CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

 

For the former residents of the Magdalen Laundries; St Mary's Training Centre Stanhope Street and House of Mercy Training School, Summerhill, Wexford, today is a profoundly important day. They have given so much of  their time, their energy, their courage, and their vision of human dignity to make this day come true.

 

It also marks the culmination of a process I initiated together with Minister of State Kathleen Lynch  in March 2011 following my taking office as Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence.  It reflects my promise to the women who resided and worked in the Laundries to see justice done. 

 

I emphasise the word justice.  Justice required that all information available relating to the Magdalen Laundries be identified and fully considered and that the women who resided in them and the religious congregations involved have the opportunity to tell their story.  The process we initiated resulted in an unprecedented trawl of papers and records held by the State and State agencies to assist in establishing the facts about the Magdalen laundries and gave  everyone a unique opportunity to detail what they knew.

 

We decided that the most effective approach would not be a statutory inquiry such as a Tribunal.  Our experience is that tribunals are expensive, adversarial, and take a long time to produce results.   We were conscious of the age of many of the women involved and did not believe that they could wait indefinitely. Instead we decided on a less formal approach in the expectation that it would produce a much quicker but equally effective result.

 

I have to say that the results more than vindicated that choice, which is due in no small account to the work of Doctor Martin McAleese. Martin McAleese won the trust of all those who participated in the process, most especially the women whom he met as well as the religious congregations who gave unprecedented access to their records.  His objective, independent and determined approach brought to light a whole wealth of information that we did not know even existed at the start of the process.  His report remains the only comprehensive factual objective account of Magdalen laundries in this State.  I say  unequivocally that we would not be where we are today without the McAleese report and once again I would like to thank him for his enormous contribution to the process.

 

The McAleese report provided a solid basis for the Taoiseach's apology on 19th February 2013 on behalf of the State, the government and our citizens to all those women for the hurt that was done to them and for any stigma they suffered as a result of the time they spent in a Magdalen Laundry.

 

The next step needed after the apology was a practical expression of support for the women in question.  My first concern has always been the women themselves and I know that Minister of State Lynch who has worked with me on this issue has always shared that view. 

 

There were many concerns about the approach taken in the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002.  In particular many of the victims of institutional abuse thought that the system was very legalistic and traumatic and that too much money went to lawyers rather than to the victims themselves.  Based on the experience of that scheme and on the views of the women themselves and their representatives, We received Government approval for an approach that would ensure that a non-adversarial system would be introduced and that the monies allocated would be directed for the benefit of eligible applicants and not on legal fees and expenses.

 

Mr Justice Quirke, the President of the Law Reform Commission, was asked to examine the matter in the light of the specific terms of reference given in this regard and asked to report back within 3 months with recommendations.

 

I must once again thank Mr Justice Quirke for taking on this task.  He acted completely independently of the Government and indeed until he presented his report, we had no idea of what he might recommend.  The report itself is very thorough and impressive. I know that he consulted widely on the issue.   He and the people who assisted him did an excellent job in devising a scheme that meets the particular needs of the women in question.  He presented his report at the end of May and the Government yesterday approved our proposal to publish his report in full and accept the recommendations made by  him.  It is on my Department's website and a hard copy of the report has been posted out to every woman who registered an expression of interest with my Department on the basis they were in a Magdalen laundry.

 

Before turning to the Quirke Report, I would also like to thank the many former residents of the Magdalen Laundries, as well as their representative bodies, for meeting with Judge Quirke or members of his team and for sharing their stories and current circumstances with them to inform the process.  I am conscious that many of you previously met with myself and Kathleen Lynch, with Martin McAleese, and with the Taoiseach and Tanaiste.  We believed it was important at all stages that you had the opportunity to contribute to the work being undertaken and I hope that each of you understands how much we value your participation in that work.  I also want to thank the religious congregations for meeting with Judge Quirke and for all of the vital assistance they have given to both Martin McAleese and Judge Quirke.

 

What did Judge Quirke recommend?

The key recommendation in the report is the making of ex gratia  payments to all Magdalen women to express the "sincere nature of the State's reconciliatory intent" and "in recognition of the States past failures."  The payments and other recommendations being implemented are also intended by way of restorative justice to address the women's "needs and interests". The amount paid to each woman will depend on the duration of her stay subject to a minimum and maximum threshold as set out in the table on page 10 and Appendix A, page 65.

 

A woman who spent any time of 3 months or less in a Magdalen laundry will receive an ex gratia lump sum payment of €11,500.

 

The amount increases: thus for one year it will be €20,500, and for five years it will be €68,500.

 

The maximum payment is €100,000 for women who were in a Magdalen laundry for 10 years or more.

 

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

 

The Government has decided that this recommendation should be implemented immediately. Reconciliatory justice delayed is reconciliatory justice denied.

