The UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is an international treaty concerning the human rights of women and girls. Ireland ratified the convention in 1985, and in 2017 the State was examined by the CEDAW Committee. In 2015, JFM Research made a submission to the CEDAW Committee prior to the 2017 examination. In March 2016, the CEDAW Committee published a list of issues and questions to the Irish State, which included the following:
Please provide information on whether, following the work of the interdepartmental committee to establish the facts of State interaction with the Magdalene Laundries, the State party will establish an independent inquiry to investigate the full extent of the violations perpetrated against women and girls who were forcibly housed in the Laundries, including cases of forced and unpaid labour and detention. What measures are envisaged to ensure the prosecution and punishment of the perpetrators? Furthermore, please provide information on the number of women victims of violations committed in the Magdalene Laundries who: (a) have opted into and accessed the ex gratia compensation announced in 2013, including those who live abroad; (b) have access to health and community care, and provide information on the nature of such care; and (c) require adaptation services. Please provide an update on the status of the assisted decision-making (capacity) bill of 2013 and a timeline for its enactment. What specific measures have been taken to set up a dedicated unit aimed at providing services to survivors, including shelter and education assistance?
Please provide detailed information on the activities of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and certain related matters, established in February 2015 to investigate whether ‘residents’ of mother and baby homes were treated differently on the grounds of race, religion, Traveller identity or disability. Given the limited scope of the mandate of the Commission, please provide information on the measures envisaged to investigate allegations of discrimination, abuse and ill-treatment of women and girls who were housed in those homes in order to determine, inter alia, the treatment of all unmarried girls and women whose children were subjected to forcible and illegal adoptions. Specifically, please provide information on measures to: (a) investigate allegations of sexual abuse, detention, involuntary medical experimentation, infant and maternal mortality and the involvement of adoption agencies and professionals who facilitated adoptions; (b) investigate all homes that were operating during the period; and (c) identify the remains of deceased infants in mass graves in order to allow the biological mothers and relatives of the deceased infants to know the circumstances of their deaths. Please provide information on the composition and competencies of the confidential committee established to provide a forum for persons who were once resided in the homes or who worked in those institutions. Please also explain the mischief that the proposed bill on information and tracing seeks to prevent in requiring surviving adoptees to sign a statutory declaration undertaking not to contact their biological mothers as a condition for gaining access to their birth certificates. Please also state whether adoptees have access to files, medical and other records and documents regarding their adoptions.
In February 2017, JFMR submitted its report to the CEDAW Committee, and in March 2017 the Committee published its Concluding Observations, in which it stated that Ireland has:
…failed to establish an independent, thorough and effective investigation, in line with international standards, into all allegations of abuse, ill-treatment or neglect of women and children in the Magdalene Laundries in order to establish the role of the State and the church in the perpetration of the alleged violations;
That the scope of the terms of reference for the statutory investigation established to investigate abuse in Mother and Baby Homes is narrow such that it does not cover all homes and analogous institutions, and therefore may not address the whole spectrum of abuses perpetrated against women and girls.
The Committee said that ‘the historical abuses in relation to the Madgalene Laundries, the Mother and Baby Homes and the medical practice of symphysiotomy give rise to serious violations that have a continuing effect on the rights of victims/survivors of those violations’ and it urged Ireland to:
conduct prompt, independent and thorough investigations, in line with international human rights standards, into all allegations of abuse in Magdalene laundries, children’s institutions, Mother and Baby homes, and symphysiotomy in order to prosecute and punish the perpetrators of those involved in violations of women’s rights, and ensure that all victims/survivors of such abuse obtain an effective remedy, including appropriate compensation, official apologies, restitution, satisfaction, and rehabilitative services;
To provide information in its next periodic report on the extent of the measures taken to ensure the rights of victims/survivors to truth, justice and reparations.