Friday 23 February 2018

Martin McAleese to head up Magdalene launderies probe

Brian Hutton

Senator Martin McAleese will head an investigation into the state's role in alleged abuse at the Magdalene laundries.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter appointed President Mary McAleese's husband to oversee a committee set up to clarify any state interaction with the notorious workhouses.

An international torture watchdog has urged a statutory inquiry involving the religious congregations who ran the homes, prosecutions where necessary and victim compensation.

But Mr Shatter stopped short of a full inquiry for now, saying there was a need to fully establish the facts and circumstances relating to the Magdalene laundries "as a first step".

Senator McAleese confirmed he has accepted the role as chairman of the Magdalene Laundries Inter-departmental Committee.

"I look forward to working with the committee and hope our report will make a valuable contribution to this issue," he said.

The recently-appointed senator said he would make no further public comment until the work of the committee is complete.

The committee has been ordered to make an initial report to Cabinet within three months of its first meeting.

Mr Shatter said Senator McAleese's work in the peace process and his contribution to Irish life had been widely recognised.

"He is a person of the highest integrity whose presence on the committee will, I believe, both enhance its stature and, importantly, reassure everyone concerned that the role of chairperson of the inter-departmental committee is a truly independent one," he said.

Mr Shatter previously announced he would meet the religious congregations to secure any remaining records on the surviving single mothers who were detained in the homes at the hands of the courts and their own families.

The four Catholic religious orders - The Sisters of Mercy, The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, The Sisters of Charity, and The Good Shepherd Sisters - have agreed to co-operate with any inquiry.

The last laundry, at Sean McDermott Street in Dublin, closed in 1996.

The UN Committee Against Torture said it was gravely concerned by the failure of the state to "protect girls and women who were involuntarily confined between 1922 and 1996 in the Magdalene Laundries".

It said it let the women down by not regulating the operations and inspecting them.

It also expressed concern at what it deemed the failure of the state to undertake a prompt and thorough investigation into the allegations of mistreatment.

The body recommended the state carry out prompt, independent and thorough investigations into the allegations of torture, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

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