The commissioning and publication of the McAleese Report was a hugely important step on the part of the government. I have previously acknowledged this and I acknowledge so again this evening. However it is the aftermath of that publication that we must focus on this evening and the less than adequate response to what Senator McAleese outlined – and in particular the less then adequate response to the testimonies of survivors as outlined in the testimony provided on behalf of the survivors by the Justice for the Magdalene Group, the Magdalene Survivors together and the Irish Women Survivors Network
In order to fully understand and appreciate the horror experiences by those who were in any of the laundries I would ask that everyone would read the survivor testimonies as well as the McAleese Report
Testimonies such as this:
“When I went in … of course, the first thing they did was cut my hair, took all my clothes. Told me I go by the name of Attracta, and I would be called by my number, 63, whenever they wanted me to do anything. …Then if you did anything wrong, you were put down in a hole. We used to call it the hole. It was a four by four room, but we called it the hole. There was nothing in it, only a bench – no windows. You were put in there; your hair was cut, more or less off completely. Your hair was cut, and you were there all day without anything to eat until they came down for you at five o’clock and took you up. Then you had to go into Sacred Heart room where the recreation was and kneel down in front of everybody in the room, kiss the floor and say you were sorry, and then the nun read the riot act to you.”
I believe that woman as I believe all of the other women who outlined similar experiences.
The government amendment chooses some of the findings of the McAleese report to highlight:
- · It highlights the acknowledgment for the first time of significant State involvement in the Magdalene Laundries;
- · It highlights the fact that the report shows that the traditional stigmatising labels that were often attached to women who were in the Magdalene Laundries were wholly unjustified;
- · It highlights that fact that the report acknowledges that women worked in the severe conditions for no pay, and
- · It highlights the recognition within the report that many women were not informed of why they were admitted to the Laundries, for how long they had to stay there, and when they could leave;
Nobody will disagree with those findings. Nobody can. But the reason we are here tonight is the fact that on the one hand the government acknowledges that all of these wrongs have been committed but on the other is having to be dragged kicking and screaming in to giving a full apology for those wrongs inflicted.
In preparing for this debate I reflected on my contribution to the Sinn Féin motion on this issue last September. At that time I expressed the following fear:
I have absolutely no doubt that Senator Martin McAleese is giving this his full commitment. He was an inspired choice to lead this inquiry. I also have no doubt of the commitment of those in Government who are working on this issue. However, I doubt the institutions of the State. When I hear of cross-departmental committees, I get worried because immediately a defensive mechanism which is in-built in the institutions of the State kicks in. There is some sort of innate inability to acknowledge our role in this. We cannot acknowledge our debt to these people. We cannot admit or contemplate the fact that these women and their families are still living that nightmare. The motion before us puts the machinery of the State on notice that this Oireachtas will not waver. This Oireachtas has a moral mandate to deliver to these people and to account for the mistakes of previous Oireachtas and the machinery of Government.
My fears of last September crystallised last Tuesday following the publication of the report.
On that Tuesday, the survivors of the Magdalene Laundries who are still living and the families of those who have passed away were entitled to think that their darkest hour was finally over and dawn was about to happen. They had participated in full faith in a process that they believed would lead them to the beginning of a journey of personal redemption.
Some of them travelled to Dublin with the hope of a celebration on Tuesday evening. Many more watched from the four corners of the world in the hope of a long overdue apology for what they were out through
However their hopes were cruelly dashed as the faceless institutions of this state once again coalesced to destroy these women’s dreams as they had done previously whilst these women were physically incarcerated.
The Taoiseach is a very decent person. He has shown that in this chamber on countless occasions. However his statement delivered in the aftermath of the publication of the McAleese report last Tuesday was amateur heartless and unfair and as a result the physical incarceration of these women continues mentally.
And that is why we are here tonight.
We are here to demand justice.
We are here as the voices of the people of Ireland to speak for the voiceless.
We are here to stand up to the faceless people behind the government response and demand that these women be allowed to begin their journey of personal, mental & physical redemption.
We are here because there isn’t time for these women.
Many of them are old, they are physically inform as a result of their experiences, they are suffering mentally and that is why alongside our request for an apology we are proposing the establishment of a dedicated unit within the Department of Justice and Equality to co-ordinate remaining aspects of the State’s response .
That state response needs to include a healthcare response, a social protection response which must include the examination of pensions that may be due owing to work completed in these laundries and finally an efficient and rapid system of redress for the wrongs inflicted.
And most importantly of all the state, the government, every one of us need to say one word …SORRY.
One word, 5 letters but seemingly impossible to say.
Seemingly impossible to acknowledge that the horrors referred to in the McAleese Report, in the survivor testimonies and in the government amendment were wrong. When you commit a wrong you say sorry. But we still have to hear it.
Maisie hasn’t heard it yet. Masie still suffers from nightmares 50 years later. In her dreams, she is locked in and cannot get out. She says that she cannot believe it still haunts her at her age, but “…it never leaves you…”.
Attracta hasn’t heard it yet. Attracta says she feels very bitter and that Ireland let her down. Her husband says that she still cries at night and wakes up crying and that it has effected all of her life.
I believe Masie. I believe Attracta. I believe all of the women. I am sorry. I hope my government is too and I wish it would say it was.