An Irish woman,who says she was forbidden to speak and forced to sleep in a ‘prison-like’ bolted cell during her time at a Magdalene Laundry in Cork, has taken her case to the United Nations Committee Against Torture (UNCAT).
Elizabeth Coppin, who says she was forced to work without pay six days a week at three different Magdalene Laundries she was held at between 1964 and 1968, is to have her complaint that the State has failed to investigate and ensure accountability for the girls and women in Magdalene Laundries between 1922 and 1996 considered by the committee.
“I feel grateful UNCAT are taking my complaint seriously and it gives me hope I may one day see light from this darkness emerging," Ms Coppin said.
In her submission to the UN, Ms Coppin, who was born in 1949 in a mother and baby home as her mother was unmarried, argues that the State was complicit in her arbitrary detention and mistreatment. She was detained by court order in an industrial school at the age of two. When she reached the age of 14, the nuns in charge of the school transferred her to St Vincent’s Magdalene Laundry in Peacock Lane, Cork. She was subsequently detained in two further Magdalene Laundries before she was released prior to her nineteenth birthday, in April 1968.
Her complaint states that she slept in a room bolted from the outside with bars on the windows, was denied an education and was forced to work without pay. She went to the police in 1997 and 1998, but her grievances were never followed up. She attempted to sue the religious congregations involved between 1999 and 2002, but her case was dismissed on grounds of ‘delay’.
The State is refusing to allow her to access any of the evidence gathered by the McAleese Committee, the Governmental body that produced a report on State involvement with the Magdalene Laundries in 2013, her submission also states.
Ms Coppin argues that that is continuing to degrade her by stating publicly that there is "no factual evidence" to support allegations of systematic torture in these institutions.
She also also argues that she has not received the full healthcare promised by the Irish Government under the 'ex gratia' Magdalene Laundries scheme, or that she has received the full healthcare promised by the State.
The State argued that the UNCAT should not entertain her case as she was detained prior to Ireland becoming a party to the UN Convention Against Torture in 2002. The State also argued that she should be barred from bringing her complaint because she had not first complained to the Irish courts about the State’s failure to investigate and ensure redress.
However, UNCAT found that reparation programmes do not render an individual's right to a remedy ineffective. The State now has four months to make further submissions on the merits of her complaint.
Ms Coppin will then have the opportunity to reply, following which the Committee will issue a final judgement.