Redress is next issue in lengthy fight for justice

Conall Ó Fátharta asks if we can expect more than just ‘sorry’

Redress is next issue in lengthy fight for justice

While a long-overdue State apology to survivors of the Magdalene Laundries is expected to be issued today, the question of what form the redress scheme to be offered takes is now the key issue.

If the weekend reports are to be believed, what the 1,000 or so elderly and vulnerable survivors are to be offered is a far cry from what the UN Committee on Torture recommended in 2011, let alone what Magdalene survivors and support groups have long campaigned for.

The committee said that the State should ensure that all victims have a right to redress and have an enforceable right to seek compensation, while advocacy groups sought similar measures.

It now appears the Government will offer some form of compensation on an individual, case-by-case basis as a compassionate gesture to the women. It will also offer to meet healthcare and counselling costs.

However, the reality is that once you get past the political soundbites about “compassion”, the key concern for Government is money, and setting a precedent which might open the floodgates to more compensation schemes arising from other human rights abuses in Mother and Baby Homes and psychiatric institutions.

The decision by Taoiseach Enda Kenny to speak to some of the Magdalene support groups, but not all, has also been interesting.

Mr Kenny, Justice Minister Alan Shatter, and Kathleen Lynch, the junior health minister, have spoken to two groups of Magdalene Laundry survivors in London and in Dublin — the Irish Women’s Survivors’ Support Network and Magdalene Survivors Together.

However, the Justice for Magdalenes group, which submitted some 800 pages of exhaustive academic research and survivor testimony to Martin McAleese’s committee have been entirely absent from these meetings.

Contrary to some reports, the group did not refuse to meet the Taoiseach but instead asked for clarification in writing as to why the meetings were being sought, what was to be discussed, and who would be present.

The Taoiseach’s department never responded and so JFM was left out in the cold.

It is noteworthy that this group has been very vocal in its criticism of the McAleese report in a number of areas — namely in terms of its narrative of conditions in the laundries and also of how Dr McAleese recalled some of the survivors to query aspects of testimony they had given earlier.

Interestingly, not a single line of the hundreds of pages of survivor testimony JFM submitted to the committee appears in Dr McAleese’s consideration of living and working conditions in the laundries.

JFM has also been very vocal in calling for a non-adversarial and fully transparent justice and reparations scheme for survivors.

In consultation with the Irish Women Survivors Support Network and Magdalene survivors in Ireland, Britain, and the US, the reparations scheme is a comprehen-sive document.

Prepared in Oct 2011, in tandem with an apology, it calls for a dedicated unit within the Department of Justice to facilitate access to redress and services for survivors, a commission for financial reparation, and a preservation of the historical record.

The group proposed a benchmark figure of €100,000 in a lump sum compensation for survivors, along with a package of services including pensions and lost wages.

Magdalene Survivors Together also presented a compensation package which involved a lump sum of around €50,000 as well as provisions for lost wages.

Today will reveal whether the Government has the courage to offer these women anything like the redress they deserve.

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