State complicit in 'laundries'

08 February 2013

Derelict: the interior of the former Magdalene Laundry on Sean McDermott Street, Dublin (CREDIT: PA)

Derelict: the interior of the former Magdalene Laundry on Sean McDermott Street, Dublin (CREDIT: PA)

A NEW report on "Magdalene Laundries", run by four congregations of Irish nuns, has found that, from its inception in 1922, the State was complicit in consigning victims to the institutions, despite consistent denials.

The ten laundries were attached to convents across the State and in Northern Ireland, dating back almost 200 years. They were used to confine young girls and women who were homeless, or orphaned, or considered to be "troubled", or deemed by the Roman Catholic Church to be "fallen women". The last one closed as recently as 1996.

Inmates, believed to number more than 10,000 in total, were forced to work in slave-like conditions, with no pay, education, or contact with the outside world.

Survivors were denied compensation under the state's redress scheme, because the government held that the Magdalene institutions were outside its remit.

New findings suggest that the state made, or facilitated, 2124 referrals of inmates to the laundries. The age at entry was an average 23.8 years. Many survivors said that they were subjected to physical violence, but of those interviewed for the report, most spoke of mental cruelty and humiliation.

The new report, published on Tuesday, was compiled by an inter-departmental commission, with the assistance of the religious orders concerned, and led by Dr Martin McAleese, the husband of Ireland's former President, Mary McAleese.

It found that girls and women faced a harsh regime of physically demanding work in lonely and frightening places, and that among the reasons given for entry were referrals by courts or industrial schools, physical or mental disability, family placement, and homelessness.

Survivors are now demanding an apology and compensation.

All four religious orders have apologised. They are the Sisters of Mercy, Religious Sisters of Charity, the Good Shepherd Sisters, and the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity.

Responding to the report's findings in the Dáil, the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, expressed sorrow for the women several times in his speech, but did not go so far as to offer a full apology. The Justice Minister, Alan Shatter, said that the report would be considered in the next few weeks, and a full response would follow.

 

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