Magdalenes should retain right to ‘legal assistance’

Mike Dwane


Mike Dwane

ENDA Kenny’s “sincere and heartfelt” apology and “modest redress” would suffice for most of the Magdalene women, according to Charleville solicitor Declan Duggan.

ENDA Kenny’s “sincere and heartfelt” apology and “modest redress” would suffice for most of the Magdalene women, according to Charleville solicitor Declan Duggan.

But a minority who spent much of their lives “deprived of liberty” should not now be deprived the right to be legally represented in seeking compensation, he said.

The Government has pledged to financially support survivors of the Magdalene laundries but terms of reference announced this week studiously avoid the word compensation. Judge John Quirke has been given three months to come up with a scheme to assist the women.

Mr Duggan represents a number of survivors - including women who spent years toiling behind the walls of the Good Shepherd laundry on Clare Street, Limerick - and has in the past acted for over 100 people at the Residential Institutions Redress Board.

“I believe the apology was sincere and heartfelt and communicated on behalf of us all. That was the most important thing for the women – recognition that their stories have been believed,” Mr Duggan said.

“The terms of reference for Judge Quirke have been published but there does seem to be a lot of unanswered questions on how the scheme of compensation is going to work. Only time will tell.”

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has expressed the determination of government that the fund for the Magdalene women be directed to survivors and not swallowed up in legal fees.

It follows controversy over the Redress Board scheme whereby certain solicitors, including at a Limerick firm, were paid on the double by claiming fees from the board and then making deductions from the awards made to survivors.

Mr Duggan said he appreciated the government needed to tread carefully in this regard but women who had been confined in the laundries for much of their lives deserved to be compensated and deserved to be assisted in seeking justice if that was their wish.

“I have no problem that the government don’t want to see substantial amounts of money going on fees but I wouldn’t want it to emerge that the reticence of the government in this area might cause long-term residents in the laundries not to be treated more generously than those who had an average length of stay. Those who suffered the most abuse are entitled to make a full claim for compensation and are entitled to have people make arguments on their behalf,” he said.

“For 90% of survivors, the apology is enough but there is still a significant number of women out there who are destitute and need exceptional help and they shouldn’t be threatened with the costs of seeking that assistance.”

Terms of reference for Judge Quirke set out the government’s intent to establish an “ex-gratia scheme” but this is incorrectly phrased, according to Mr Duggan. “Ex-gratia means as a gift and without obligation. It shouldn’t be looked on as the women being given a gift but as a reward for the work that they did and they conditions they suffered, including the deprivation of liberty for so many years.”

Meanwhile, former Mayor of Limerick John Gilligan said he was “delighted to see an apology actually happen”.

“He (Enda Kenny) may have been a little tardy and he was not apologising on behalf of Fine Gael or the Labour Party but for all the people of Ireland. But the women have finally got an apology which, in fairness, was fulsome and honest.”

Cllr Gilligan successfully campaigned to have a memorial erected at Mount St Lawrence cemetery for the women who died while resident at the Limerick laundry.

The Government must now come up with a suitable scheme “to support the women in their declining years”.

“They deserve all of our support. It’s not a get-rich-quick scheme they are after. They have now got the main thing they were after, which was an apology,” Cllr Gilligan said.

Editorial: page 16