Ireland criticised by UN for response to Magdalene Laundries allegations

The UN has criticised Ireland for failures in investigating allegations of ill-treatment of women at Magdalene laundries and for not prosecuting perpetrators.

The United Nations Committee Against Torture (UNCAT) asked the Government to undertake a “thorough, impartial investigation” in this area and ensure that all victims obtain redress.

UNCAT said it was “seriously concerned” at the failure of the State’s delegation to it to provide further information regarding their claim that there have been a sizeable number of investigations into abuse at reformatory and industrial schools, as documented in the Ryan Report.

The committee, which monitors adherence to the UN Convention Against Torture, issued its concluding observations, after taking submissions from Irish NGOs and holding hearings with the Government.

In its observations, UNCAT called on the Government to:

  • Bring in a specific offence of domestic violence, and ensure all such allegations are recorded by gardaí and investigated;
  • Hold immigration detainees separate from people charged or convicted of criminal offences;
  • Ensure solitary confinement is “never applied to juveniles” and to “urgently” undertake an independent review of the prison health-care system;
  • Establish a national mechanism, which would have access to all places of deprivation of liberty.

UNCAT also expressed “concern at the severe physical and mental anguish and distress experienced by women and girls, regarding termination of pregnancy, due to the State policies”.

It praised the Government in various areas, including the establishment of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, the passing of legislation to divert offenders, the reduction of overcrowding and slopping-out, and for legislation and inquiries.

The committee said its 2011 recommendations, calling on the State to investigate allegations of ill-treatment at the Magdalene Laundries, to prosecute perpetrators and ensure victims obtained redress, “have not been implemented”.

UNCAT said it “deeply regrets” that the State “has not undertaken an independent, thorough, and effective investigation” into the laundries. It called on the Government to do so and ensure all victims obtained redress.

It expressed concerns at reports that an inquiry into mother-and-baby homes did not have the remit to investigate all relevant institutions.

The observations call on the Government to bring in a specific offence of domestic violence and to “exempt women” from the minimum contribution for legal aid if they cannot afford it.

It called for sufficient funding of domestic-violence services. It was also concerned that laws regarding female genital mutilation “have not been used” to prosecute perpetrators.

The committee expressed concern at the growth in female prisoners, overcrowding in Dochas and Limerick female prisons, and in-cell sanitation for 56 prisoners, who continue to slop-out, and 1,539 who use toilets in the presence of cell mates.

UNCAT said solitary confinement has been used for prolonged periods and that holding juveniles in Obserstown, for weeks in single separation, “may amount” to solitary confinement.

It said there should be “special rehabilitation services” for refugees who have been tortured.

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