UPDATE: Full report here.
The report on the Magdalene Laundries is due to be published tomorrow and its terms of reference are extremely narrow: establish the extent of State involvement in these institutions. It had no powers to call witnesses and no powers to demand documents.
Chaired by Senator Martin McAleese, the committee consists of representatives from a number of government departments:
- Justice and Equality;
- Environment, Community and Local Government;
- Education and Skills;
- Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation; and
- Children & Youth Affairs.
Its terms of reference cover the following institutions where Catholic orders of nuns kept slaves throughout the 20th century.
Sisters of Our Lady of Charity
High Park, Drumcondra, Dublin;
Sean McDermott St/Gloucester Street, Dublin;
Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy
No. 47 Forster Street, Galway;
St Patrick’s Refuge, Crofton Road, Dun Laoghaire, Dublin;
Religious Sisters of Charity
Peacock Lane, Cork;
Sisters of the Good Shepherd
Cork Road, Waterford;
New Ross, Wexford;
Pennywell Road, Limerick;
Sunday’s Well, Cork
Unfortunately, for reasons undisclosed, the government failed to include another slave-laundry in its remit to the inter-departmental committee, namely the Stanhope Street laundry in Dublin. It appears that the Sisters of Charity got away with this because the laundry was officially designated as a training school even though its prisoners received no training and worked themselves to death in precisely the same way as those locked up in the other slave factories.
Even more unfortunately, the investigating committee is non-statutory. It has no powers to compel witnesses or even to demand records and is therefore at the mercy, so to speak, of the religious orders who have a vested interest in hiding the truth about the crimes their members committed against Irish women through the decades. In this regard, the orders have found the Data Protection Act to be a great protection.
Consequently, given the fight that the religious orders put up against the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, which did have statutory powers, it’s hard to see how Martin McAleese will be able to produce a report with any meaning. If the government had been serious about the Magdalene scandal, it would have commissioned an inquiry with real teeth, but instead it ran scared when it saw what the Residential Institutions Redress Board cost in compensation — all of it picked up by the State and not by the perpetrators.
Given its initial statement on the matter, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the government deliberately hobbled the committee in order to make sure that these women, whose lives were destroyed by slavery, will never have a claim against the State or against the religious orders who used and abused them.
On the other hand, Martin McAleese is a decent man and I suppose we can hope that under his chairmanship the committee will be able to expose what took place in these dreadful prisons, but that’s unlikely since the terms of reference are so narrow.
We can hope, but we shouldn’t hold our breath.