Irish State failed to protect and vindicate the human rights of women in Magdalen Laundries – Redress Scheme must reflect impact of human rights violations experienced

The Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) today published its Follow-up Report on State Involvement with Magdalene Laundries saying the State failed in its obligation to protect the human rights of girls and women in Magdalen Laundries. The IHRC is calling for a comprehensive redress scheme that provides individual compensation, restitution and rehabilitation for the women in accordance with the State’s human rights obligations. The IHRC also makes a number of recommendations regarding measures needed to ensure similar wrongs are not repeated in the future.

The IHRC Follow-up Report reviews the facts set out in the Report of the Interdepartmental Committee chaired by Senator Martin McAleese and assesses the human rights implications for the State of what occurred in Magdalen Laundries. It also revisits the findings of the IHRC’s 2010 Assessment Report on the Magdalen Laundries in light of the information now available. The IHRC concludes that girls and women placed in Magdalen Laundries did not have their human rights fully respected in relation to equality, liberty, respect for private life, education, and to be free from forced or compulsory labour or servitude.

Speaking at the Launch of the Report, Professor Siobhán Mullally, IHRC Commissioner said:

"The Report of the Interdepartmental Committee (IDC) confirms extensive State involvement in Magdalen Laundries but it falls short of drawing any conclusions on the human rights obligations of the State. To fill that gap, the IHRC has reviewed the findings of the IDC report against a range of human rights standards. We conclude from the evidence available that the human rights of girls and women placed in the Laundries have not been fully respected. The State acted wrongfully in failing to protect these women by not putting in place adequate mechanisms to prevent such violations, and by failing to respond to their allegations over a protracted period. Credible allegations of abuse should always be promptly, thoroughly and independently investigated."

Professor Mullally continued:

"The IHRC is calling for a comprehensive redress scheme that provides individual compensation for the impact of the human rights violations which occurred to each individual woman who resided in the Laundries. The extent of such violations and their ongoing impact needs to be factored into the determination of individual compensation and ongoing supports in order to go some way to vindicating the rights of these women. Measures should also be put in place to guarantee that these women have restitution in terms of lost wages, pensions and social welfare benefits. Rehabilitation supports including housing, education, health and welfare, and assistance to deal with the psychological effects of the time spent in the Laundries should be made available to them."

Commenting on the range of human rights not fully respected, Professor Mullally said:

"The vindication of women’s rights is at the heart of the IHRC’s assessment. Magdalen Laundries clearly operated as a discriminatory regime. Women’s right to equal treatment was not upheld as the regime in the Magdalen Laundries only applied to them. No value was placed on the right to access to education for girls who received little or no formal education, not even lessons in basic literacy and numeracy."

Professor Mullally continued:

"The right to liberty of girls and women placed in Laundries through the criminal justice system and the Industrial and Reformatory schools regime was not respected. There are many instances where arbitrary detention appeared to occur, for example, where girls were placed in Magdalen Laundries without a court order or in the period after their discharge from an industrial or Reformatory school as a form of administrative detention. In the case of adjourned or suspended sentences, where a Court Order did not authorise detention in a Laundry, this was the de facto result."

Addressing the working conditions in Magdalen Laundries, Sinead Lucey, Senior Enquiry and Legal Officer of the IHRC stated:

"Girls and women who resided in Magdalen Laundries involuntarily were subjected to a form of forced or compulsory labour which clearly contravenes Ireland’s obligations under the 1930 Forced Labour Convention. This is compounded by the fact that not only did successive Irish governments not outlaw and suppress such practices, as they were required to do, but the State itself availed and benefited from such forced or compulsory labour when it entered into commercial contracts with the Laundries on the basis of being the cheapest, but the crucial factor here was the workers were unpaid. In addition, the obligation to provide one’s labour as a result of coercion also constitutes servitude under Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and again the State appears to have failed to suppress such practices when it knowingly allowed girls and women to work on an unpaid basis and under coercive conditions in the Laundries."

Sinead Lucey continued:

"Lessons must be learned from the breaches of human rights experienced by girls and women in Magdalen Laundries to ensure similar wrongs are not repeated now or in the future. The right to equality is a fundamental principle of human rights law. The State must never be complacent in the way it treats those at risk of discrimination. More comprehensive equality protections are needed in this regard. Stronger regulation and oversight of the relationship between the State and non-state actors carrying out State functions or services is required. In addition, stand alone legislation that defines forced or compulsory labour or servitude as a criminal offence in its own right with a strong enforcement mechanism should be introduced. Overall, the State needs to cease its dependency on institutionalising certain groups in society and support them to live to their full potential in the community."

Key Recommendations

The State should:

  • Put in place a comprehensive redress scheme that provides individual compensation for the impact of the human rights violations as experienced by women who resided in Magdalen Laundries;
  • Implement measures which as far as possible guarantee that surviving women who resided in Magdalen Laundries have the restitution and rehabilitation they require for those violations;
  • By way of restitution, identify and provide to the women concerned lost wages and any pension or social protection benefits arising from carrying out forced or compulsory labour which occurred on an unpaid and unacknowledged basis;
  • Provide appropriate rehabilitation interventions including housing; health and welfare; education and; assistance to deal with the psychological effects of the time spent in the Magdalen Laundries;
  • Scrutinise its interactions with non-State actors to ensure that its regulatory and oversight functions are sufficiently robust to prevent human rights breaches arising, and if any such allegations are made, that a competent statutory body be in a position to investigate them thoroughly and effectively and provide redress where merited;
  • Ensure that all credible allegations of abuse, which would if proved, entail a breach of the State’s human rights obligations, are promptly, thoroughly and independently investigated;
  • End the practice of caring for people with intellectual disabilities in psychiatric institutions;
  • Immediately introduce the compulsory inspection and licensing of residential centres for people with disabilities by the Health Information and Quality Authority;
  • Introduce a system for the provision of information and tracing services to adopted people, including those who were informally adopted in the past;
  • Amend the Local Authority (Sanitary services) Act 1948, to ensure a rigorous system of accountability and oversight in relation to the granting of licenses for exhumations and cremations.


Professor Siobhán Mullally and Sinéad Lucey are available for comment

For further information please contact
Fidelma Joyce, IHRC, Tel: 01 8589601 Mob: 087 783 4939


Notes to Editor

IHRC Follow-up Report Launch, 10.30am 18 June IHRC Offices, Jervis Street, Dublin 1

The Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) is Ireland’s National Human Rights Institution with "A" status, established pursuant to the UN Paris Principles,[1] the Belfast Agreement 1998,[2] and specifically by virtue of the Human Rights Commission Act 2000. [3] The IHRC has a statutory remit to promote and protect the human rights of all persons in the State. The statutory functions of the IHRC include keeping under review the adequacy and effectiveness of law and practice in the State relating to the protection of human rights and to make recommendations to Government on measures to be taken to strengthen, protect and uphold human rights in the State.[4]

The Government is merging the IHRC with the Equality Authority and has published the General Scheme of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Bill 2012 to that effect. On 16 April 2013 the Government appointed 14 Members to the IHRC following an independent selection process. Those Members are also being appointed to the Board of the Equality Authority and have been named as Members Designate of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission upon the passing of the legislation.




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