IHRC to respond to Magdalene Laundries Report

The Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) welcomes the publication today of the report of the Inter-Departmental Committee on the Magdalene Laundries which has established significant State involvement in Magdalene Laundries. The IHRC will now consider this very detailed report in light of its previous 2010 report and recommendations.

The Government decision to establish the Committee was on foot of representations made by survivors’ groups, the 2010 report of the IHRC and the subsequent recommendations of the UN Committee Against Torture in 2011.

Commenting on today’s report, IHRC Acting CEO Des Hogan stated: "The IHRC will study and respond to the report of the Inter-Departmental Committee in relation to the human rights issues arising. Today’s report confirms significant State involvement in the Magdalene Laundries as found by the Commission in its 2010 Report Assessment of the Human Rights Issues Arising in relation to the "Magdalen Laundries". In that report, the IHRC identified serious human rights concerns in relation to the operation of the Magdalene Laundries."

Mr Hogan continued: "We look forward to the Government’s response to the findings of today’s report which should focus as an immediate issue on a system of redress for the women concerned which reflects the State’s human rights obligations."
Background
In its November 2010 Assessment Report on the Magdalene Laundries in response to a complaint from Justice for Magdalenes (JFM), the IHRC found that serious human rights issues arose in relation to the treatment of women and girls in the Magdalene laundries. These included:
1. That for those girls and women who entered Magdalene 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 Magdalene 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.
The IHRC report called on the Government to immediately establish a Statutory Inquiry into their treatment and to provide redress to the survivors as appropriate. The IHRC called on the Government to first examine the extent of the State’s responsibility and then advance to conducting a larger-scale review of what occurred, the reasons for the occurrence, the human rights implications and the redress which should be considered, in full consultation with survivors and their representative groups.
On 1 June 2011 the UN Committee Against Torture recommended that the State should institute prompt, independent, and thorough investigations and, in appropriate cases, prosecutions in addition to affording redress, compensation and rehabilitation to former residents. In this, the recommendations of the UN Committee Against Torture took a different approach to the IHRC’s 2010 report, by emphasising the role of the criminal justice system.
Also in June 2011 the Government announced the establishment of the Inter-Departmental Committee under the independent chairmanship of Senator Martin McAleese to establish the level of State involvement in the Laundries. While not a statutory inquiry, the IHRC welcomed this development as an important first step in establishing the level of State responsibility in relation to what occurred in the laundries. The IHRC was pleased to meet with and brief Senator McAleese’s committee
The Inter-Departmental Committee aimed at addressing the first of the IHRC’s recommendations, namely to clarify State interaction with the Magdalene Laundries and to produce a narrative identifying the level of State responsibility. The committee was able to meet with both survivors of the laundries and with the four religious congregations who made available relevant records on a confidential basis. Previously the IHRC had noted the dearth of publicly available information which in its view necessitated a statutory inquiry.

ENDS/

Further information: Fidelma Joyce, IHRC
Mob: 087 783 4939

Notes to Editor
In 2010, the IHRC reviewed "the adequacy and effectiveness of law and practice in the State relating to the protection of human rights" having regard to its statutory remit under the Human Rights Commission Act 2000.

The UN Committee Against Torture’s 2011 Concluding Observations on the initial report of Ireland are available at
www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cat/cats46.htm

The IHRC’s 2010 report is available at
www.ihrc.ie/download/pdf/ihrc_assessment_of_the_human_rights_issues_arising_in_relation_to_the_magdalen_laundries_nov_2010.pdf

The human rights standards considered by the IHRC’s 2010 report included those rights guaranteed under:

1937 Constitution
1930 Forced Labour Convention
1953 European Convention on Human Rights
1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

 

 

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