Hundreds of laundry survivors entitled to apologies and pensions, group claims

THE academic leading the Justice for Magdalene group said he believed an apology from the Government was imminent and that statutory pensions should then be provided to “hundreds” of survivors.

James Smith, associate professor at Boston College, spoke yesterday, a day after presenting findings on state complicity in the Magdalene Laundries to Justice Minister Alan Shatter.

It is understood some survivors attended yesterday’s presentation at UCD’s Humanities Institute.

Using research garnered from a number of sources, Prof Smith outlined how the state was, at various points in the past century, aware that young girls and women were being detained illegally at the laundries but did not inform the residents.

Prof Smith said that, in the event of an apology being offered by the Government, some survivors would still not come forward because of the stigma.

“That does not mean that an apology would not be meaningful.”

He was, however, optimistic the Government would issue an apology, possibly around the time of the interim report into the findings made by JFM in its document Justice for Magdalenes: Narrative of State Interaction with the Magdalene Laundries.

It looks at the interaction between the laundries and numerous government departments, made a number of findings and raised more questions.

The research showed that, in 1936, the then government knew there was no statutory basis for the provision of courts to send women to the laundries.

Prof Smith also said the research indicated past governments knew the women were entitled to leave the laundries but never told them.

“The state turned a blind eye to the fact there was never a statutory basis [for it].”

Likewise, gardaí often brought women to the laundries or returned them if they tried to escape, when there was no basis for it.

The Kennedy Report of 1970 looking at the Department of Education’s role suggested many voluntary committals were “haphazard” and led to women staying for indefinite periods when they should have been dealt with through the reformatory system.

A letter sent to one survivor just this year apologises to the woman as there was only one record of her stay at the Good Shepherd Sisters in Waterford, even though records seemed to show she had been transferred there from a mother-and-baby home.

As for the work carried out at the laundries, for which no fair wages were paid, proof was found that as recently as 1982 work contracts from the Department of Defence were being issued to the laundries, although under the Factories Act 1955 these should have been treated as factories — meaning there should have been an entitlement to a statutory pension.

According to Prof Smith the laundries were never made to comply. He said he understood there were “hundreds, but not thousands” of surviving women who are now entitled to a state pension as a result, but that an apology was needed first.

A similar presentation was made later yesterday to the Oireachtas Committee dealing with the Magdalene Laundries.

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