Monday 18 November 2019

Magdalen: Kenny declines to apologise for state role

Taoiseach Enda Kenny
Taoiseach Enda Kenny

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

TAOISEACH Enda Kenny has declined to apologise for the state's role in admitting women to the Magdalen Laundries.

Around 10,000 women were kept in the ten laundries run by four religious congregations between 1922 and 1996.


The Dail has heard that a new report by former Senator Martin McAleese that the state was involved in the admittance of around one quarter of the women.


Mr Kenny told the Dail that the women had been sent into the laundries during a time when there was a harsh, uncompromising and authoritarian Ireland.


He said the branding of the women - many of whom ended up there through poverty and destitution - needed to be removed.


"I'm sorry that this release of pressure and understanding for so many of those women was not done before this because they were branded as fallen women," he said.


But Mr Kenny turned down a call from Sinn Fein deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald to apologise for the state's role in admitting women to the laundries. He said there would be a full Dail debate on the report in two weeks' time when people had an opportunity to read the report.


Ms McDonald said she wished that he had the courage of the women who were in the Magdalen laundries.


"The time for apology, Taoiseach, is now. And we shouldn't try to put a positive gloss on what happened," she said.


Later the Taoiseach expressed his sympathies with survivors and the families of those who have died.


"To those resident who went into the Magdalen laundries from a variety of ways, 26% from state involvement, I'm sorry for those people that they lived in that kind of environment," he said.


However, survivors said the phrase 'sorry they lived that kind of environment' was "pointless".


Maureen Sullivan, Magdalen Survivors Together, said: "That is not an apology.


"He is the Taoiseach of our country, he is the Taoiseach of the Irish people, and that is not a proper apology."


Mary Smyth said 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," said Ms Smyth, also of the group.


The Justice for Magdalens group, which has collected testimony from survivors who attest to severe psychological and physical suffering even in stays of less than a year, has been leading campaigns for an apology.


"It can no longer be claimed that these institutions were private and that 'the vast majority' of the girls and women entered voluntarily as has been claimed by former minister Batt O'Keeffe and testimony before the UN Committee Against Torture given by Sean Aylward, the former secretary general of the Department of Justice," the group said.


Records have confirmed that 10,012 women spent time in Magdalen laundries across the country between 1922 and 1996.


More than a quarter of all official referrals were made by the state, an 18 month inquiry chaired by Senator Martin McAleese has found.


The inquiry identified five areas where there was direct state involvement in the detention of women in 10 laundries run by nuns.


- They were detained by courts, gardai, transferred by industrial or reform schools, rejected by foster families, orphaned, abused children, mentally or physically disabled, homeless teenagers or simply poor.


- Inspectors, known as "the suits" by the women, routinely checked conditions complied with rules for factories.


- Government paid welfare to certain women in laundries, along with payments for services.


- Women were also enabled to leave laundries if they moved to other state-run institutions such as psychiatric hospitals, county and city homes and in the company of police, probation, court or prison officers.


- The state also had a role in registering the death of a woman in a laundry.


Some other facts unearthed by the inquiry were that half of the girls and women put to work were under the age of 23, and 40% - more than 4,000 - spent more than a year incarcerated.


Some 15% spent more than five years while the average stay has been calculated at seven months.


The youngest death on record was 15, and the oldest 95, the report found.


Some of the women were sent to laundries more than once, as records show a total of 14,607 admissions, and a total of 8,025 known reasons for being sent to a laundry.


Statistics outlined in the report are based on records of only eight of the 10 laundries. The other two - both operated by the Sisters of Mercy in Dun Laoghaire and Galway - were missing substantial records.


Women were forced into Magdalen laundries for a crime as minor as not paying for a train ticket, the report found.


The majority of those incarcerated were there for minor offences such as theft and vagrancy as opposed to murder and infanticide.


A small number of the women were there for prostitution - this confirmed despite the stigma attached to women who were sent to the laundries and became known as Maggies, a slang term for prostitute.


The report also confirmed that a garda could arrest a girl or a woman without warrant if she was being recalled to the laundry or if she had run away.


Justice Minister Alan Shatter said he regretted that nothing was done to investigate the laundries until July 2011.


"I am sorry that the state did not do more and the Government recognises that the women alive today who are still affected by their time in the laundries deserve the best supports that the state can provide," he said.


The report said: "None of us can begin to imagine the confusion and fear experienced by these young girls, in many cases little more than children, on entering the laundries - 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 and see their families again.


"It must have particularly distressing for those girls who may have been the victims of abuse in the family, wondering why they were the ones who were excluded or penalised."

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