By Conall Ó Fátharta
Irish Examiner
Saturday, April 14, 2012

Alan Shatter

Justice minister Alan Shatter has backtracked on the question of State involvement in the Magdalene Laundries, despite saying in opposition there was “irrefutable evidence” of such collusion.

Speaking in the Dáil last month, Mr Shatter appeared to row back on previous comments by stating State involvement in committing women to Magdalene Laundries had a “very complicated” background that did not have a “simple, straightforward explanation”.

However, speaking in the Dáil as justice spokesperson when in opposition in 2009, Mr Shatter stated there was “irrefutable evidence” within the department he now heads up of such State involvement.

“There is now irrefutable evidence available from the Department of Justice that this State and the courts colluded in sending young women to what were then known as the Magdalene asylums and they ended up in the Magdalene Laundries and they were treated appallingly. Some of them have never recovered from the manner in which they were treated and their lives have been permanently blighted,” he said.

Mr Shatter went on to say that the State was “directly complicit” in such “barbaric cruelty” through court records and files held by the Department of Justice.

However, speaking in the Dáil last month, Mr Shatter seemed to have changed his stance when asked about the possibility of an apology, redress and the restorative justice process for the women involved.

He stressed that none of the Magdalene survivors have made a complaint to the Garda or have commenced legal action against the State.

“Many of the women who ended up being resident in the laundries, as late teenagers or in their early 20s came through all sorts of different sources. Some indeed were left there by their families in circumstances where the State had no involvement of any description. So this is not a simple issue but we are doing our best to address it in a thorough, comprehensive and sensitive way, engaging with all sides who are concerned about it,” he said.

Mr Shatter acknowledged there were women who “feel” they were badly treated in the laundries and who “believe” their lives had been blighted by the experience but said the Government had followed the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Commission by the setting up of the interdepartmental committee to “clarify” any state involvement in the Magdalene Laundries.

Justice for Magdalenes spokesperson Claire McGettrick said the group was continuing to bring evidence of State interaction with the laundries to the attention of the interdepartmental committee.

“Most living survivors were incarcerated as young girls and it is, therefore, a very simple issue that the State had a duty of care with regard to vulnerable children carrying out forced labour in the laundries, regardless of how they came to be there. We reiterate our call on the Irish State to immediately issue a full apology to all Magdalene Laundry survivors,” she said.