In our last blog we looked at the background to the investigation into State involvement in the Magdalene Laundries. In this blog we will look at the proposed scheme which the government intends to put in place.
The estimated number of Magdalene survivors is between 800 and 1000.
On the 19 February 2013 An Taoiseach formally apologised to the Magdalene survivors for the hurt and stigma suffered as a result of the time spent in the Magdalene laundries.
He also announced that the government had decided to establish a fund for the benefit of those who had spent time in the Magdalene laundries or St Mary’s Stanhope Street. It is expected that payments will be made to Magdalene survivors for their years of unpaid work in the laundries and also for medical treatment, counselling services and other welfare measures required by them.
President of the Law Reform Commission, Mr Justice John Quirke, has been asked to advise on the establishment of the scheme and to identify criteria and factors to be taken into account in dealing with compensation and redress for Magdalene survivors. Until this report has been completed the government will not be in a position to make any further decisions on the detailed operation of the fund.
Minister for Justice Alan Shatter in his speech on the 20 February 2013 advised that “the Government does not wish to see any of this Fund wasted on lawyer’s fees, nor does it wish to go down the road of any adversarial approach where individual women will have to prove that they were traumatised.”
In the Irish Independent it was reported that the Minister for Justice intends to hold the four religious congregations which ran the Magdalene Laundries accountable and seek contributions from them towards the compensation fund. However, it is important to note that the government has no legal power to enforce such as contribution.
The government is now asking Magdalene survivors to register their preliminary interest to receive benefit from this fund. The purpose of this is to register their interest and they will be contacted once Mr. Justice Quirke has finalised its report with a view to being considered for benefits from the fund at that stage. The form is available to be downloaded from the Department of Justice website and applications only be considered from women who wear still alive and spent time in a Magdalene laundry or St Mary Stanhope Street. The form seeks personal details of the applicant, details of their stay in the particular institutions they were in and also whether or not they have previously received compensation for a period spent in an institution. While no documentary evidence is required at this stage they will be required in due course to provide identification such as birth certificate, photographic ID at any records they hold in relation to their time at the institution.
While the government has advised that the process will be non-adversarial and that the women will not need to prove that they were traumatised, it is heavily cautioned that the registration of an interest by women who spent time in the laundries does not mean that there would be any automatic entitlement compensation.
In an article in the Irish Times on the 21st February it was reported that there are doubts as to whether Magdalene survivors who have previously received compensation, because they resided industrial schools and other institutions, will qualify for a payment under the Magdalene laundry scheme. This will not be clear until Mr. Justice Clarke has completed his report.