Simon McGarr, a Dublin solicitor who previously led a campaign for the expulsion of the Papal Nuncio following the publication of the Murphy report, said the executive summary of the McAleese report offers unlikely explanations to serious issues.
“The executive summary is a shameful farrago of guesses, elisions and wilful ignorance,” said Mr McGarr on his website.
In particular, he took issue with the report’s failure to explain the absence of death certificates for many Magdalene women and the failure to report any woman’s death to a coroner.
“On balance, it is better to have the report than none at all, as it has put a large amount of information into the public domain,” said Mr McGarr yesterday.
“However, it is a very poor report. It is uncritical of official, institutional sources of information and, on balance, it gives privilege to written records over spoken testimony.”
According to the Justice for Magdalenes group, more than 800 pages of transcripts of first-hand oral evidence was offered to the McAleese inquiry but never used.
“It is unfortunate that Martin McAleese chose not to include anything more of the women’s accounts in this report,” said Mr McGarr.
He also criticised what he terms the Magdalene Report committee’s willingness to “build castles of excuses out of thin air” and contrasted that with its conclusion in relation to evidence of the women who witnessed and experienced these institutions.
“Although identifying common patterns in these stories, the committee did not make specific findings on this issue, in light of the small sample of women available,” the McAleese report states.
Mr McGarr describes as “revolting” the oppression, abuse of power, and arbitrary behaviour meted out to the women who were incarcerated through the criminal justice system, regardless of how they got there. “The McAleese report consistently seeks to explain away or excuse this behaviour,” said Mr McGarr. “When no other excuse can be found, or imagined, the authors fall back upon the excuse that the past is very different to now.”
He says that while the institutions involved were challenged to explain away their behaviour, “these explanations are presented, unchallenged, no matter how flimsy they are”.
Mr McGarr also cited the approach taken by the gardaí who facilitated the incarceration of women in the laundries. “Gardaí would arrest women who had escaped from the Magdalene institutions and return them to their clutches,” he said. “There was even a standing order in the Garda handbook.
“The handbook reads: ‘Persons in institution uniform — if persons are noticed to be wandering about in the uniform of institutions, e.g. workhouse inmates, they should be questioned and if they cannot give a satisfactory account of them- selves they should be arrested.’ ”