINISTER FOR JUSTICE Alan Shatter has said it would not be lawful to remove the charitable status of four religious orders who refuse to contribute to the compensation scheme for Magdalene Laundry survivors.
Magdalene Survivors Together group called on the government to remove the charitable status of the congregations - Good Shepherd Sisters, Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, Sisters of Mercy, and Sisters of Charity and for any state funding they receive to be removed.
Speaking on RTE’s Morning Ireland, Minister Shatter said it would not be lawful to remove their charitable status as the “the congregation still engage in works of a charitable nature”. He added that it was not for him to interfere in the law, adding “this is an entirely separate issue”.
When asked would the government consider making representations to Pope Francis on the matter, the minister said he was not going to comment on that, but said the government “will consider what varied approaches might be taken”.
He urged the religious orders “to meet their obligations” adding that he believed that the religious orders had a “moral and ethical obligation to contribute” to the compensation scheme and that he was “disappointed they have declined to do so”.
He said the Magdalene Laundries provided a form of refuge for many women but that it was “an extraordinarily harsh regime”.
“The reality is there isn’t scope to take legal action against them – this is a moral and ethical issue,” he said, but the minister added that he believed the public expect the religious orders to contribute to the scheme that he said could cost as much as €58 million.
He added that he didn’t think the religious orders were doing enough, but said “I don’t have the legal means to compel a contribution”.
Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Steven O’Riordan of the Magdalene Survivors Together group called the minister’s response as “pathetic”. He said that the language the minister used on the radio seemed to revert back to the same language that was used before the Taoiseach gave his state apology to the women. “To describe what these women went through as a ‘harsh regime’ – that is the exact line they uses before the state apology,” he said.
We are certainly not letting this one go. It is absolutely laughable to say that they government cannot compel the religious orders to pay out. The fact that the minister was so dismissive of my ‘emotional response’ to the situation shows that he does not think that this is a big deal. It is disgraceful to get this totally inadequate response.
Mr O’Riordan said it was time that government ministers “put their heads together” and come up with a way to compel the religious orders to contribute adding it was time the state backed the Magdalene survivors.
Following the minister speaking on RTE this morning, Mr O’Riordan said that he had contacted Irish Human Rights Commissioner on the matter. “We’re not letting this go,” he said.