A Magdalene Laundries Survivor Is Taking A Case Against The Irish State In The UN

"In one of the laundries, her hair was shorn, she was dressed in sackcloth and she was provided with a humiliating new male name, which she particularly disliked because it was the name of her tormentor at the Industrial School."

The complainant claims that she experienced a lack of investigation into a complaint of ill-treatment, a lack of redress and adequate compensation and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

A 70-year-old Irish woman who resided in three separate Magdalene Laundries in her teens has taken a landmark case against Ireland in the UN’s Committee Against Torture, claiming that the Irish State was “complicit in her arbitrary detention and mistreatment”.

Elizabeth Coppin submitted the complaint in December, which detailed her lengthy tenure in the Laundries, where she alleges she was "subjected to arbitrary detention, servitude and forced labour without pay for six days a week in all three of the Magdalene laundries and that the State party was complicit in her arbitrary detention and mistreatment”.

In her submission to the UN, Coppin details her experience of "torture and cruel, inhuman degrading treatment and punishment" which ran between March 1964 and April 1968, when she was between 14 and 18 years of age.

Originally from Listowel, County Kerry, Coppin was born to an unmarried woman in a Killarney mother-and-baby home in 1949.

She was first committed to the Saint Vincent's Magdalene Laundry in Peacock Lane, Cork – an institution from which she attempted to escape – under the Children Act 1908, for being an illegitimate child, with her mother being unable to support her.

"During her time at Saint Vincent's, her living conditions reflected a prison-like environment," according to the statement.

"The door to her cell was bolted, there were bars on the window and her lights were switched off every night at 9 p.m."

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Coppin contends that during that time "she was subjected to arbitrary detention, servitude and forced labour without pay for six days a week in all three of the Magdalene Laundries and that the State party was complicit in her arbitrary detention and mistreatment."

Her lengthy descriptions of life within the institution reveal a number of cruel and unusual humiliation tactics including the deprivation of human warmth, inadequate food and heating, denigration on religious grounds as well as physical and emotional abuse. 

As per Coppin's statement, the Irish State broke obligations laid out by the Convention against Torture by not investigating complaints into her ill-treatment.  

She also noted that she had not committed a crime and that her treatment had been unlawful, unjust and needed to be addressed by the State. 

However, the State has responded by arguing that the complaints raise issues relating to a period before Ireland adopted the Convention against Torture. 

They also argue that: "The laundries were not operated or owned by or on behalf of the State, and there was no statutory basis for either admitting or confining a person to a Magdalene laundry."

According to a spokesperson from The Department of Justice, The Department of Foreign Affairs is now taking the lead on coordinating a response.

The deadline for providing said response is May 20, 2020. 

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