Blog: Maeve O’Rourke

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February 21, 2013

The Long-Awaited Apology: Some Justice for the Women of Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries

Posted by Cara Solomon

In the wake of the Irish government’s formal apology to the women of the Magdalene Laundries, we bring you some thoughts from Maeve O’Rourke, 2010 HRP Global Human Rights Fellow and advisory board member for Justice for Magdalenes. For the past two years, Maeve has been working with the all-volunteer advocacy group to secure a formal apology and reparations for the more than 10,000 women forced to work in residential laundries from 1922 until 1996.

“Brilliant news on Tuesday in Dublin – a full state apology for the Magdalene Laundries abuse and the appointment of former High Court judge and head of the Irish Law Reform Commission, Mr. Justice John Quirke, to provide a mechanism for compensation and reparation.

We are exhausted and delighted for the women and their families. As I said in the Irish Independent last Saturday, they have lived with this truth for too long – that the state could have intervened to protect them and ensure respect for their human rights, but chose not to.

This is an historic moment for Ireland, as we awaken to and acknowledge the discrimination against women that went to the very core of our state and society for so long. Continue Reading…

February 7, 2013

Irish Government Acknowledges Role in Magdalene Laundries; Offers No Apology or Reparations

Posted by Cara Solomon

For a while now, this blog has followed Maeve O’Rourke, LLM ’10, a former Global Human Rights Fellow, as she works with other advocates to secure reparations for thousands of women and girls who labored in Ireland’s so-called Magdalene Laundries. Tuesday marked a milestone for the group, Justice for Magdalenes: After years of ignoring the issue, the Irish government released a 1000-page report into the laundries, which were run by various orders of nuns from 1922 to 1996.

The Good Shepherd Convent/Magdalene Asylum, which operated as a residential laundry until the late 1970s. Photo courtesy of Tarquin Blake

A residential laundry at the Good Shepherd Convent/Magdalene Asylum. Photo: Tarquin Blake

For the first time, the government acknowledged its own “significant” role in the forced labor: more than a quarter of the women and girls in the laundries were referred there by the government. Some came from the criminal justice system, prosecuted for nothing more than petty theft; others came from residential institutions; still others from homes for unwed mothers.

After decades of speculation, the government also confirmed a number: more than 10,000 women and girls worked in the laundries. The youngest was 9. The oldest was 89. The average age was 23.

For all the report’s revelations, the government’s formal response to it on Tuesday fell stunningly short. In comments before the Irish Parliament, Prime Minister Enda Kenny expressed mostly sorrow. There was no apology for the government’s role. There was no talk of reparations.

Continue Reading…

September 19, 2012

Irish Parliament Receives Further Overwhelming Evidence of State Involvement in Magdalene Laundries Abuse

Posted by Maeve O'Rourke, 2010 HRP Global Human Rights Fellow and Advisory Board Member for Justice for Magdalenes

Today, we at the Justice for Magdalenes (JFM) advocacy group presented every member of the Irish houses of Parliament with a 146-page submission entitled “State Involvement with the Magdalene Laundries.”  It contains overwhelming proof, if further proof were needed, that the Irish State was directly complicit in and knowingly turned a blind eye to the horrific abuse of women and girls in the Magdalene Laundries, which operated from 1922 until 1996.

Survivors of the Laundries have been waiting decades for an apology and the redress they deserve.  After significant national and international pressure, the State finally took a small step forward last summer, setting up a Committee “to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen Laundries, to clarify any State interaction, and to produce a narrative detailing such interaction.”  But the government has been hiding behind the Committee since then.

Every time JFM and others have pressed the Minister for Justice on the ongoing lack of an apology and restorative justice for the women, the Minister has held fast to the line that the government “will not pre-empt” the findings of the Committee.  To make matters worse, the Minister announced last week that the Committee had revised its “mid-2012” deadline and that its final report may not be published until the end of this year.

This is the same Minister for Justice who, while in opposition in 2009, called for immediate redress measures because of the “absolutely irrefutable evidence” that the state was “directly complicit” in the Magdalene Laundries abuse.

We have been providing the government with proof of its complicity for years. Our final submission to the Committee in August was supported by over 4,500 pages of documentary evidence—including 795 pages of testimony from Magdalene survivors and other witnesses to the State’s involvement in the Laundries’ system of slavery, servitude, and forced labor.

But we are not the only advocates to speak out on this issue.  The UN Committee against Torture recommended 15 months ago that survivors obtain redress within one year.  Nearly two years ago, the Irish Human Rights Commission found clear evidence of state responsibility for the Magdalene abuse and recommended an immediate investigation and compensation mechanism.

Still, the State says it needs more time.

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October 24, 2011

Today, October 25: Seeking Justice for the Women of Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries

Event Notice

October 25, 2011

“Abuse by Church and State: The Hidden Story of Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries”

A Talk by Maeve O’Rourke, 2010 Global Human Rights fellow
and James M. Smith, Author and Associate Professor of English, Boston College

12:00- 1:15 pm

Lewis Hall 302

Maeve O’Rourke, LLM ’10, and Associate Professor James M. Smith, author of Ireland’s Magdalen Laundries and the Nation’s Architecture of Containment, will discuss their legal campaign for an investigation into- and reparations for- the abuse of thousands of girls and women in Ireland’s church-run Magdalene laundry institutions from 1922 – 1996.

