Tuesday 20 March 2018

Key Magdalen laundry files went missing, says McAleese

Martin McAleese
Martin McAleese
Michael Brennan

Michael Brennan

KEY files on the Magdalen laundries have gone missing, former senator Martin McAleese will reveal in a long-awaited report today.

An estimated 30,000 single mothers and other women were detained over a period of more than seven decades in the laundries operated by four religious orders.

However, it is understood that Dr McAleese's report into the State's involvement in the laundries won't accuse any order of deliberately destroying or withholding files.

It appears that the records were untraceable despite concerted efforts to find them.

A source said the level of co-operation from the four religious organisations that ran the laundries had been good.


The appointment of Dr McAleese as the independent chair of the Magdalen laundries group two years ago was seen as a key factor in persuading the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy, the Religious Sisters of Charity and the Sisters of the Good Shepherd to turn over their sensitive records.

Dr McAleese resigned his €65,000-per year position as a senator yesterday, having spent 18 months working on the report.

He is going to spend more time with his wife, former President Mary McAleese, who is studying canon law in Rome.

The report will not call for compensation or a government apology to be delivered because Dr McAleese was prevented from doing this by his terms of reference.

The women in the Magdalen laundries had to work six days a week without pay, were subjected to physical punishment and had doors locked to prevent their escape.

It is believed over 2,000 children were 'exported' from the laundries to new homes, mainly to wealthy families in the US, usually for a payment from the families.

The Justice for Magdalens campaign group has fought a 10-year campaign for an official apology from the Irish State and Catholic Church, and a distinct compensation scheme for all survivors.

Its advisory board member James Smith, who is an associate professor at Boston College, said he hoped the Government was listening.

"The women can no longer be held hostage to a political system.

"Time is of the essence, it is the one commodity many of these woman can ill afford," he said.

Most of the women who were held in the Magdalen laundries have died, with fewer than 1,000 still alive.

The last such laundry, at Sean MacDermott Street in Dublin, closed in 1996.

There were 10 laundries in total – in Dublin, Galway, Cork, Limerick, Waterford and Wexford.


The National Women's Council of Ireland yesterday supported the call for an apology and compensation scheme for the ageing Magdalene survivors to "bring justice and a sense of peace".

They were not included in the previous compensation scheme for victims of abuse in industrial schools, which has cost over €1bn.

Caitriona Palmer

The Magdalen Laundries explained

What were the Magdalen Laundries?

Institutions where women were sent if they were regarded as "fallen women".

Who was sent there?

The women who were committed to these homes included women who conceived out of wed lock, wards of state and so-called 'promiscuous and flirtatious' women.  Parents, social workers, judges, priests and members of the Gardai could recommend a woman to be sent to these workhouses.

Who ran the institutions in Ireland?

Four Catholic religious orders: The Sisters of Mercy, The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, The Sisters of Charity, The Good Shepherd Sisters.

Why were they called laundries?

The institutions ran laundries and the women were used as unpaid labour.

Where were the laundries?

Laundries were located all over the country, sometimes outside of towns.

Who were these women?

No proper records were kept and the 'inmates' had their real names removed and were given a one-letter name or a number.

How long did the laundries operate in the country?

From 1922 to 1996, but some of the laundries operated as orphanages previously.

When did the last laundry close?

The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity Laundry on Sean McDermott Street in Dublin city centre closed in October 1996.

How many women were sent to the laundries?

No known figures as records were not kept, but an estimated 30,000.

How many children were adopted from the laundries?

Again, this is unclear but it is believed over 2,000 children 'exported' from the laundries to new homes, mainly to wealthy families in the US, usually for a payment from the families.

What do campaigners want?

The campaign group, Justice for Magdalens, have fought for 10 years bring justice to Magdalen Laundry survivors. The group wants apology from the State for the abuse perpetrated towards girls and women in the laundries, a compensation scheme for survivors and the adoption and a statutory inquiry.


Campaigners claim there is evidence of State involvement and the State sent women to these institutions as a means of dealing with various social problems, such as illegitimacy, poverty, domestic, youth crime, infanticide and sexual abuse - at home and also by clerical orders.


What international pressure has come on the State? 

The UN Committee Against Torture criticised successive government's failure to apologise or compensate as of yet.

Shauna McLoughlin

Irish Independent

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