On Monday night 9th March, BPW Galway celebrated International Women’s Day with a thought provoking and insightful guest lecture by Dr. Maeve O’ Rourke, a barrister and lecturer in Human Rights Law and a vocal advocate for access to justice for human rights abuse survivors.
In her introduction, National President BPW Ireland, Moyra McMahon, said that Dr O’Rourke was the ideal speaker to mark International Women’s Day for BPW Galway, based on her career to date and particularly her legal research and public advocacy concerning Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries abuse and the forced separation of unmarried families in Ireland during the 20th century. She went on to say that Dr O’Rourke’s work is essential support and protection for the vulnerable members of society who were left behind and who in so many cases are women.
Moyra reminded the packed room that Dr O’Rourke’s important work has not gone unnoticed with multiple awards including Ireland Fund of Great Britain ‘Forgotten Irish’ Award, University College Dublin Inaugural Alumni Achievement Award in Law, Ireland/United States Alumni Association Inaugural Emerging Leader Award.
In her presentation Dr O’Rourke spoke passionately about the pro bono work and research she has undertaken since 2010 with the voluntary advocacy group ‘Justice for Magdalenes’, outlining the history of their efforts and continuing inadequacies in the treatment of the women and the redress process. She spoke with great warmth about the women and their joy in 2018 when more than 220 survivors of the Magdalene Laundries were hosted by President Michael D. Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin and by the Dublin Lord Mayor in the Mansion House, when hundreds of well-wishers turned out to greet them on the streets of Dublin. In contrast, her frustration at how long it took to achieve this singular and necessary honour for the women was clear and she continues to advocate for justice against the human rights abuses suffered by them.
Proposing a vote of thanks, Maresa Wren reminded the group that the issues raised by Dr. O Rourke’s pro bono advocacy work need to be supported by the general public. One of these issues, is the denial, to the people to whom they relate, of access to the files of the former institutions now held by Government Departments. Another is the importance for the women of the acknowledgment of the wrongs done to them. The implementation of the recommendation in the Quirke Report of 2013, that a Museum or Archival Centre be established to honour the Magdalene women past and present, is long overdue. On behalf of BPW Galway, Maresa thanked Dr O’Rourke for sharing her valuable time, and for her enlightening presentation while wishing her every success with her ongoing work.
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