Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has apologised to Magdalene laundry survivors and pledged that the Government will address in full gaps, delays or disputes over their struggle for justice.
Former residents and their families of the religious-run institutions have given an initial welcome to the minister’s words and said this was a significant development.
The minister’s offer of remorse comes ahead of a gathering in Dublin today of hundreds of Magdalene women, who will have their first opportunity to speak freely to others incarcerated in laundries.
Writing in today’s Irish Examiner, Mr Flanagan says there is a need to heed the lessons of the past and to listen to the women who were victimised, degraded, and cast aside.
Women from around the world have gathered in Dublin today to join hundreds of fellow Magdalene survivors for events to honour former residents. Survivors and their companions will attend a garden party at Áras an Uachtaráin hosted by President Michael D Higgins, and later attend the Mansion House for a gala dinner.
However, the occasion is also being used as an opportunity for women from the laundries to meet each other. Some who were invited only told their families of what happened to them and their treatment and forced labour since invitations were issued for the event. Survivors have travelled from Britain, the US, and Australia.
Over the weekend, it was announced that the Magdalene redress scheme would be extended to 14 additional institutions, for women who worked in laundries while living in a co-located institution. The decision came more than half a year after Ombudsman Peter Tyndall published a scathing report into the scheme, which said the Department of Justice wrongly refused some Magdalene laundry survivors access to redress payments.
Mr Flanagan says the Government is trying to listen to concerns and would hear this week from a group of women in society who were “victims of that dreadful tendency we had to victimise, degrade and cast aside”.
He says there were “gaps, disputes, and delays” in the restorative justice scheme, originally recommended by Justice John Quirke.
Efforts are also being made to work through other issues, including disputes over length of stay and matters of decision-making capacity.
Responding to his comments and apology in the Irish Examiner, campaigners for survivors said they welcomed the development.
Justice for Magdalenes Research co-founder Claire McGettrick said: “We thank the minister for his generous support of the Dublin Honours Magdalenes event, and we are encouraged by his willingness to listen to Magdalene survivors about the problems with the ex gratia scheme.
“These include not only denial of access to the scheme but also the absence of a comprehensive healthcare package, women’s testimony about their duration of stay being ignored, and inadequate assistance to women deemed to lack financial decision-making capacity.
“We hope that the Dublin Honours Magdalenes event will demonstrate how survivors of historic abuse deserve to be treated by the State in making amends for past failings.
“The minister’s commitment to listen to the women is important. For too long the State has silenced survivors of institutional abuse — in the case of the Magdalene laundries by failing to investigate the issue of abuse in the laundries and by keeping its own records secret and allowing the religious orders to do the same.”
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