The Irish Government has ordered a limited investigation in the torture and degrading treatment against women and girls who were housed in the Magdalene laundries, run by the Catholic Church.

Justice for Magdalenes (JFM) has welcomed the news. In a statement released by the group they said “we see this as a further positive step to bringing “Restorative Justice and Reparations” to all survivors of the Magdalene Laundries.”

JFM looks forward to working with both the State and the religious congregations in the coming weeks and months to bring about a prompt and timely resolution to this “restorative and reconciliation process”. 

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Their investigations will involve an inter-departmental committee chaired by an independent person. However this falls short of the inquiry that was demanded by the United Nations Committee Against Torture and the Irish Human Rights Committee last month.

This proposed limited investigation will aim to “clarify any State interaction with the Magdalene laundries and to produce a narrative detailing such interaction”. The Government has said that they wish to establish the true facts relating to the laundries, according to a statement released by Minister for Justice Alan Shatter earlier this week.

The key demand of the UN, IHRC and the groups who represent the victims of the laundries was the payment of compensation was not mentioned in his statement. However the Government did promise to put in place a “restorative and reconciliation process” involving the religious congregations that ran the laundries and former residents.

Shatter, along with Kathleen Lynch, the Minister of State with his department, will meet with the congregations and  ask them to make their records available. They will also provide information on former residents still in care.

On Monday the Government decided to set up an inter-departmental committee which will make a progress report within three months, according to Irish Times reports.

The Justice for Magdalenes group (JFM) noted “that the government is not yet prepared to issue a formal apology to the women despite the fact that an apology remains their first and most important request.  Survivors speaking in recent days stressed the importance of an apology as the first crucial step in restoring their dignity and sense of citizenship. 

Their statement continued “We remind the government that the UN Committee Against Torture has already found the State liable: “The Committee is gravely concerned at the failure by the State party to protect girls and women who were involuntarily confined between 1922 and 1996 in the Magdalene Laundries, by failing to regulate their operations and inspect them.”

The JFM said it was importance as the investigations began to remember who they were doing it for - “the women who spent time in the institutions and their children. Many survivors are aging and elderly. Some women feel that heretofore both Church and State have pursued a policy of “deny ‘til they die.””

Last month the UN Committee Against Torture recommended that the Government set up an investigation into the treatment of the women and girls who were forced to work in these institutions without pay.  They said that perpetrators should be punished and redress provided to the women.

These groups have criticized the Government for not regulating or inspecting the laundries which were run by four congregations:  the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, the Religious Sisters of Charity, the Sisters of Mercy and the Good Shepherd Sisters.

Shatter said the Government now welcomes the four congregations to bring “clarity, understanding, healing and justice in the interests of all the women involved”.  He added that Government would have to give some consideration as to who would be an appropriate independent chair for the committee.

Last May Enda Kenny, now the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) told the Dail (Parliament) that the Department of Justice was considering a reparation scheme. Also last May speaking at a hearing of the UN Committee in Geneva, Switzerland Sean Aylward of the Department of Justice said that the Irish State could not “rewrite its history”.

The first Magdalene laundry opened in 1767, in Dublin. At the end of the 20th century there were ten laundries in operation in Ireland. The last closed its doors in 1996.

Women working in the a Magdalene Laundry in the 1940sGoogle Images