Claire McGettrick is a co-founder of Justice for Magdalenes. JFM seeks to promote and represent the interests of the Magdalene women and to respectfully promote equality and seek justice for the women formerly incarcerated in Magdalene Laundries.
When JFM Research first read The Magdalen Commission Report in June 2013 it became clear to us that Mr Justice Quirke had listened to Magdalene survivors and that, in his recommendations, he focused on meeting their needs. Mr Justice Quirke worked with a team of volunteer women barristers and over the course of five weeks they spoke with 337 survivors about their needs. JFMR prepared a guide that helped many of the women engage effectively with the process. While the financial element of the ex gratia scheme fell far short of what survivors deserve we nonetheless welcomed the scheme, in recognition of the other recommended benefits and services, particularly the establishment of a Dedicated Unit and the provision of an enhanced medical card which would provide access to ‘the full range of services currently enjoyed’ by HAA Card holders. We were pleased that the government decided to accept all of the recommendations in The Magdalen Commission Report.
More than two years on, however, the sentiments expressed in Enda Kenny’s State apology of 19th February 2013 appear to have been forgotten and the trust of Magdalene survivors has been seriously undermined, as the government has tried to cut corner after corner on its implementation of the ex gratia scheme.
The healthcare provisions as outlined in the Redress for Women in Certain Institutions Act and explained by Minister Frances Fitzgerald during Dáil debates on the legislation do not provide Magdalene survivors with the same range of drugs and services that are available to HAA cardholders. The 512 women who have signed up to the scheme thus far have waived their right to take legal action against the State in the expectation that they will receive the full range of benefits and services recommended by Mr Justice Quirke. A scheme offering anything less represents an egregious breach of their trust.
Survivors have grown increasingly anxious at the delay in the establishment of the healthcare scheme. Despite government indications that the women could avail of the healthcare provisions a month after the enactment of the legislation, it is now over two months later and survivors are still waiting. On Friday May 22nd, the same day Irish people turned out in record numbers to affirm constitutional equality for a marginalised population, the government issued a press release announcing that health services for Magdalene women would not commence until July 1st. Instead of apologising for the additional delay, the government hoped the announcement would offer ‘clarity’ and ‘reassurance’ to survivors.
On foot of this announcement, in an interview with Morning Ireland (25th May, 2015), Minister Kathleen Lynch claimed that women whose ‘home help’ services had been cut would be dealt with ‘individually’. Given that the healthcare provisions include a clear entitlement to this service, it is difficult to understand why survivors might be expected to beg for assistance from their local TDs.
Survivors who have emigrated rank even lower on the list of priorities. In this regard the government has repeatedly said it is ‘examining the practical arrangements’ for the provision of health services to women living abroad, however no timeframe has been given as to when this ‘administrative process’ will be in place. The needs of elderly survivors who are part of our Diaspora appear to have dropped off the State’s agenda.
The Department of Justice ignored repeated offers from our organisation to discuss the women’s needs prior to the release of the IDC Report (aka the McAleese Report). Had the Department taken that opportunity, we would have stressed the importance of clear, regular communication with survivors. Mr Justice Quirke understood this need and it is reflected in his recommendation on the immediate establishment of a Dedicated Unit to assist the women in understanding their entitlements. There is no Dedicated Unit as recommended in the Quirke Report, nor is there a comprehensive guide to survivors’ healthcare entitlements. Instead, survivors have to navigate the scheme alone, relying on media reports and whatever snippets they can glean from Oireachtas debates.
On June 8th and 9th, JFM Research will travel to Geneva to present these and other concerns in its Parallel Report to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights for its examination of Ireland. JFM Research will also form part of the delegation presenting the findings of its Shadow Report and Updates which represents the views of 80 civil society organisations across Ireland. It is hoped that once again, international pressure will encourage the Irish State into acting more honourably.