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Magdalene survivor takes case to UN

Wednesday, 19th February, 2020 4:49pm

A woman who says she was forced to sleep in a prison-like cell at St Vincent's Magdalene Laundry in Cork is set to take her case to the United Nations Committee Against Torture (UNCAT). Elizabeth Coppin’s case will be the first before the committee from a Magdalene survivor.

Ms Coppin, who was born to an unmarried mother in 1949, spent time in an industrial school before being taken to a Cork Magdalene Laundry at Peacock Lane where she was forced to work without pay.

Speaking to Pat Kenny on Newstalk, Ms Coppin said: “We were locked in those cells every single night that we lived there and some women lived there for 60 plus years. You could never get out. If you were in agony at night time, no nuns came, nothing. All bolts were locked from the outside.”

After attempting to run away from the laundry with the help of two workmen, Ms Coppin was brought back to the laundry by the ISPCC. She was then removed from the Cork-based laundry and placed in another one in Waterford and had her name changed to Enda.

The Magdalene laundry located at Peacock Lane on the northside of the city was established in 1809 by Nicholas Therry before the Religious Sisters of Charity took over the institution in 1845. To date, the Justice for the Magdalene Research campaign has recorded the names of 100 women and girls who died at the Peacock Lane Magdalene Laundry. There are 72 names inscribed on the headstone at St Finbarr's Cemetery while there are 28 names inscribed on headstones at St Catherine's Cemetery in Kilcully.

Ms Coppin said that her life was “like a horror story” and that she hopes that the UN will bring the Irish State to account.

In her submission, Ms Coppin alleges that 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 was complicit in her arbitrary detention and mistreatment.

The 70 year old has been seeking justice for over twenty years having first went to the police in 1997 and 1998, but her grievances were never followed up.

She attempted to sue the religious congregations involved between 1999 and 2002, but her case was dismissed.

Commenting, the Department of Justice said: “We received notification of admissibility of this case on 22 January 2020. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade are taking the lead on co-ordinating a response and a number of departments will be required to provide input.

“The Department of Justice and Equality is currently reviewing the complaint which runs to 48 pages with an additional 152 exhibits. The deadline for providing a response to the office of the High Commissioner is 20 May 2020.”

Speaking after receiving the UN’s preliminary judgment, Ms Coppin said: “I feel grateful UNCAT are taking my complaint seriously and it gives me hope I may one day see light from this darkness emerging.”

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