IHRC calls on the Government to immediately establish a statutory inquiry into the treatment of women and girls in the "Magdalen Laundries"

Press Release
9 November 2010

IHRC calls on the Government to immediately establish a statutory inquiry into the treatment of women and girls in the "Magdalen Laundries"

The Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) today published a report calling on the Government to immediately establish a Statutory Inquiry into the treatment of women and girls in the so-called "Magdalen Laundries" and to provide redress to the survivors as appropriate.

In June 2010, the Justice for Magdalenes group (JFM) made a request to the IHRC to conduct an enquiry into the treatment of women and girls in "Magdalen Laundries". The assessment just published is a summary of the IHRC’s examination of the human rights issues arising. It concludes that there is State responsibility requiring the establishment of a statutory inquiry without delay.

IHRC Commissioner Olive Braiden said "we are dealing with a small and vulnerable group of women who the Government admitted as far back as 2001 were victims of abuse, but who have received no proper recognition for the hurt they experienced and continue to experience. They were omitted from the Residential Institutions Redress Scheme based on the argument that there was no State responsibility, although it is clear that the State and Irish society in general bears responsibility for the way they were treated."

She continued "it is important that these women in their advancing years are not forgotten. Today the IHRC is publicly calling on the Government to establish the extent of State involvement in the manner in which they were treated and to provide redress as appropriate. I am especially concerned by the lack of publicly available records about the operation of the "Magdalen Laundries": this must be remedied immediately through a statutory inquiry."

Dr Maurice Manning, President of the IHRC said "the State cannot abdicate from its responsibilities in relation to the treatment of women and girls in the "Magdalen Laundries". The IHRC’s assessment reveals that there was State involvement where girls and women entered the "Magdalen Laundries" following a court process; in the absence of access to clear information, serious questions arise in relation to the State’s duties to guard against arbitrary detention, compulsory labour, and servitude. The exhumation and cremation of unidentified women and girls from a communal plot attached to a "Magdalen Laundry" also raises serious questions for the State in the absence of detailed legislation in the area. To vindicate the human rights of the women concerned, the Government must immediately establish a statutory inquiry mechanism to gather the evidence necessary to establish the facts behind the treatment of these women."

Mr Éamonn Mac Aodha, Chief Executive of the IHRC said "while the treatment of women and girls in "Magdalen Laundries" has been documented elsewhere, the IHRC focused its attention on examining the involvement of the State as the primary bearer of human rights obligations to its citizens. We are publishing a summary of our assessment of the human rights issues to assist the State in considering the matters involved."


Key Findings

The following findings form the basis for the IHRC recommendation to establish a Statutory Inquiry:

1. That for those girls and women who entered "Magdalen Laundries" following a Court process, there was clear State involvement in their entry to the Laundries.
2. That questions arise as to whether the State’s obligations to guard against arbitrary detention were met in the absence of information on whether and how girls and women under Court-processes resided in and left the laundries.
3. That the State may have breached its obligations on forced or compulsory labour under the 1930 Forced Labour Convention in not suppressing/outlawing the practice in laundries and in actually engaging in trade with the convents running the Laundries for goods produced as a result of forced labour.
4. That the State may have breached its obligations to ensure that no one is held in servitude insofar as some women and girls in the Laundries may have been held in conditions of servitude after the State assumed obligations under Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights in 1953.
5. That the burial, exhumation and cremation of known and unknown women from a "Magdalen Laundry" in 1993 at High Park raises serious questions for the State in the absence of detailed legislation governing the area. That it is important to establish whether all bodies are identified and accounted for in such communal plots, whether there are death certificates for all those buried in those locations, and whether their remains were properly preserved and reinterred.


Dr Manning concluded "the IHRC has put a considerable amount of effort into researching the issues raised by Justice for Magdalenes, and has given serious consideration as to what the appropriate response should be. The IHRC does not make its recommendations to Government lightly, but has come to the clear conclusion that it is ultimately the responsibility of the State in accordance with its human rights obligations to address the situation of the women who resided in the so-called "Magdalen Laundries". The IHRC hopes that the Government will respond constructively to its recommendation, and for its part the IHRC will provide any assistance necessary, within its resources, to assist in its implementation."


IHRC Spokespersons are available for comment.
Please contact Fidelma Joyce, IHRC, 01 8589601/ 087 783 4939

LINK TO IHRC DOCUMENT Assessment of the Human Rights Issues Arising in relation to the "Magdalen Laundries"

Speech Olive Baiden

Speech Éamonn Mac Aodha

Speech Sinéad Lucey

Speech Maurice Manning

Notes to Editor

The power of the IHRC to conduct enquiries derives from sections 8(f) and 9 of the Human Rights Commission Act 2000. Enquiries conducted by the IHRC may be at the request of an individual concerning a relevant human rights matter. The purpose of IHRC enquiries is to "review the adequacy and effectiveness of law and practice in the State relating to the protection of human rights"; i.e. to evaluate how the law is operating in practice not only for an individual, but also in general. In applying the human rights standards defined in its legislation to a particular factual situation, enquiries may make recommendations to Government on the measures the State needs to take to strengthen, protect and uphold human rights in the State and hence ensure compliance with its national and international obligations. Ultimately IHRC enquiries are there to assist the State in remedying apparent breaches of human rights.

In the current case, the IHRC reviewed "the adequacy and effectiveness of law and practice in the State relating to the protection of human rights" in light of the information available to it and without having recourse to an enquiry.

It did so having regard to its statutory remit, its powers (including powers to compel witnesses) and its current insufficient resources. It also had regard to the fact that the women who resided in Magdalen Laundries are now in their advancing years in addition to the fact that only the State could establish a statutory mechanism to identify what occurred and to provide for redress where warranted.

The Justice for Magdalenes group is a not for profit, volunteer run organisation, with members in Ireland and abroad. JFM seeks to promote and represent the interests of the women and girls in the "Magdalen Laundries". In particular JFM is seeking (i) an apology from Church and State and (ii) the establishment of a distinct redress scheme for all survivors of Ireland’s "Magdalen Laundries". The organisation provides support as well as advisory and re-integration services for survivors. JFM also maintains a website (www.magdalenelaundries.com), a Facebook group, and an online group through Yahoo!

Justice for Magdalenes define the "Magdalen Laundries" as Institutions attached to Convents operated by female religious in which incarcerated women, called "penitents," worked at laundry and other for-profit enterprises. These women were denied freedom of movement. They were unpaid for their labour. They were denied their given names. The daily routine emphasised prayer, silence, and work. Women had to be signed out of the "Magdalen Laundry", and many remained to live, work, and ultimately die, behind convent walls.

Helplines for survivors:

HSE National Counselling Service
Freephone: 1800 234 110
Website: www.hse-ncs.ie


Justice for Magdalenes group
Ireland: 086 4059491 U.S.A. + (1) 215-589-9329, U.K. + (44) 208-346-7479


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