The Irish Times – 24th May 2011


THE GOVERNMENT has defended its response to reports of clerical child sexual abuse and the committal of women to Magdalene laundries, saying it can’t “rewrite its history”.

It has also rejected criticism of its human rights record and announced it will ratify a United Nations protocol enabling more international scrutiny over places of detention.

At Ireland’s first hearing before the UN Committee Against Torture in Geneva yesterday, Department of Justice secretary general Seán Aylward said human rights were central to Ireland’s domestic and foreign policies.

He addressed criticism made by several committee members about the Government’s response to the Ryan report into clerical child sex abuse and its failure to agree to calls for a statutory inquiry and redress for women committed to Magdalene laundries.

“Some of the issues that are raised and looked at in the Ryan report and that have been raised in relation to the Magdalene laundries relate to a very distant, far-off time,” said Mr Aylward in his initial response to the committee’s questions and observations.

“Many of the people who suffered in that period or were victims of it are no longer with us and it would be very difficult for the State to rewrite its history or right the wrongs that were done,” he said.

Mr Aylward, who told the committee he would give a detailed response to their questions today, said there was “a need to have a sense of proportion in what people say” about these issues.

Magdalene laundries were institutions for “fallen women” who broke the conventions of society by bearing a child out of wedlock. Some of these women have made allegations of abuse against these mainly church-run institutions, the last of which in Dublin was shut in 1996.

The Irish Human Rights Commission has recommended the Government establish a statutory inquiry into the treatment of women and girls in the laundries. It has also recommended that redress be provided as appropriate.

The Government is still considering its response to the commission’s report and lobbying by survivors advocacy group Justice for Magdalenes.

The UN committee is holding two days of hearings to question the Government on its record on the rights of those held in detention.

On the opening day of the hearing yesterday committee member Xuexian Wang said he agreed with submissions to the committee by human rights groups that the Government should carry out an inquiry into the committal of women to Magdalene laundries.

“This is not just a historical wrong – this is an ongoing wrong. It seems to me that the Government is duty bound to redress the situation of those still alive and suffering,” he said.

Committee rapporteur Nora Sveaass said it was the State’s responsibility to punish those responsible and suggested the State consider a redress scheme for victims. “My question is when will it happen,” she asked.

Several committee members also questioned the Government on its failure to implement all the recommendations of the Ryan report into clerical child sex abuse.

There were also questions raised about prison overcrowding, the State’s policy on abortion, the low acceptance of asylum claims, the independence of the Garda Ombudsman’s office and the administration of drugs to people with mental illnesses.

Mr Wang questioned the effectiveness of the State’s policy on preventing rendition flights, which he said relied too much on the public supplying information about rendition to the Garda. “I think it is up to the Government to clear up this issue,” he said.

The hearing continues today and will conclude this evening.