Interviews lacked transparency, say victims groups

Victims groups have accused the McAleese committee of not being “transparent” by springing interviews on survivors without prior knowledge and weakening the inquiry by not issuing a public call for victims to come forward.

Prior to the Ryan Report into child abuse, the then taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, apologised to the residents of the industrial schools and then issued a public call for survivors to come forward. According to the victims groups, this led to a sharp increase in numbers coming forward.

Just over 118 survivors spoke to the committee, and 57 were still under the charge of the religious orders in nursing homes or sheltered housing.

Justice for Magdalenes (JFM) and Magdalene Survivors Together also both strongly refuted the report’s assertion there was no physical abuse in the laundries.

The report stated there was a marked difference between the regime in industrial schools and the laundries and that physical abuse did not take place in the laundries: “A large majority of the women who shared their stories with the committee said that they had neither experienced nor seen other girls or women suffer physical abuse in the Magdalene Laundries.”

It is understood that the committee discounted initial testimony of physical abuse from some of the women, as they said that under closer questioning it emerged that the women were “confusing” their time in the industrial schools with time at the laundries.

Claire McGettrick of JFM said: “Initially, the committee didn’t even want to speak to women in person, but we fought for that. The women gave their testimony verbally and then we were given very little notice of a second meeting where we were to look at the format of the initial testimony. Instead, the women were brought in one by one for a meeting with the commission where they asked repeated questions.

“Their overall impression was that they were being checked to ensure that their memories were correct. The women came out of those meetings very quiet and subdued. None of them, none of us, had been expecting for them to be questioned like that.”

According to the report: “Subsequent meetings afforded the committee an opportunity to seek clarifications on areas of particular interest… Information provided by many of the women through this process included a clear distinction between some of the practices in industrial and reformatory schools and the Magdalene Laundries, in particular in relation to practices of physical punishment and abuse.”

Fifty-three women representing different survivors groups were interviewed by the committee. As well as the women living in nursing homes or sheltered accommodation and still under the legal care of the orders, another 10 women who spent time at St Mary’s Laundry, Stanhope St, Dublin, also spoke to the team.

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