Belfast Telegraph

Magdalene Laundries apology urged

A support group for survivors of Ireland's so-called Magdalene Laundries has demanded a state apology after an international torture watchdog recommended a statutory inquiry.

The Justice for Magdalenes (JFM) said the state must follow through on the UN Committee against Torture's recommendations that perpetrators be prosecuted and victims of the Catholic Church reformatory workhouses be given a right to compensation. Justice Minister Alan Shatter and other Cabinet ministers are to examine the committee's conclusions and will formally reply to the UN watchdog's findings.

Human rights expert Maeve O'Rourke, who wrote JFM's submission to the committee during its two days of hearings last month, said she was hopeful the Government will honour its obligations to those who have suffered.

"The UN torture committee has added its voice to the Irish Human Rights Commission's to remind the Irish Government that the women who spent time in Magdalene Laundries have human rights which demand respect today," she said.

"Having suffered torture or ill-treatment, in which the state directly participated and which it knowingly failed to prevent, the women have the ongoing right to an investigation, an apology, redress and treatment with dignity."

The Magdalene Laundries were operated by four Catholic religious orders, The Sisters of Mercy, The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, The Sisters of Charity, and The Good Shepherd Sisters. They were institutions for women with a child out of wedlock and were portrayed in the 2002 film The Magdalene Sisters.

The last laundry, at Sean McDermott Street in Dublin, closed in 1996. JFM has argued the treatment of women and girls in the laundries violated their constitutional rights, including rights to bodily integrity, not to be tortured or ill-treated, the right to earn a livelihood, to communicate, the right to individual privacy, travel, to one's good name and to one's person.

In June last year it urged the Irish Human Rights Commission to asses its case. The IHRC revealed while some women were detained through the courts, single mothers were often moved in by their family or clergy after their child was adopted and some residents had an intellectual disability. It said their treatment by nuns appeared to be harsh and reputedly involved long working hours.

The UN committee said it was gravely concerned by the failure of the state to "protect girls and women who were involuntarily confined between 1922 and 1996 in the Magdalene Laundries". It said it let the women down by not regulating the operations and inspecting them.

It also expressed concern at what it deemed the failure of the state to undertake a prompt and thorough investigation into the allegations of mistreatment. The body recommended the state carry out prompt, independent and thorough investigations into the allegations of torture, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

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