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Award for Magdalene Laundries campaigner

Maeve O’Rourke (right) with Claire McGettrick and Katherine O’Donnell.

A BRITISH-based barrister who as a law student helped lead the Justice for Magdalene campaign has been honoured for her work.  

Maeve O’Rourke, originally from Dublin but now living in London, has won the Family Law Awards 2013 Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year.

The award is to highlight the importance of pro bono work at a time when legal aid funding is being cut.

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Maeve, who was called to the bar last year, represented the victims of the Magdalene Laundries where girls and women were incarcerated and forced into unpaid labour in their thousands from 1922 to 1996.

While still a student, and as the only lawyer of the voluntary advocacy group Justice for Magdalenes, Maeve brought the case before the Irish Human Rights Commission in 2010 and UN Committee against Torture and UN Human Rights Council in 2011.

“It was a huge shock to win but I’m delighted that Justice for Magdalenes has been recognised as such an important cause,” said Maeve, who is the daughter of RTÉ broadcaster Sean O’Rourke.

“It feels strange to accept an award when there are so many people who worked so tirelessly for so long on this campaign. But it’s always great to keep the spotlight on the issue.”

As part of her submissions to the UN on the international and domestic legal obligations of the Irish state to investigate and provide compensation, Maeve spoke to and collected the testimony of many Magdalene Laundry women in Britain.

But despite an apology from the Irish Government in February, she says there is still more to be done.

“The campaign is not completely over,” the 26-year-old said. “There are issues with compensation still to be ironed out. For example, in the UK will the Irish Government ensure medical support is available as it will be to those living in Ireland?”

Maeve has written a follow up report to the UN Committee against Torture since the apology.

Her pro bono work throughout the year has also included assisting Justice for Magdalenes in drafting parliamentary questions, while corresponding with Government and the President of the Law Reform Commission regarding the compensation process.

“Personally I will continue to work with the UN Treaty bodies and NGOs in Ireland reporting to those bodies,” she told The Irish Post. “We will have the Holy See in early 2014 where the rights of the child will be discussed.

Maeve, who is a pupil at 4 Paper Buildings, added: “It will bring issues of concern to the fore. There’s been no explanation or examination into what happened in the Magdalene Laundries, no one has given conclusions as to the extent of the human rights abuse suffered.”


Siobhan Breatnach

Siobhán Breatnach is the Editor-in-Chief of The Irish Post. You can follow her on Twitter @SBreatnach

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