Departments to face Magdalene committee

UP to eight Government departments will be examined as part of an inquiry into the Magdalene Laundries, according to a group representing survivors who met Justice Minister Alan Shatter yesterday.

Dr James Smith of Boston College, who represents the Justice for Magdalenes group, said a committee examining the state’s involvement will begin trawling to the records of various departments next week.

After meeting with the minister yesterday for over two hours yesterday, the survivors also called on the congregations of nuns who ran the institutions to make available all records to the committee, which is chaired by Senator Martin McAleese.

During what was described as a “very constructive and positive meeting,” the group presented Mr Shatter and Junior Minister Kathleen Lynch with a 500-page submission.

Dr Smith said it contained information demonstrating an “ample and overwhelming narrative of state interaction involving eight Government departments”.

“We were assured that all department records would be under the remit of the committee.”

The eight departments include Justice, Education, Health, Finance, Social Protection, Enterprise and Employment, Local Government and Defence.

Some departments had a role in placing girls in these institutions, while others had contracts for work with the laundries for which the women did not get paid.

The inter-departmental committee will examine the state’s role in 10 Magdalene laundries where young women were forced to work between 1922 and 1996.

The UN Committee Against Torture had urged a statutory inquiry involving the religious congregations that ran the homes.

However, Mr Shatter stopped short of a full inquiry for now, saying there was a need to fully establish the facts and circumstances relating to the Magdalene Laundries as a first step.

Dr Smith said the committee should examine not just what the state did in facilitating the laundries, but also what it failed to do.

So, as well as examining the state’s support in the “financial and commercial basis for the laundries” it will also examine “the state’s failure to provide due diligence, to regulate, to inspect and to prevent abuses in these institutions”, according to Dr Smith.

He added: “Our understanding is that the minister is open to that.”

Dr Smith also said the group was assured of the independence of Mr McAleese, the husband of President Mary McAleese and who was recently appointed to the Seanad by the Taoiseach.

Mr Shatter told RTÉ’s This Week programme on Sunday that “the state was involved in women being place in the laundries but others were committed without State involvement”.

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