The Department of Justice failed to examine all available evidence when it wrongly refused some Magdalene laundry survivors access to redress payments.
Following an almost year-long investigation of the scheme, Ombudsman Peter Tyndall has published a scathing assessment of the department’s administration of the scheme.
The department had refused several women access to redress, claiming they were not resident in one of the 12 institutions covered by the scheme.
However, the Ombudsman was provided with evidence that some of the Magdalene laundries were either physically linked to the units where the women lived, or were located on the same grounds as the Magdalen laundries and were, in reality, “one and the same institution”.
The report determined that the department gave “undue weight” to evidence supplied by the religious congregations and some of it had been requested and received by the department after the decision to exclude the women was made.
The report also said it was not evident “what weight, if any, was afforded to the testimony of the women and/or their relatives”.
At the launch of the report yesterday, Mr Tyndall said not only had his office examined evidence that the department had seen, but it also found evidence which was available to the department but which it had not considered when deciding on particular applications.
“There should have been proper procedures for following up on sources of information or inconsistencies in the information provided,” said Mt Tyndall.
“All possible sources of information should have been looked at and, instead, my investigation found the assessment process was at times ad hoc and incomplete with gaps and questions left unanswered.
“There was often an overreliance on the records held by the congregations, with personal testimonies, including sworn affidavits from applicants and their families, being ignored or considered as a last resort.”
The report is also very critical of how the department dealt with some women who had been deemed eligible for the scheme but who did not have the capacity to make decisions on their own behalf — a criticism also made by the Justice For Magdalenes Research group as early as 2015.
Mr Tyndall said those women had been “effectively forgotten” by the department and that payments had yet to be made to 18 people as a result — nine of whom are entitled to the maximum payment of €100,000.
The report said it was “manifestly unfair” of the department to exclude some women from admission to the scheme on the grounds that they might have been able to apply for the Residential Institutions Redress Scheme — a scheme set up a decade before to address a different injustice and which has been closed since 2005.
The Ombudsman recommended that the department reconsider all applications — with a view to accepting them — where there is evidence that a woman worked in one of the 12 listed institutions but was officially recorded as having been “admitted” to a training centre or industrial school in the same building or attached to or located on the grounds of one of the laundries.
In its response, the secretary general of the Department of Justice said the Ombudsman’s criticisms derived from the belief there was a restricted interpretation of the scheme and he “cannot agree with that interpretation”.
The secretary general said it would “involve double payments, as persons in industrial schools had a separate compensation scheme” and “would involve a very significant increase in the number of potential applicants way beyond the number envisaged by the Government when the scheme was approved”.
“This amounts to a major change in the scope of the scheme which only the Government can decide upon”, said the Department of Justice secretary general.
The Ombudsman has stated that the fact that the women worked in the laundries meant they are already entitled to redress and, therefore, no new institutions need to be added to the scheme.
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Justice for Magdalenes Research (JFMR), Sage Support and Advocacy Service, the National Women’s Council of Ireland and Amnesty International Ireland have strongly welcomed the report.
JFMR pointed to “additional shortcomings” in the department’s implementation of the scheme, including a failure to advertise its existence in the USA, and to provide women a full, promised healthcare package.
Justice Minister Charles Flanagan said his department would give “full and careful consideration” to all of the Ombudsman’s recommendations.
Examples of complaints examined by the ombudsman
1. St Joseph’s Reformatory School/St Mary’s Training Centre, subsequently known as Rosemount Training Centre (located on grounds of St Mary’s Magdalene Laundry, Limerick):
A woman was refused access to the compensation scheme on the basis that she resided at St Joseph’s Reformatory School, despite her having provided testimony to the scheme that she had worked in the laundry.
The department consulted records from the Department of Education and relevant court orders and also contacted the Good Shepherd Sisters, who verified that the woman had been a resident in St Joseph’s.
However, following a request for a review by the woman,
the department contacted the congregation again and, at this point, the congregation indicated that the woman
may have “spent some time each day” working in the laundry.
The ombudsman found that, despite this admission and
its knowledge of the “close relationship” between the various units on the campus, it upheld the decision to refuse her access to the scheme on the basis that there was no evidence that she “had been admitted” to St Mary’s.
The department did “not appear to have made any further enquiries about the interaction between the reformatory school and St Mary’s or indeed why the woman worked in the laundry at all,” said the ombudsman.
2. St Finbarr’s Industrial School/Teenage Training Unit, subsequently known as Marymount (located on the grounds of the Sundays Well Magdalene Laundry in Cork):
One complaint was received from a woman who stated that she worked in the laundry. However, the department
was of the view that she had resided in St Finbarr’s Industrial School and so was not eligible for the scheme.
The ombudsman found
this view was “based on
the recollection of the congregation” but that the department did not seek any original records to confirm this.
The ombudsman also saied that it did not appear that the department made any further enquiries about the interaction between the industrial school and the laundry or whether
it was possible that some of the girls in the industrial school may have worked in the laundry.
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