Ireland apologises for Magdalene laundries
The Irish government has apologised but failed to offer compensation to 10,000 women who were locked up and forced to work without pay in Roman Catholic Church workhouses known as Magdalene laundries.
By Bruno Waterfield, agencies
3:58PM GMT 05 Feb 2013
Enda Kenny, the Irish Prime Minister, admitted that 2,124 women detained in the laundries had been incarcerated by the state authorities and offered his sympathy without offering the financial compensation that survivors have demanded.
“To those residents who went into the Magdalene laundries from a variety of ways, 26 per cent from state involvement, I’m sorry for those people that they lived in that kind of environment,” he said.
Girls and young women who were homeless, orphaned or deemed to be “troubled” or morally “fallen” were ordered by the Irish courts to work unpaid in the laundries run by three orders of Catholic nuns.
Some women were forced into Magdalene laundries for crimes as minor as not paying for a train ticket. Police officers could arrest a girl or a woman without warrant if she was being recalled to the laundry or if she had run away.
On admission to the laundries, each woman had her Christian name changed and her surname was unused. Most former inmates have since died.
The women passed through the state subsidised laundries had to wash clothing and bedding for bodies ranging from the Irish army to hotel groups without any pay.
Mr Kenny criticised previous government for failing to clear the names and reputations of the women put to work in the institutions from the period beginning with Irelandﾒs independence in 1922 to 1996, when the last laundry closed in Dublin.
“That the stigma, that the branding together of the residents, all 10,000 needs to be removed and should have been removed long before this and I’m really sorry that that never happened, and I regret that never happened,” he said.
“I’m sorry that this release of pressure and understanding of so many of those women was not done before this, because they were branded as being the fallen women, as they were referred to in this state.”
Surviving women who were held in the laundries have rejected the apology and demanded a fuller admission of responsibility from government and the religious orders involved.
“That is not an apology,” said Maureen Sullivan, of Magdalene Survivors Together group.
Mary Smyth, another survivor, described she endured inhumane conditions in a laundry, which she said was worse than being in prison. “I will go to the grave with what happened. It will never ever leave me,” she said.
Steven O’Riordain, a representative of the Magdalene Survivors Together group warned some women will go on hunger strike if the government does not meet their demands for compensation after an Irish parliament debate in two weeks.
“There is a possibility that this will happen. Many of them say they are at that age now where they have nothing to lose if the government fails to set up a scheme that will give some compensation for what happened to them,” he said.
The apology followed the publication on Tuesday of report by Dr Martin McAleese, an Irish senator, that was commissioned in 2011 after the UN Committee Against Torture called for an inquiry into the treatment Mgadalene women and girls.
Dr McAleese found “no evidence” to support the “wholly inaccurate characterisation” of laundry inmates as “fallen women” who were referred to the workhouses on welfare grounds because they were poor, homeless, mentally or physically disable or had been kicked out of their homes.
“None of us can begin to imagine the confusion and fear experienced by these young girls, in many cases little more than children,” wrote Dr McAleese in the introduction to the report.
“Not knowing why they were there, feeling abandoned, wondering whether they had done something wrong and not knowing when, if ever, they would get out to and see their families again.”
The religious orders, the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, the Sisters of Mercy, the Religious Sisters of Charity and the Sisters of the Good Shepherd have also apologised.
“We have become increasingly aware that whereas our intention was to provide refuge and a safe haven, the impact on some who have experienced our care has been something different. We are aware that for some, their experience of our care has been deeply wounding, we deeply regret this,” said a joint statement.