Members of the Catholic Church in Ireland must be prosecuted and punished for their role in the Magdalene laundries, the United Nations Committee Against Torture insisted last week.
It dismissed Ireland’s official investigation into the laundries and mother and child homes and said documents showing collusion between the Catholic Church in Ireland and Ireland’s own start agencies have been ignored. It said Ireland must ensure that those religious orders found to be responsible for abusing women and children over many decades must be compelled to hand over evidence.
In 2011 the same committee called for an independent investigation into the laundries. This led to a commission of inquiry led by then Senator Martin McAleese and to then Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s widely reported apology in 2013 to the women who had been so badly treated.
The McAleese commission had no powers to compel evidence or refer for prosecution. It found that at least 11,500 women passed through between 1922 and 1996 and that more than a quarter were sent to carry out forced labour without pay by Irish authorities and government departments for whom work was carried out.
Survivors’ groups were critical of it and thought it was too close to the Irish government and civil service.
Despite Mr Kenny’s dramatic apology the Irish government has all along insisted since then that Ireland is not liable for how the women and girls were treated in those institutions.
The Irish government had “walked away” from Mr Kenny’s apology, said the UN Committee.
Last week the UN Committee’s panel of international human rights experts said that the Ireland had not investigated as thoroughly as it should have. It said the official inquiry had not looked at all the information and records of laundries available, and criticised the fact that documents were returned to religious congregations after the McAleese commission had finished its work.
The UN committee said it “deeply regrets” that Ireland had not independently investigated the institutions. It called for an impartial investigation of the historic abuse with the power to compel evidence and order prosecutions.
An Irish government compensation scheme has made €25.5 million worth of ex gratia payments to 667 survivors to date.