Belfast Telegraph

Magdalene Laundries inquiry ordered

The Government must launch an official inquiry into the treatment of women and girls detained in so-called Magdalene Laundries, it has been ruled.

The Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) said compensation should be paid to former residents where the state is found to have had a hand in their detention at 10 Catholic Church reformatory workhouses.

IHRC commissioner Olive Braiden said the lack of public records meant only a statutory inquiry would uncover the truth.

She said many women were omitted from the Residential Institutions Redress Scheme based on the argument that there was no state responsibility. However Ms Braiden said it was clear the state and Irish society in general bears responsibility for the way they were treated.

"We are dealing with a small and vulnerable group of women who the Government admitted as far back as 2001 were victims of abuse, but who have received no proper recognition for the hurt they experienced and continue to experience," said Ms Braiden.

"It is important women in their advancing years are not forgotten.The IHRC is publicly calling on the Government to establish the extent of state involvement in the manner in which they were treated and to provide redress as appropriate."

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. The last laundry, at Sean McDermott Street in Dublin, closed in 1996.

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. Names were often changed to a religious name, they were isolated from society and girls were allegedly denied education.

Last June survivor advocacy group Justice for Magdalenes (JFM) asked the IHRC to assess its case. It 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.

The IHRC said there was clearly state involvement for those who entered Magdalene Laundries after a court process. It also said he state might have breached laws on forced or compulsory labour and on ensuring no one is held in servitude. IHRC president Maurice Manning said the state could not abdicate responsibilities over the treatment of women and girls in the Laundries. He said: "In the absence of access to clear information, serious questions arise in relation to the state's duties to guard against arbitrary detention, compulsory labour and servitude."

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