Ombudsman finds women "wrongly refused" access to Magdalene compensation scheme

Peter Tyndall says some women were classed as being at different institutions that were in fact linked to others

Ombudsman finds women "wrongly refused" access to Magdalene compensation scheme

The site of the former Magdalene Laundry/Mothers and Babies home on Sean McDermot Street in Dublin | Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

A number of women who worked in the Magdalene laundries were wrongly refused access to the Magdalene Restorative Justice scheme.

That is according to a new report, which was issued after a number of survivors were denied compensation.

In his report 'Opportunity Lost', Ombudsman Peter Tyndall also criticises other aspects of the Department of Justice'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.

He says the Department of Justice refused their applications as, it said, the women were not in one of the 12 institutions covered by the scheme.

However evidence seen by his office shows that some of the Magdalene laundries were either physically linked to the units where the women lived, or were located on the same grounds as the Magdalene laundries, and were in reality, one and the same institution.

Ombudsman Tyndall says: "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 site of the former Magdalene Laundry in Donnybrook, Dublin | Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

The Ombudsman adds that implementation of his recommendations would not result in any new institutions being added to the scheme.

He says despite discussions between the Ombudsman's office and the department "it has not been possible" to resolve the complaints.

The 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.

It found no payments have been made to these women, many of whom are "at an advanced age".

The Office of the Ombudsman found that the vast majority of women who were refused admission to the scheme, and who subsequently made a complaint to the Ombudsman, had completed a preliminary expression of interest form.

The report says: "They were subsequently encouraged to apply for admission to the scheme (by virtue of receiving an application form and, in some cases, a 'reminder' letter) but were refused admission."

It says this was because of eligibility criteria, which were introduced months after the scheme was established and "which were not disclosed to them at the time of application."

The site of the former Magdalene Laundry on Sean MacDermott Street in Dublin | Image: Laura Hutton/RollingNews.ie

Ombudsman Tyndall says: "It is, in my view, unacceptable for schemes to be established and advertised before decisions have been taken on key issues such as eligibility.

"I am satisfied that the delay in finalising the terms of the scheme (nearly six months after the first application was received) and, in particular the eligibility criteria, created, at best, a misleading impression for some applicants."

"Good administration of schemes, and, in particular, non-statutory schemes requires certainty and clarity around eligibility.

"This is so that potential applicants are not put to unnecessary distress or inconvenience in applying for something for which they may not be eligible. It is clear that this did not occur in this instance.

"This failure to provide certainty and clarity around what was meant by 'admitted to and worked in' as well as the more specific eligibility criteria fell far short of the standards of administration that people are entitled to expect.

"I am of the view therefore that the actions of the Department constitute maladministration being actions taken as a result of negligence or carelessness, based on an undesirable administrative practice and otherwise contrary to fair or sound administration".

The Ombudsman has made a number recommendations:

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

Application Process

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

Capacity

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.
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.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan | File photo

"Full and careful consideration"

In response, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan says that full and careful consideration will given to all the recommendations given by the report.

Minister Flanagan says: "I have been assured that the scheme has been operated with compassion and dedication by a team of officials in the department.

"It is administered in such a way as to be as un-intrusive as possible and to minimise the input required by eligible applicants."

"The Ombudsman has made a number of recommendations regarding the operation of the scheme.

"The department cooperated fully with the Ombudsman in his review of the scheme. Full and careful consideration will now be given to all the recommendations in his report.".

The Department of Justice says to date, €25.7m has been paid out to 684 women under the scheme - which remains open.