Thursday 14 December 2017

Magdalene laundries survivors slam compensation deal

Mary Smith (right) joins other Magdalene Survivors at a press conference in the Ballsbridge Hotel, Dublin to give their reaction to the Magdalene Commission Report
Mary Smith (right) joins other Magdalene Survivors at a press conference in the Ballsbridge Hotel, Dublin to give their reaction to the Magdalene Commission Report
Copies of the newly published Magdalene Commission Report at Government Buildings Press Centre

Lyndsey Telford and Sarah Stack

Survivors of Catholic-run workhouses have threatened to take the Government to the United Nations watchdog on torture over plans to pay some of them as little as €11,500 for their detention.

Women detained in Magdalene laundries slammed an offer and criticised the religious orders for not doubling the multi-million compensation package being put forward by the State.

Magdalene Survivors Together warned government to go back to the drawing board and take account of the emotional, psychological and physical damage they suffered, as well as loss of earnings for slave labour.

Maureen Sullivan, the youngest known survivor admitted to one of the laundries, claimed the figures "were totted up all wrong".

"They need to go back to the drawing board," said Ms Sullivan, who ended up sleeping on the streets in England after she left the laundry in New Ross.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter earlier revealed details of the redress scheme, as recommended by retired High Court judge John Quirke.

"Today is about justice," he said.

"Crucially, payment of these sums of money is not dependent on proof of any hardship, injury or abuse."

Any woman who spent three months or less in a laundry or workhouse will receive a lump sum payment of €11,500, and those who spent a year in a laundry will be paid €20,500.

The figure increases to €68,500 to women who were incarcerated for five years and will be capped at €100,000 for women who were in a Magdalene laundry for 10 years or more.

A one off payment of up to €50,000 will be made, with an annual payment calculated from the remaining sum, which would be paid weekly.

But Steven O'Riordan, director of the survivors group, said all those detained deserve a basic payment of €50,000 for the emotional and psychological damage suffered, plus loss of earnings, all to be paid in one lump sum.

"Ultimately the option is going back to the United Nations," he said.

"There are more women after coming forward, there are more women out there, and it would appear the more women we meet the worst the stories get. So I think the women have an extremely strong case in terms of breached of human rights, constitutional rights and certainly we will be looking at the slave labour aspect.

"A lot of the women were aged between 12 and 16 and were denied a right to education, freedom of movement and liberty."

Ms Sullivan, 60, said she and others were forced to work from morning till night, washing floors from 7.30am, based in a laundry throughout the day, and then making rosary beads at night.

"I think Taoiseach Enda Kenny forgot about his 'dawn of the day to the dark of night' comment as he cried during his apology to us," she added.

The minister said the cost to the state for the redress scheme could be in the region of €34.5 to €58 million.

Mr Shatter has met the four religious congregations which ran the laundries and told them they are expected to contribute to the compensation, but would not put a figure on how much they are expected to pay.

"There will be great disappointment within Cabinet if the congregations fail to make a contribution," he said.

The orders - the Religious Sisters of Charity, Sisters of Mercy, Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge and Good Shepherd Sisters - all stated they were committed to providing available records and information to any of its past residents and were willing to meet any of the women.

The minister also said the Government has accepted all Judge Quirke's recommendations, which includes a memorial park dedicated to the Magdalene women.

Other recommendations made by Judge Quirke include:

:: Magdalene women will be granted free access to services - including GP, hospital care, drugs and dental counselling - by way of an enhanced medical card.

:: All Magdalene women who have reached pensionable age will have income equivalent to the state contributory pension.

:: Those who have not reached pensionable age will have income of €100 per week.

:: All cash payments will be exempt from income tax and other taxes and will not be taken into account in means testing for social welfare or other benefits.

:: A dedicated unit will be created to provide advice and support, assistance in meeting with religious congregations and social opportunities to meet other such women.

Redress applies to women put into Magdalene laundries, as well as St Mary's training centre on Stanhope Street and the House of Mercy training school, Summerhill, Co Wexford, which were added to the list.

Diane Croghan, who was held in Summerhill for three years from the age of 10, said she was happy people finally believed her story.

"It was traumatising in there. The nuns were very cruel," said the pensioner.

"Nothing will ever compensate really for what we went through. Even afterwards my life was turned upside down.

"I had to work for little or nothing and worked where I was sure I was going to be fed.

"It did change my life. Being in a place like that made me a different person."

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