 

Application forms, partially completed with basic information already supplied, were posted out last night to approximately 600 women who were in Magdalen Laundries and who  registered with the Department subsequent to the publication of the McAleese Report.   Application forms are available from the Department and any person who requires a form or advice on completing a form may contact

 

 telephone number  01-476 8660

 

or e-mail  info@idcmagdalen.ie

 

 

The application form is straightforward, as it must be.  What is required is

 

proof of identity;

 

and

 

where they exist, a copy of the records from the Religious Congregations responsible for the institution concerned showing that the person was at that institution.

 

As the records are personal data, the applicants themselves must approach the Religious Congregations regarding the records in question.  The Religious Congregations have assured me that they will cooperate fully with the process. I want to publicly thank them for their continued cooperation and assistance. 

 

If full records are readily available, the processing of the application will be relatively straightforward.  If the records are incomplete, validation of the application will be a more complicated and time-consuming process as a wide variety of sources will have to be checked out to clarify matters.  This is why the application form invites the applicant to give consent to accessing personal data to help validate their application in cases of incomplete records.  For example industrial school records held by the Department of Education and Skills may confirm that a person passed from an industrial school to a Magdalen laundry.  Similarly Social Protection and Revenue records may, by inference, be able to confirm dates of entry and departure to an institution.

 

Once the duration of the stay in the Magdalen laundry has been determined, the table and formula set out in the Quirke report will be applied to determine the amount to be paid.  If the sum is over €50,000 Judge Quirke has recommended that that portion over €50,000 should be paid, not in a lump sum, but in the form of weekly payments and he has set out the amounts in an actuarially based table (table D page 75)  in his report. The weekly payment would continue to be paid as along as the applicant lives but would cease on the passing of the applicant. 

 

Judge Quirke was asked to recommend a scheme which minimised the need for any legal representation or assistance so that funds provided were available to benefit the women concerned.  The only circumstances where he envisages legal advice being necessary is the question of a waiver.  He is proposing that before accepting any payment, the woman should agree not to make any further claim against the State in respect of their admission to and time spent in the Magdalen laundries and in this context she should have independent legal advice.  We are looking at the best way for the State to facilitate the provision of such legal advice and are in discussions with the Legal Aid Board.

 

He is also recommending that an appeals procedure should be put in place and we are considering how best that can be arranged. As the financial sum payable to any individual applicant is clearly based on factual residence in a Magdalen Laundry and length of time there, it is anticipated that the only area of dispute that could arise relates to establishing factual residence and/or its length.  A special Restorative Justice Implementation Team has been established in the Department to validate and to process applications.  An appeals process, independent of the Department, will be made available to any applicant who wishes to appeal a decision in relation to the validity of her application.  It is intended that appeals will be dealt with by the office of the Ombudsman and we are currently engaged in discussions with that office.

 

Costs

The cost of this particular recommendation will depend on the number of validated applicants and the duration of their stay in a laundry.  It is impossible to give an accurate prediction but on the basis of the information provided in the registration of interest, my officials estimate the total cost of these lump sum payments would be in the range of €34.5m to €58m. 

 

Allowing for the recommendation that amounts over €50,000 would be converted into weekly payments this would mean one-off payments in the range would total  €24m to €40m with total weekly payments amounting to €700,000 to €1,260,000 annually.

 

The Irish Women Survivors Support Network in their submission to Judge Quirke stated that "religious congregations should contribute to the ex-gratia fund in order to accommodate a reconciliation and healing process."   It is not widely understood that the religious congregations are still caring for over 100 elderly women who originally resided in the Magdalen Laundries.   They will, under the proposed scheme, be providing crucial help with regard to the records of those former residents who apply under the scheme.  Together with Kathleen Lynch I met on Tuesday of last week with the congregations and discussed with them their making of a contribution to the ex-gratia fund and I know this is an issue on which they are presently reflecting. 

 

This Scheme will only apply to persons who were in the Magdalen laundries; St Marys Training Centre, Stanhope Street; and House of Mercy Training School, Summerhill, Wexford  and worked in the laundries there for no pay.  Relatives of deceased women are not covered by the Scheme with one exception.  Where a woman was alive on 19 February 2013 and an expression of interest has been registered, in accordance with Judge Quirke's recommendation on page 46, an application will be processed to finality even if the woman passes away before a payment can be made. 

 

Time Frame

It is intended to commence processing all applications received for payment from the ex-gratia fund immediately upon receipt and it is intended that validated applications received will result in payments being made without undue delay. 

