This week saw the announcement in the Dáil of the compensation scheme for the survivors of Magdalene Laundries.
For the uninitiated, the Magdalene Laundries were a series of workhouse type environments in which women and girls were incarcerated (usually against their will) for a variety of reasons. The last one closed in 1996 and it was estimated that approximately 10,000 women and girls had been put into the laundries over the course of their history.
In February of this year the McAleese Report into the laundries found that over a quarter of referrals came via the state. Prior to that time the Irish state denied collusion with the laundries.
The laundries were run by four religious Orders and have been described as “cold, with a rigid and uncompromising regime of physically demanding work and prayer, with many instances of verbal censor, scalding or even humiliating putdowns”.
After the publication of the report and the later apology by the Taoiseach Enda Kenny, many survivors believed that the compensation scheme for the women would probably mirror that of the Redress scheme which was introduced by the Irish Government a decade ago to deal with the victims of abuse mostly through the church in the Industrial schools and other state-licensed residential institutions.
It is notable and shameful that although the four orders have expressed their sympathy, they have declined to contribute financially.
Retired High Court Judge John Quirke agreed to review how the government could provide support and the Department of Justice in Ireland has invited all survivors to register their intent to seek state support.
Many of the survivors are elderly and the payments, (such as they are), are going to be given on the basis of ex gratia payments rather than any legal requirement. There would appear to be no right of appeal and no right to representation.
There is to be a lump sum payment although the maximum appears to be €50,000. This is already significantly less than the redress tribunal. There are then to be a series of additional payments such as extended medical cards, pensions and payments. Considering the length of time many women were in the laundries, the allocated funds are pitiful.
For the survivors of the Magdalene Laundries the payments are too little (certainly by the standards set by the Residential Institutions Redress Board), and the lack of a complete lump sum means that many will not receive their full award in any event, due to old age.
Relatives of the deceased are not covered unless they had already registered an interest before the 19 February 2013. Payments by the residential redress scheme will not be taken into account.
More importantly there are issues about those survivors who live in the UK and who may be in receipt of means tested benefits at present.
Residents of the UK who are survivors of the Magdalene Laundries should seek legal advice in relation to funds that they receive if they are in receipt of benefits. Under the current legal system it is possible to place compensation awards into a personal injury trust. The award is then disregarded for means tested benefits purposes. However, legal advice is required for this and therefore any survivor who having looked at the scheme considers that they are likely to get an amount which is going to affect benefits should contact a lawyer at the earliest possible opportunity.