An investigation by Ombudsman Peter Tyndall has found that some women who worked in the Magdalen laundries have been wrongly refused access to the Magdalen Restorative Justice scheme. In his report ‘Opportunity Lost’, issued today, the Ombudsman also criticises other aspects of the Department of Justice and Equality’s administration of the scheme.
The investigation follows a number of complaints to the Ombudsman from women who had lived in convents and worked in the laundries. The Department of Justice & Equality refused their applications as, it said, the women were not in one of the 12 institutions covered by the scheme.
However evidence seen by the Ombudsman’s office shows that some of the Magdalen laundries were either physically linked to the units where the women lived, or were located on the same grounds as the Magdalen laundries, and were in reality, one and the same institution.
Ombudsman Peter Tyndall said:
“My investigation focussed on whether these women were eligible for the scheme and on how the scheme was administered. The evidence shows that these women should have been included and that there were flaws in the way the scheme was administered.”
The Ombudsman added that implementation of his recommendations would not result in any new institutions being added to the scheme. Despite discussions between the Ombudsman’s office and the Department it has not been possible to resolve the complaints.
The Ombudsman’s report is also critical of the way the Department dealt with some women who were eligible for payments under the scheme and who did not have the capacity to make decisions on their own behalf. No payments have been made to these women, many of whom are at an advanced age.
The Ombudsman’s findings
In his report, ‘Opportunity Lost’, the Ombudsman found that:
- The Department would have been aware of the links between the units where the women lived and the Magdalen laundries - including from information contained in preliminary ‘expression of interest’ forms from the women
- In assessing applications the Department gave undue weight to the evidence supplied by the religious congregations– some of which was requested and received after the decision to exclude the women was made
- It was manifestly unfair of the Department to exclude some women from admission to the scheme on the grounds that they might have been able to apply for the Residential Institutions Redress scheme - a scheme set up 10 years before to address a different injustice
- Eligibility criteria which were not set out until months after the scheme was established were not disclosed to the majority of women who complained to the Ombudsman
- An ‘interview process’ to hear the testimony of applicants was not established until well over a year after the first applications were received and after decisions on the vast majority of cases had been made.
The Ombudsman has made a number recommendations in his report:
Eligibility for admission to the scheme
- The Department should reconsider an application (with a view to accepting it) where there is evidence that a woman worked in one of the listed laundries but was officially recorded as having been “admitted to” a training centre or industrial school located in the same building, attached to or located on the grounds of one of the laundries.
- The Department should review any cases where there is a dispute over the length of stay and all available sources of information should be considered.
- In relation to the cases of women who lacked capacity to manage their affairs, the Department has belatedly requested that these women be made Wards of Court. Despite concerns over the suitability of the Wards of Court system, the Ombudsman has reluctantly accepted that this is the only realistic option. The Department should work with the Courts Service to ensure any Ward of Court application is processed in a timely and sensitive manner.
Developing Future Schemes
- While not directed at the Department, the Ombudsman recommends that guidance be produced centrally on the development and operation of future restorative justice or redress schemes.