I share the pride of many people throughout the country with regard to the Taoiseach’s apology on behalf of all of us to the survivors of the Magdalen laundries. That very eloquent apology spoke for the entire nation. I was happy that the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Trade, Deputy Gilmore, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, and the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, met the survivors in Dublin and London. It was both reassuring and heart-rending to hear a number of the survivors who appeared on “The Late Late Show” indicate how happy they were with the exchanges which took place during those meetings. That is all to the good.
Great credit is due to the victims and survivors. These individuals showed remarkable courage and tenacity and obviously possessed a great sense of hope in order to keep going against all the odds. They maintained their belief that, ultimately the truth would win out. Those survivors can take a collective bow. They should be very proud of themselves. Those who championed their cause also deserve particular credit. Everybody is a supporter now but there were those who stood up for the survivors in the past. I refer to Professor James Smith of Boston College in the US, Mary Raftery, an Irish journalist now deceased, and a number of other advocates. A number of individuals championed the cause in the worst of times and they deserve recognition. Members of this House who attended support meetings a number of years ago also deserve great credit. Former Senator Martin McAleese’s report is excellent and comprehensive. It was delivered on time and on a low budget. We owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. McAleese.
Nobody can excuse any of the cruelties visited on the survivors of the Magdalen laundries. The immediate perpetrators must stand condemned in respect of anyone who experienced abuse or cruelty at their hands or who was deprived of education or love as a result of their actions. Those members of religious orders who were involved in what happened must accept responsibility. There is no gainsaying or avoiding that. We must also accept the State’s involvement in respect of this matter. According to the McAleese report, 8.1% of the referrals to the laundries were in respect of those convicted of petty crimes by the criminal justice system, a further 7.8% were from industrial or reformatory schools and in the region of another 7% of referrals came from the social services. There is also evidence to the effect that 18% of the business of the Sean MacDermott Street laundry took the form of State contracts. There is no avoiding the obvious level of State involvement in this matter. That is why the Taoiseach’s apology was apt and why, in light of the need for practical solutions, the work being carried out by Mr. Justice Quirke is particularly appropriate. Gardaí were also involved in informal admissions to the laundries. Indeed, there were all sorts of other informal admissions that were quasi-judicial and quasi-legal in nature. This dimension must be acknowledged.
We must all accept our collective guilt in respect of this matter. There was a culture which existed in the country and which gave rise to the Magdalen laundries. The nature of that culture was to support the laundries. In addition, there was a judgmental dimension to what occurred and there was a focus on perceived respectability. There were all sorts of social and cultural forces which gave rise to the creation of the Magdalen laundries. We or our ancestors were all part of what went on. Many of us lived through some of the period and we all have a collective guilt. There is no avoiding that fact. While it is important to look back at aspects of our past that are glorious, worthy of celebration and of which we, as a people, should be proud, it is never healthy to avoid or brush under the carpet the dark parts of that past. The matter under discussion is certainly a dark part of our history. This is something of which we should not be proud, particularly as, individually and collectively, we all contributed to what occurred. In that sense, we share a collective guilt.
The values we had gave rise to the creation of the laundries. We must give practical expression to our guilt and that is why I welcome the fact that Mr. Justice Quirke will be designing a structure of compensation. It is important that, in the context of that compensation, the needs of individuals must be identified. There are varying needs among the victims and survivors. In many cases they require pensions, incomes, nursing home care, psychological support or bereavement counselling. A range of supports and a variety of approaches will be required and it will not just be a matter of issuing lump sum payments. Mr. Justice Quirke will develop a model in this regard. It is important that we should avoid unnecessary expenditure in respect of the compensation process. There should not be protracted litigation. In light of their age, that would not be fair to the survivors. It would also be both cumbersome and expensive. We must not waste the money which should be spent on the survivors on pursuing unnecessary and cumbersome legal proceedings. We must consider people’s individual needs.
There is no avoiding the fact that the religious orders will be obliged to make a contribution to the final compensation fund.
People must understand that in many instances the religious orders have particular demographic structures which make it expensive for their members to live in nursing homes, to be given supported care, etc. Cognisance must be taken of that fact. The solution to one travesty of justice must not take the form of imposing another. Where there are assets and where there is a capacity to pay, however, it would be cathartic for the religious orders and would form part of the recovery process and allow them to identify with the survivors in a very practical way if they made a financial contribution to the compensation fund.
That must be part of the solution. It is not sufficient that they do not make any input. A State element by way of a significant contribution from the State is needed because there is direct State responsibility in the ways I identified earlier, but there is also collective responsibility on all of us in the way our values, judgmental attitudes and what we deemed as respectability contributed to the travesty that was the injustice in these homes. We all contributed and therefore there is a major responsibility on the State, but there is a similar responsibility on the religious orders that have assets to make a real contribution.
It is worthy to note that many of the women who were the perpetrators of these injustices were themselves victims in that they belonged to a culture where women religious were under-valued. The women who had been in the homes for quite a while developed a status of being in charge of their peers and those who had entered the homes laterally, and they became quite cruel in their administration of justice. There is a hierarchy of victims, therefore. There were victims at all levels in these institutions, and that merits recognition.
We first had the Taoiseach’s apology but Members of this House in this debate must acknowledge our collective guilt. That must be followed by real compensation to ensure that the needs of every victim are addressed. That should and will happen under Mr. Justice Quirke’s recommendation, and part of that should be the religious orders making a contribution.
The ultimate tribute we can pay to the victims, and the ultimate way we can remove ourselves from this sad episode in our history, is to ensure that these crimes are not repeated. We must be conscious also of having the highest standards where people are in institutional care, the highest standard of supervision, particularly in our geriatric services and in our services for disabled people, and that asylum seekers here are treated with dignity and respect. That is the challenge for us now. The way we can most comprehensively honour the victims is by making sure that what happened to them is never repeated.