McAleese appointment may have ensured orders’ co-operation

Many believe that it was the Government decision to make Senator Martin McAleese chairman of the interdepartmental group that brought the religious orders on board.

In the years prior to the formation of the interdepartmental committee, the religious orders constantly slammed the door in the faces of the Justice for the Magdalenes group. They just didn’t want to know.

In 2009 and in 2011, the advocacy group asked to meet with the orders. They didn’t want to do so. They also wrote to them seeking some kind of written correspondence. They didn’t get a response.

The Good Shepherd Sisters and the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity refused to meet individually with JFM. The Sisters of Mercy and Sisters of Charity, meanwhile, didn’t even respond to a JFM written request for a meeting.

In June 2010, JFM met with Primate of All Ireland, Cardinal Seán Brady, who characterised JFM’s presentation as “fair and balanced”. He also recommended that JFM approach CORI as a way to facilitate dialogue with the congregations. However, CORI refused their request for a meeting

At the time, Boston College professor and JFM committee member Jim Smith said: “It is difficult not to interpret these responses as signalling the congregations’ absolute denial of responsibility in this regard.”

Later that year in a letter to all junior and senior ministers, the group asked for the State’s assistance in bringing the Church and religious orders to the table.

The Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC), which called for a statutory inquiry into the Magdalene laundries in 2001, referred to a “severe lack of publicly available material” on these women.

All such data, the IHRC presumed, “was in the hands of the religious orders”.

And then, 18 months ago, CORI issued a statement on behalf of the four orders, promising to assist any official investigation into the running of the homes.

In the June 11, 2011 statement, CORI described the laundries as a “sad, complex and dark story of Irish society that extends over 150 years” and said that they “in good faith, took over and ran 10 Magdalene homes”.

Four days later the interdepartmental committee was established by Ministers Alan Shatter and Kathleen Lynch.

Last October, Ms Lynch said her “understanding is that the religious congregations are giving their full co-operation”.

Tomorrow will tell a lot.

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