Comprehensive compensation is needed for survivors of Magdalene laundries including unpaid wages and pensions and rehab for forced labour, a watchdog has claimed.
The Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) said Martin McAleese’s investigation into the institutions fell short as he did not draw any conclusions on the human rights obligations of the State.
The commission called on the Government to stop caring for the intellectually disabled in psychiatric institutions and to allow people who were adopted, either formally or informally, to trace their birth relatives.
Professor Siobhan Mullally, IHRC commissioner, said its follow-up report was filling a gap left by the McAleese inquiry.
“The Report of the Interdepartmental Committee confirms extensive State involvement in Magdalene laundries but it falls short of drawing any conclusions on the human rights obligations of the State,” she said.
Prof Mullally said the human rights of women and girls sent to laundries were not respected.
“The State acted wrongfully in failing to protect these women by not putting in place adequate mechanisms to prevent such violations, and by failing to respond to their allegations over a protracted period,” she said.
“Credible allegations of abuse should always be promptly, thoroughly and independently investigated.”
The IHRC’s Follow-up Report on State Involvement with Magdalene Laundries reviewed Mr McAleese’s report and found breaches of human rights “in relation to equality, liberty, respect for private life, education, and to be free from forced or compulsory labour or servitude”.
Prof Mullally said compensation must match the human rights violations and their ongoing impact.
She called for redress to compensate and take account of lost wages, pensions and social welfare benefits. Rehabilitation supports are also needed including housing, education, health and welfare and assistance to deal with the psychological effects of the time spent in the laundries, she said.
The IHRC described laundries as a discriminatory regime where girls received little or no formal education, not even lessons in basic literacy and numeracy.
Sinead Lucey, senior inquiry and legal officer of the IHRC, said women were subjected to a form of forced or compulsory labour in contravention to Ireland’s obligations under the 1930 Forced Labour Convention.
“This is compounded by the fact that not only did successive Irish governments not outlaw and suppress such practices, as they were required to do, but the State itself availed and benefited from such forced or compulsory labour when it entered into commercial contracts with the Laundries on the basis of being the cheapest, but the crucial factor here was the workers were unpaid,” she said.
“The State must never be complacent in the way it treats those at risk of discrimination.”
The IHRC issued other recommendations which included:
- Restitution and rehab for survivors including housing, health and welfare, education and assistance to deal with psychological effects.
- The State should scrutinise its interactions with other parties to ensure regulatory and oversight functions are robust enough to prevent human rights breaches.
- Independent and prompt investigations into all credible allegations of abuse.
- Immediate introduction of compulsory inspections of residential centres for people with disabilities by the Health Information and Quality Authority.
- Reform laws to ensure a rigorous system of accountability and oversight in relation to the granting of licenses for exhumations and cremations.
The Government has committed to publishing its compensation scheme in the next week.
A report on the make-up of the redress was handed to Justice Minister Alan Shatter last month with recommendations for a reconciliation forum between Magdalene survivors and the four religious orders that ran the Catholic institutions.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny made a tearful apology to the Magdalene survivors in February after Mr McAleese’s inquiry revealed the State had a hand in 24% of admissions to the laundries.
His investigation found that 10,000 women were incarcerated in the workhouses, run by nuns from four religious orders, for a myriad of reasons – from petty crime to poverty, disability or pregnancy outside marriage.
The last laundry closed in 1996, at Sean MacDermott Street in Dublin’s north inner city.
It is understood that other support – as well as the cash payments – to be offered to survivors includes medical cards, psychological counselling services and other welfare needs.