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State failed to protect Magdalens: IHRC

By editor - 19 June, 2013

The Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) has called on the State to provide a comprehensive redress scheme that provides individual compensation, restitution and rehabilitation for women who were in Magdalene Laundries. The IHRC yesterday published its Follow-up Report on State Involvement with Magdalen Laundries saying the State failed in its obligation to protect the human […]

The Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) has called on the State to provide a comprehensive redress scheme that provides individual compensation, restitution and rehabilitation for women who were in Magdalene Laundries.

The IHRC yesterday published its Follow-up Report on State Involvement with Magdalen Laundries saying the State failed in its obligation to protect the human rights of girls and women in Magdalene Laundries. The IHRC makes a number of recommendations regarding measures needed to ensure similar wrongs are not repeated in the future.

Speaking at the launch of the Report, Professor Siobhán Mullally, IHRC Commissioner said:

“The Report of the Interdepartmental Committee (IDC) confirms extensive State involvement in Magdalen Laundries but it falls short of drawing any conclusions on the human rights obligations of the State.

To fill that gap, the IHRC has reviewed the findings of the IDC report against a range of human rights standards. We conclude from the evidence available that the human rights of girls and women placed in the Laundries have not been fully respected.

The State acted wrongfully in failing to protect these women by not putting in place adequate mechanisms to prevent such violations, and by failing to respond to their allegations over a protracted period. Credible allegations of abuse should always be promptly, thoroughly and independently investigated.”

The IHRC Follow-up Report reviews the facts set out in the Report of the Interdepartmental Committee chaired by Senator Martin McAleese and assesses the human rights implications for the State of what occurred in Magdalen Laundries.

It also revisits the findings of the IHRC’s 2010 Assessment Report on the Magdalen Laundries in light of the information now available.

The IHRC called for a comprehensive redress scheme that provides individual compensation for the impact of the human rights violations  which occurred to each individual woman who resided in the Laundries and their ongoing impact;  restitution in terms of lost wages, pensions and social welfare benefits and rehabilitation supports including housing, education, health and welfare.

Responding to the report Claire McKettrick of the Justice for Magdalene Survivors group said that the Government must act in the survivor’s best interest. “It is unthinkable for the government to come forward with some token gesture,” she said on RTE radio. “It is time to get things right.”

The Government has yet to publish proposals for redress following the McAleese report.

The IHCR report also pointed out that the right to liberty of girls and women placed in Laundries through the criminal justice system and the Industrial and Reformatory schools regime was not respected.

There are many instances where girls were placed in Magdalen Laundries without a court order or in the period after their discharge from an industrial or Reformatory school as a form of administrative detention.

In the case of adjourned or suspended sentences, where a Court Order did not authorise detention in a Laundry, this was the de facto result.”

Addressing the working conditions in Magdalen Laundries, Sinead Lucey, Senior Enquiry and Legal Officer of the IHRC stated that girls and women who resided in Magdalen Laundries involuntarily were subjected to a form of forced or compulsory labour which clearly contravenes Ireland’s obligations under the 1930 Forced Labour Convention.

Not only did successive Irish governments not outlaw these practices, but the State itself availed and benefited from such forced or compulsory labour when it entered into commercial contracts with the Laundries on the basis of being the cheapest as workers were unpaid.

In addition, the obligation to provide one’s labour as a result of coercion also constitutes servitude under Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)

Sinead Lucey stated that lessons must be learned from the breaches of human rights to ensure similar wrongs are not repeated now or in the future.

“Stronger regulation and oversight of the relationship between the State and non-state actors carrying out State functions or services is required,” she said.   “Overall, the State needs to cease its dependency on institutionalising certain groups in society and support them to live to their full potential in the community.”

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