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Elizabeth Coppin during a visit to Áras an Úachtaráin in 2018.
Elizabeth Coppin during a visit to Áras an Úachtaráin in 2018.
Image: PA Images

'The door to her cell was bolted': Magdalene survivor takes case against Ireland to UN

Elizabeth Coppin’s complaint will be heard by the UN’s Committee Against Torture.
Feb 17th 2020, 4:30 PM 47,499 91

A 60-YEAR-OLD Irish woman who was born in a mother-and-baby home and was subsequently sent to three different Magdalene Laundries has taken a case to the UN’s Committee Against Torture arguing that the Irish state was “complicit in her arbitrary detention and mistreatment”.

Elizabeth Coppin’s complaint is to be heard by the committee which has given the Irish State four months to respond to further submissions on her case.

Coppin was detained by court order in an industrial school at the age of two. When she reached 14, the nuns in charge of the industrial school transferred her to St Vincent’s Magdalene Laundry in Peacock Lane, Cork. 

In her submission to the UN, Coppin “alleges that she was subjected to arbitrary detention, servitude and forced labour without pay for six days a week in all three of the Magdalene laundries and that the State party was complicit in her arbitrary detention and mistreatment”.

The submission adds: 

She was placed in a cell of approximately 6 square metres, which contained a small bed with one blanket, and a shelf with a jug and a basin for sanitation. The door to her cell was bolted, there were bars on the window and her lights were switched off every night at 9 pm. 

“At Saint Vincent’s, she was forbidden to speak and was generally deprived of human warmth and kindness. She lived in conditions of deliberate deprivation, with inadequate food and heating.”

Coppin alleges that Ireland has broken its obligations under the Convention against Torture by not investigating complaints into her treatment.  

In a published decision of the UN committee, Coppin says that gardaí “declined to act on the complaints she filed with them” and that, 

State party’s authorities did not open a criminal investigation into allegations of torture and ill-treatment at the Magdalen laundries ‘after the complainant filed a civil claim in the courts.

The State’s response to the complaint argued that the complaints raises issues relating to a period before Ireland adopted the Convention against Torture. It also argued that:

The laundries were not operated or owned by or on behalf of the State, and there was no statutory basis for either admitting or confining a person to a Magdalene laundry.

The Committee has not made a decision on the wider case but has said that Ireland must answer the allegations raised by Coppin and respond within four months.

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Rónán Duffy

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