Prof. Smith will explain the workings of the Magdalene Laundries, which incarcerated vulnerable girls and women including those considered to be “fallen” and subjected them to forced unpaid labor.  He will also reveal the Irish State’s interactions with the laundry system.  Maeve will discuss the legal case she presented to the UN Committee against Torture (UNCAT) in May 2011, the resulting UNCAT recommendations, and the Irish government’s response to date. She will also share some experiences of the Magdalene Laundries from women who gave their testimony for the UN submission.

This event is being co-sponsored by Harvard Law Students for Reproductive Justice, HLS Advocates for Human Rights, and the Harvard Women’s Law Association

June 22, 2011

Ireland Finally Announces Inquiry Into Magdalene Laundries

Posted by Cara Solomon

Here’s an encouraging update from Global Human Rights fellow Maeve O’Rourke, LLM ’10, who has been working on behalf of the all-volunteer advocacy group Justice for Magdalenes.  Her recent submission to the UN Committee Against Torture led that body to call on Ireland earlier this month to investigate the Magdalene Laundries, where as many as thousands of women were forced to live and work.  Now this:

“I’m really glad to say that the Irish government has at last responded to calls for an investigation, apology and redress for women who suffered in the Magdalene Laundries.

On Tuesday night, the government announced the establishment of an inter-departmental committee, chaired by an independent person, to investigate the state’s role in relation to the laundries and to report back within 3 months.  It also announced that it would be calling for the production of all records held by the religious orders, and that the Minister for Justice will be holding discussions with the church and survivors’ groups to discuss how best to achieve reconciliation and reparations.

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June 6, 2011

UN Committee Against Torture Calls on Ireland to Investigate Magdalene Laundries

Posted by Cara Solomon

Great news this morning from Global Human Rights fellow Maeve O’Rourke, LLM ’10, who recently made a submission to the UN Committee Against Torture on behalf of the advocacy group Justice for Magdalenes.

“I’m delighted to report that the UN Committee against Torture released its Concluding Observations for Ireland this morning, and among them is an extremely strong recommendation to the Irish government to investigate and provide redress for the Magdalene Laundries abuse.

At paragraph 22 of the Concluding Observations, the Committee states that it is ‘gravely concerned at the failure by the State party to protect girls and women who were involuntarily confined between 1922 and 1996 in the Magdalene Laundries, by failing to regulate their operations and inspect them, where it is alleged that physical, emotional abuses and other ill-treatment were committed amounting to breaches of the Convention.’

The Committee recommends ‘that the State party should institute prompt, independent, and thorough investigations into all allegations of torture, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment that were allegedly committed in the Magdalene Laundries.’

It also recommends that the state ‘ensure that all victims obtain redress and have an enforceable right to compensation including the means for as full rehabilitation as possible.’

Finally, the Committee recommends that the state ‘in appropriate cases, prosecute and punish the perpetrators with penalties commensurate with the gravity of the offences committed.’

The Committee has included the Magdalene Laundries as one of its four issues for follow-up, at paragraph 33 of the Concluding Observations.  This means that the Irish government will have one year within which to demonstrate to the Committee the steps it has taken to implement the Committee’s recommendations, and the Committee will formally review these steps next year in its Annual Report.

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May 25, 2011

Update on Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries: Maeve O’Rourke, LLM ’10, Takes Complaint to the UN

Posted by Cara Solomon

Here’s an update from our Global Human Rights fellow Maeve O’Rourke, LLM ’10, whose work on behalf of the advocacy group Justice for Magdalenes made the New York Times today.

As the article notes, the UN is currently reviewing Ireland’ s human rights record as part of a routine look at the human rights record of all its states parties.  Maeve submitted an NGO shadow report to the UN on behalf of Justice for Magdalenes, arguing that women who were subjected to imprisonment and forced, unpaid labor in the Magdalene Laundries are continuing to suffer degrading treatment because of the state’s failure to investigate or ensure redress for this abuse.  Last week, she presented these arguments in person to the UN Committee against Torture.

Here’s what she had to say on Tuesday:

“Just a short email to say that all is going well in Geneva, where four members of the UN Committee against Torture asked detailed questions yesterday of the Irish government delegation about the state’s intentions to inquire into the Magdalene Laundries abuse and ensure redress for the women.

Not entirely plain sailing, however, as the head of the Irish delegation singled out the Magdalene Laundries at the close of the session, saying that the issues related to a ‘distant, far-off time’ and that there needs to be ‘a sense of proportion’ in listening to what the NGOs have to say.  Today, he opened by arguing that the vast majority of women entered the laundries voluntarily.

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February 24, 2011

Images from Abandoned Ireland: Inside a Magdalene Laundry

Posted by Cara Solomon

Recently on this blog, Global Human Rights fellow Maeve O’Rourke, LLM ’10, wrote about Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries, where as many as tens of thousands of women and girls were forced to live and work for the commercial benefit of four orders of Catholic nuns.  Today, thanks to photographer Tarquin Blake, we’re posting some striking images of  The Good Shepherd Convent/Magdalene Asylum, which operated a residential laundry until the late 1970s.

A big thanks to Tarquin for letting us post his images.  Check out his project, Abandoned Ireland, here.

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