THE DEPARTMENT OF Justice has paid out the maximum compensation to just one Magdalene laundry survivor since its redress scheme was expanded last year.
Following a 2017 Ombudsman review, the government’s compensation scheme was expanded to women who worked in the Magdalene laundries of 12 religious institutions but were resident in one of 14 adjoining institutions.
In June last year, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan announced the widening of the scheme to include these women following a highly critical November 2017 report by Ombudsman Peter Tyndall.
Tyndall said that a number of women who worked in Magdalene laundries were wrongly refused access to the original redress scheme because they were not resident in the laundries themselves. He said that they’d been treated “manifestly unfair” by the department in administering the terms of the original redress scheme as devised by Justice Peter Quirke.
Since the department published an addendum to the scheme last November to rectify the issue, 87 women have applied for compensation for the work they undertook at the laundries. Just nine of the 87 have received money. One survivor was awarded the maximum of €100,000 – comprising €50,000 in a lump sum, and €50,000 in weekly installments.
Magdalene laundries operated throughout Ireland until 1996, ostensibly as rehabilitation centres for women who became pregnant outside of marriage, women with mental disabilities or homeless women.
Only in recent years has the State tried to make amends for the incarceration of women and for the abuse and punishment meted outed by religious orders to women who worked in the laundries.
In the wake of 2013′s McAleese report into state involvement with the laundries, the Magdalene Restorative Justice Scheme was established. Over €25 million has been paid to 700 women since the scheme was set up.
With just nine of the 87 applications under the expanded scheme finalised, there is work still to be done on the remaining 78. Wendy Lyon, a Dublin-based solicitor with KOD Lyons, is currently assisting 12 women who have submitted applications under the amended redress scheme.
The department is currently questioning a number of women’s claims, Lyon claims. They are specifically related to An Grianán Training Centre and the period of time women were admitted to the adjacent High Park Convent’s Magdalene laundry.
In more than one case the department is citing information provided by religious orders which contradicts the women’s claims, says Lyon. She has called on the department to furnish the religious orders’ contradictory information to the women and/or their legal representation.
“If there is a factual dispute, then we need to know the basis of their facts,” says Lyon, who has asked the department several times for this information to be provided but has yet to receive it.
Women whose applications are currently being processed were excluded from the government’s original redress scheme.
Although they worked in Magdalene laundries – or claim to have worked – they did not live in religious institutions which ran the laundries but in adjacent training centres or industrial schools.
Following the scheme’s expansion to include these women, the Department published its addendum which stated that the current cohort of women must provide records of how long they worked in Magdalene laundries in order to receive the ‘work’ element of their lump sum payment.
The department has also stated that applications for redress must be accompanied by “records from that institution and/or from the relevant Magdalene institution stating that you worked in the laundry and the period of time involved”.
Following the publication of the addendum, 52 applicants who were previously refused access to compensation claims could qualify for the scheme with the department receiving an additional 35 applications from women seeking compensation.
Of the the remaining 78 applicants yet to receive compensation, 52 have provided fully completed forms, according to a department spokesperson, “and we are engaged in a verification process with the congregations in all of these cases”.
Depending on the responses received from the congregations it is likely that an informal interview with some of these applicants will be required.”
The department has said that these interviews are necessary “to facilitate a fair assessment of [a woman’s] claim where there is insufficient or conflicting documentation available”.
“Each application is assessed individually on its merits. A decision is then made as to whether, on the balance of probabilities, an applicant comes within the scope of the scheme.”
‘Basis of evidence’
Lawyer Maeve O’Rourke, a member of Justice for Magdalenes Research, has raised concerns about the department’s application process and its reliance on religious orders to provide evidence that women worked in Magdalene laundries.
“In any case where nuns are contesting a survivor’s evidence, the woman should be provided with free legal representation.” (There were similar calls during previous Magdalene redress schemes).
O’Rourke cites the Ombudsman’s 2017 report which dismissed the department’s objections to an investigation to establish why it denied 27 women’s compensation applications.
“The Ombudsman’s investigation [published in 2017] found that the Department of Justice failed dismally to guarantee fair procedures to survivors over a period of five years, and without access to free legal representation the women are in an extremely vulnerable position.”
Ombudsman Tyndall told TheJournal.ie in November 2017 that he considered the department’s previous objections to be “disingenuous in the extreme” and an example of “departmental stonewalling”.
As new applications are processed, solicitor Lyon has called for transparency from the Department when questioning whether or not a woman worked in a Magdalene laundry.
“I think they need to make absolutely clear the basis of their so-called evidence, that the women weren’t working in [the laundries],” Lyon has said.
“It’s a source of anxiety to them. A lot of these women are obviously very traumatised to begin with. We’ve had women who’ve practically cried down the phone.”