Irish Republican News · June 12, 2011
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
UN demands investigation into Magdalene torture

The UN Committee Against Torture has recommended the 26-County State investigate “all allegations of torture, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment that were allegedly committed in the Magdalene Laundries”.

The laundries, huge washing workhouses run by nuns, were operated by four religious orders across Ireland. Originally set up in the early 19th century as a refuge for prostitutes, they evolved into effective prisons to which Catholic girls and young women “in moral danger” could be sent by their parish priest. Those sent to the laundries included single mothers (who had sometimes become pregnant as a result of rape or incest), as well as girls who were considered “high-spirited” or “bold”.

Many never saw their families or the outside world again but lived their entire lives behind walls until they were buried in unmarked communal graves.

The laundries were operated by the Sisters of Mercy at Galway and Dun Laoghaire; the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity at Drumcondra and Sean MacDermott Street in Dublin, the Sisters of Charity at Donnybrook in Dublin and Cork, and the Good Shepherd Sisters, in Limerick, Cork, Waterford and New Ross.

The last Magdalene laundry, in Dublin, closed in 1996. All four congregations are members of the Conference of Religious of Ireland.

In a statement on behalf of the congregations, the conference said: “This is a sad, complex and dark story of Irish society that extends over 150 years. As the religious congregations, who, in good faith, took over and ran 10 Magdalene homes during part or most of that time and as congregations still in relationship with many residents and former residents, we are willing to participate in any inquiry that will bring greater clarity, understanding, healing and justice in the interests of all the women involved.”

Justice for Magdalenes (JFM), the survivor advocacy group, is now calling on the 26-County State to act immediately on foot of UNCAT’s recommendations and issue a formal apology to all survivors of the Magdalene Laundries and immediately establish a statutory inquiry into these abuses.

Prof James Smith of the Justice for Magdalenes group has said a “legal adversarial process” was “neither appropriate nor practical” given the age profile of survivors.

The women sought an apology, reparations and access to their records, he said.

Sinn Fein Senator David Cullinane demanded action on the recommendations contained in the report of the UN Committee.

“Many of these women were effectively incarcerated, held against their will, and suffered untold abuse and harm over the course of many years,” he said.

“The survivors of the Laundries are an ageing group, they should receive justice as a matter of urgency, and we cannot allow any more time to pass.”

He said the state must go further than an apology.

“The call for an investigation supports the long-standing calls for such an inquiry from Justice for Magdalenes, from my party and from many others.

“I ask the leader for a debate on the need for an inquiry into these abuses, which cause revulsion and disgust in the hearts of the Irish people.

“We need to ensure that these women see the regret of the Irish state, and get effective redress, and to have the perpetrators prosecuted.”

Meanwhile, a Garda investigation is underway into Irish missionaries and priests who are alleged to have abused children while working outside Ireland.

The Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Investigation Unit has been asked to examine allegations which aired in an RTE television documentary which highlighted several alleged cases of abuse by Irish religious working in Africa.

26-County Minister of Justice Alan Shatter said the reports left him with “a sense of revulsion at the unspeakable catalogue of abuse against children”.

“While the behaviour took place abroad, we have a solemn duty to do all that is within our power to ensure that perpetrators of this predatory abuse of children are brought to justice wherever it takes place,” he said.

The Irish Missionary Union, an umbrella group for missionary and mission-aid organisations, said it condemned “unreservedly” incidents of abuse of children or vulnerable adults. The group said its members were “committed to best practice in ensuring the safeguarding of children and young people, protecting their rights and promoting their welfare.”

Senator Cullinane said the state must face up to the reality that its most vulnerable young people continued to be neglected today.

“I was shocked and disgusted to learn that, according to the ‘One Child International’ organisation as many as 500 children who were under direct state supervision, the state’s responsibility, were missing,” he said.

“Some of these have been found to have ended up in Brothels and private households.”

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© 2011 Irish Republican News