 

Other Recommendations

In addition to the ex gratia lump sum payments Judge Quirke has also recommended that

 

each Magdalen woman should  have access to the full range of services currently enjoyed by holders of the Health (Amendment) Act 1996 card (an enhanced medical card)

 

each Magdalen woman of State pensionable age should receive a weekly amount from the State equivalent to the State Contributory Pension but taking into account any other State payments already being made;

 

each Magdalen woman  under State pensionable age should receive a minimum weekly amount of €100 per week from the State but taking into account any other State payments already being made;

 

all monetary payments should be exempt from income and other taxes and should be exempt from any means testing;

 

the creation of a dedicated unit  to provide the women with advice and support; assistance in meeting, if they wish, members of the religious congregations who have expressed a similar wish;  practical assistance in arranging, if they wish, to meet and interact with each other; and to provide for the creation and maintenance of a small memorial garden to commemorate the time women spent residing in the laundries;

 

the Minister for Health should direct that the Health Services Executive should not take into account any monies received so as to reduce funding  that their carers (including religious congregations) receive;

 

the appointment of a care representative as under the Nursing Homes Support Scheme Act 2009 should apply to this scheme; this is a person who will look after the interests of a woman who for health or other reasons is not in a position to make decisions herself;

 

payments already made under the Redress Board Scheme to women who were in Magdalen laundries should not be taken into account;

 

an additional payment of a maximum of £1,000 should be provided to UK residents who wish to establish a "personal injury trust" to facilitate the necessary legal arrangements to be made.

 

The Government has decided in principle to implement these recommendations in full but, as implementation of some of them is quite complicated and may require legislation, the Government has established a committee with key Departments and the Office of the Attorney General who are to examine how best to implement these other recommendations and to report back within a 4-6 week time frame. 

 

I am not in a position to give any indication of the potential cost of these other recommendations at this stage as they depend very much on individual circumstances.

 

I just want to expand a little on Judge Quirke’s recommendation of "minimum weekly payments of €100"  for those under pension age and the payment of the equivalent of a State Contributory Pension for the others.  These payments are in addition to the lump sum payments but take into account any State payments to the woman herself or to her spouse.  Their significance is best explained by examples:

 

A woman who is already receiving the full State contributory pension will receive the "lump sum" but no additional payments.

 

A woman who is receiving the State non contributory pension will receive the "lump sum" plus a weekly payment equivalent to the difference between the contributory and non contributory pension.  In the case of a 70 year old woman that difference is an additional  €11 per week.

 

A woman over the age of 66 who is receiving no State pension or benefits will receive the "lump sum" plus the equivalent of the full State contributory pension, that is an additional €230 per week.

 

Judge Quirke has recommended that only Irish State payments should be taken into account and not private income or benefits from another State (about 100 of those who registered an interest in the Scheme are living outside the State mainly in the UK).

 

Conclusion

The former residents of the Magdalen Laundries have travelled a hard, long and emotional journey.  They have done so with vision, courage and a sense of purpose. It has been my privilege and pleasure to meet with many of them over the years.  At a very early stage, following my appointment as Minister, together with Minister of State Kathleen Lynch I met in my Department  with the bodies representing many of the women, which of course included a number of the former Magdalen women themselves. We assured them that this Government would ensure justice is done.

 

My concern has always been to see justice done for the women concerned in a manner that does not cause additional pain or grief.  The publication of the McAleese Report marked completion of the first stage of the process, the Taoiseach’s apology in Dail Eireann the historical second stage, and the third stage is today’s publication of Judge Quirke's Report and its acceptance by Government.  I hope our announcing the payment of monies and the provision of supports to the women concerned is a tangible confirmation of the State’s commitment to them. 

 

The non statutory, non adversarial approach we decided upon I believe has delivered justice in a very tangible form for the several hundred former Magdalen residents in a relatively quick time frame.

 

Demands continue to be made for statutory inquiries and a statutory system of redress.

 

I would point out that the group (Irish Women Survivors Support Network)  representing the largest number of women who were in Magdalen laundries have stated that

 

" We hope that time is not wasted calling for more statutory enquiries or demanding yet more investigations and more bureaucratic statutory processes.  In their advanced years, the women have repeatedly told us they have no wish for conflict or confrontation."

 

We do not believe that a statutory tribunal conducting an inquiry, together with complicated legislation such as resulted in the Redress Scheme, could have got us to where we are today and we do not believe that such an approach would have brought any additional benefit to women of advancing years.  Indeed the very nature of the approach taken in the context of such inquiries could have reopened  wounds and caused additional unnecessary trauma.  

 

For the former residents of the Laundries, your story has been told, listened to with respect and concern, and believed. You  have received an apology. Now you are to receive tangible supports and benefits taking into account your needs. I hope that when you look back to today you will be able to say that the arrangements now announced constitute a sincere expression of the State’s regret for failing you in the past, its recognition of your current needs, and its commitment to respecting your dignity and human rights as full equal members of our Nation.. 

 

Thank you for your attention.

ENDS