I want to return to a very significant and moving moment which took place in the Dáil on Tuesday, 19 February 2013. Part of its significance was due to the reaction of the ladies from the Magdalen laundries, who were present in the Gallery that day, to the apologies offered by the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and others. During his apology, the Taoiseach stated, “I, as Taoiseach, on behalf of the State, the Government and our citizens, deeply regret and apologise unreservedly to all those women for the hurt that was done to them”. He also stated that the women deserved more than a formal apology and that he intended to put in place a process “by which we can determine how best to help and support the women in their remaining years”. Those sentiments were echoed by other Members. There was a general feeling on that occasion that a process was going to be put in place and that all of the outstanding issues would be resolved. One would imagine that, one year and three months later, all of this would have been done, particularly for those ladies of very advanced years. It is most unfortunate that the reality is different. I wish to highlight some of that reality and then pose a number of questions.
As a result of the fact that inadequate records were kept in some places, an enormous burden of proof has been placed on some of the ladies involved. One would imagine that a much more flexible approach could be adopted at this point and that the ladies to whom I refer could be given the benefit of the doubt. However, the opposite is the case because it has been left to them to prove that they were in the laundries. The effect is that some ladies are being excluded from redress, while others are being offered less than that to which they might be entitled. There are those who feel so defeated by this extra burden they are being obliged to shoulder that it is like being back in the laundries for them.
An issue arises in respect of the institution known as An Grianan, which was on the site of a Magdalen laundry at High Park. There is no doubt that the women and girls at An Grianan did the same work as those in the laundry. They were referred to it by the justice system – on remand and on probation – and the health boards for protection. Some of them were as young as 11 years of age. A number of the women to whom I refer are not being compensated. I hate using that word because nobody can compensate them for what they endured.
The time they spent in An Grianan is not being accepted under the redress scheme. However, that spent by their counterparts at similar training centres in Summerhill in Wexford and Stanhope Street in Dublin is covered under it. Will the Tánaiste, the new Minister for Justice and Equality and the Government ensure that there will be no additional delays or interruptions in respect of the implementation plan relating to the Magdalen ladies? Will they ensure that payments will be expedited and that the situation in respect of An Grianan will be examined? Will they further ensure that there will be a broader interpretation of Mr. Justice Quirke’s recommendation on health care in order that the women, regardless of where they live, will have access to a level of care similar to that available to those with Health Amendment Act, HAA, cards?
Most of the organisations involved have welcomed the fact that the State intends to introduce the legislation to which the Tánaiste refers in order that all of the relevant material will be preserved. The Human Rights Commission and the UN Committee Against Torture, UNCAT, repeatedly requested a statutory and thorough investigation into what happened in the laundries. Preserving the records will ensure that this can happen at some future date. In recent days UNCAT has indicated that the State should “take additional steps to ensure that victims obtain redress as needed, including in the case of the Magdalene Laundries”.
I take this opportunity to mention the case of Rita. The latter is not her real name. There is absolutely no doubt about the date on which Rita entered the laundry; neither is there any doubt about the date when she was not there. There is a discrepancy in that there is no official proof of where she was for a very short period but there are people who are prepared to swear affidavits in order to prove that she was exactly where she says she was. Rita approached the Department of Justice and Equality following the Taoiseach’s apology in February 2013 and registered with the implementation team at the end of June of that year. This lady is in her 80s and for the past six weeks I have been trying to obtain an answer for her from the Department. I have continually been informed that it is awaiting a directive. This has been going on for far too long. As Rita has informed me, it is not the money but rather the principle of the thing. The Tánaiste is seeking details but the Department of Justice and Equality knows the real identity of the person to whom I refer. I hope her case will be resolved by next week at the very latest.