Magdalene Laundries: Motion-26th September 2012

The Magdalene story is a dark and scandalous part of our history. Just as we recall past glories and live off them, we cannot deny this part of our history, nor should we. We must confront it, accept it as part of our story and deal with it. While nobody should seek to shield those directly responsible, be they religious or lay, we cannot deny our culpability in that all of us have a collective guilt. Our attitudes, silence and callous indifference all fed into the problem. That is not for one moment to say that horrendous crimes were not committed by the people immediately involved in the institutions, but our collective guilt cannot be denied either.
I understand the need for urgent action given the age and frailty of many of the victims. I say to the Minister that our stance even in the interim, as of today and every day from now on, should be proactive in support of the women. I presume it is, but it should be nothing short of fully proactive and helpful to the women, emotionally, psychologically, financially and in every practical way. There is more than a prima facie case suggesting State involvement.
Last night’s “Prime Time” provided the most recent assertion of the active use of the laundries as jails and the State’s purchase of their services. In itself, this meant complicity. Nevertheless, it is worth waiting – although not indefinitely – for the interdepartmental report. The interdepartmental committee has a prestigious chair in Senator McAleese, which lends it authority. Its interim report would suggest it is being well co-operated with and that it is uncovering and collating evidence. We know that prima facie evidence exists but the committee is bringing it together in an official report that has status. I urge that the report should come out quickly and I ask the Minister to press for its publication at the earliest date possible. I accept the point made about the frailty and age of those concerned and therefore the report should come out as soon as is humanly possible. However, I side with the body of evidence that shows that although we should care immediately for the woman who, as victims, should now be cared for in every practical and conceivable way, the final redress should await the actual report. This would turn the prima facie evidence into an actual commissioned report, with all the status that goes with that. Then there must be real action, which should involve an apology and so forth.
We all need this. It will be good for the body politic, for society, for every player involved and for all of us in the country who are collectively guilty. We need a truth and reconciliation process similar to the South African process that followed apartheid, a truth and reconciliation forum to be established to tell the Magdalene story. It is a sordid part of our history. We cannot romanticise our past and ignore this. Only by looking holistically at our history will we benefit as a people and evolve into a better society with more humane principles and more proper values.
I appeal to those who proposed the motion. I commend Sinn Féin on introducing it. It is an excellent use of Private Members’ time; that is my genuine belief. Although I commend its introduction, I appeal to the Members to refrain from pre-empting the outcome of the report. They should urge the earliest possible publication of the report and for all speed and all resources to be given to the committee. I do not believe they should pre-empt the committee’s final report. It has a prestigious chair and because it is acting as an interdepartmental body, its report will be decisive and authoritative. I appeal to Sinn Féin to consider this, pull back the motion and accept the Government amendment on that basis. We should move to have a truth and reconciliation commission after that report appears and should not wipe this history under the carpet. It is too much a part of us to be ignored – a sad and dark part of us.

Senator Joe O'Reilly representing Cavan & Monaghan 2010. | An ExSite website