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Taoiseach increases pressure on Magdalene congregations

By Sarah Mac Donald - 18 July, 2013

Minister rules out stripping four religious orders of their charitable status.

The four religious congregations who ran the Magdalene laundries have been asked by the Taoiseach to reflect on their decision not to contribute to a compensation fund for former residents.

Enda Kenny made his comment in the Dáil on Wednesday following a statement by the Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, ruling out stripping the congregations of their charitable status.

Mr Shatter told the Dáil on Tuesday he believed the congregations had a “moral and ethical” obligation to contribute.

Around 600 women may be entitled to apply for the scheme which is expected to cost somewhere in the region of €35 and €58 million.

Mr Kenny also said the Government would not become embroiled in a legal battle with the Mercy Sisters, the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, the Sisters of Charity and the Good Shepherd Sisters.

“I cannot force them to, because the scheme was not designed on that basis,” he said. “They can make a decision, on reflection, to make a monetary contribution,” he added.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said the four congregations should be accountable if they wanted to restore faith in society and politics.

A spokesman for the four religious congregations told CatholicIreland.net that they would not be making any comment further to their statements issued in response to the publication of the Quirke and McAleese reports.

In June, Mr Justice John Quirke published his recommendations on a non-adversarial compensation scheme which would see the women who were once residents obtain payouts of between €11,500 for those who spent three months or less in a laundry. A maximum figure of €100,000 will be paid to those who were in a laundry for ten years or more.

Other supports offered to the former residents include enhanced medical card and pension entitlements.

The congregations are reportedly willing to contribute to other areas of the scheme recommended by Mr Justice Quirke including the assembly of records and looking after former residents who remain in their care.

The spokesman for the congregations confirmed that 48 former residents continue to live with the Good Shepherd Sisters while 29 women have opted to live on with the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity.

On the issue of the assembly of records, he said this was about providing access to personal records to individuals “who show authenticity” in accordance with data protection legislation.

Following Justice Quirke’s report, the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy said in a statement that they welcomed the proposal for the establishment of a dedicated unit through which ongoing support and assistance may be obtained by the women.

“This Report is a valuable and timely follow up to the publication of the McAleese report last February,” they said.

The McAleese Report criticised the laundries for their harsh conditions and the lack of payment to the women and lack of education for them.

Groups representing former resident of the laundries, such as ‘Magdalene Survivors Together’, have criticised the religious congregations over their refusal to contribute to the fund.

By Sarah Mac Donald

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