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UN criticises government for failure to prosecute abuse perpetrators in Magdalene Laundries

The UN Committee Against Torture is critical of the government’s record in a number of areas.

Flowers at the gates of a former Magdalene Laundry in Donnybrook, Dublin.
Flowers at the gates of a former Magdalene Laundry in Donnybrook, Dublin.
Image: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

A UNITED NATIONS committee has criticised the government for its failure to undertake an independent investigation into allegations of ill-treatment at Magdalene Laundries.

It said that it “deeply regrets” that the Irish State has failed to prosecute and punish perpetrators, which was a recommendation it had made previously.

Last month, Minister David Stanton told the UN Committee Against Torture that Ireland had a “strong human rights record” and hailed positive developments that have been made since the last report on the matter submitted to the UN in November 2015.

On the issue of investigations, accountability and redress in the context of Magdalene Laundries, the UN committee said that it had noted the creation of an “ex-gratia scheme that has provided over €25.5 million to 677 former Magdalene women to date”.

However, the committee also criticised the government for not undertaking an “independent, thorough and effective investigation” into the alleged ill-treatment of women and children in these institutions.

It said: “The committee is concerned at reports that the State party has not undertaken sufficient efforts to uncover all available evidence of abuses held by private institutions, nor taken adequate steps to ensure that victims are able to access information that could support their claims.

The committee is also concerned that the State party’s ex gratia payment scheme does not apply to all women who worked in the Magdalene Laundries.

The UN issued a number of recommendations to the government to address these failings.

This includes a “thorough, impartial investigation” into allegations of ill-treatment at these institutions, and ensuring that victims have the right to bring civil actions even if they’ve participated in the redress scheme.

On Mother and Baby Homes, the committee urged the government to “ensure that information concerning abuses in these institutions [...] be made accessible to the public to the greatest extent possible”.

The committee also recommended that the independence and effectiveness of the Garda Síochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) be strengthened and that efforts are made to reduce overcrowding and violence among Ireland’s prisoner population.

Recommendations are also made in the context of violence against women in Ireland, including guaranteeing that allegations of sexual and domestic violence are promptly investigated and the provision of sufficient funding for victims to access medical and legal services.

Dublin Rape Crisis Centre CEO Noeline Blackwell said: “The recommendations that have come out from the Committee would definitely help to reduce the risk of harm from sexual violence for victims.

The recommendations are sensible, balanced and modest. They can be implemented if there is political will to do so.

Read: Minister tells UN Convention that some prison inmates don’t have a flush toilet in their cells

Read: “Nobody told us she had died” – the story of Margaret Bullen, who spent her entire life in a Magdalene Laundry

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Sean Murray

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