Monday 11 November 2019

Tears as Magdalene abuse revealed but no Kenny apology

Michael Brennan, Paul Melia and Dearbhail McDonald

TAOISEACH Enda Kenny is refusing to give an apology to the remaining survivors of the Magdalene Laundries – despite the official confirmation of the State's role.

A new report has confirmed for the first time that one in four of the 10,000 women who ended up in the Magdalene Laundries were sent there with state involvement.

The women were forced to work long hours in the laundries without pay and the report details how they suffered cruel verbal taunts from some of the nuns there.

The trail of tears reveals how, even in the 1970s, a girl as young as 11 was sent to a laundry by state health officials.

But there has been no official apology from the State or any commitment to provide a redress scheme for the survivors.

Victims' groups said that the country had failed the women of the Magdalene Laundries once again.

The Attorney General Maire Whelan was involved in yesterday's cabinet deliberations about the 1,000-page report by former senator Martin McAleese.

But the Government has refused to say if Mr Kenny has been advised against delivering an apology for legal reasons.

The report has thrown new light on the operation of the 10 Magdalene Laundries in the State between 1922 and 1996. It confirmed, by examining the books of the religious orders, that 10,000 women had been in the laundries over that period – significantly fewer than the previous estimate of 30,000.

It exploded the myth that most of them were prostitutes or unmarried mothers who had their babies there and said the women went into the laundries for a variety of reasons.

A quarter had already spent time in an industrial school or other state institution.

Others were betrayed by health authorities and ended up in laundries after spells in psychiatric hospitals, acute hospitals, foster care and mother and baby homes.

They had to endure a "harsh and physically demanding" work environment. Many suffered "confusion and fear" because they did not know when they would be let out – even though the majority spent less than one year there.

Although the laundries were used as an alternative to prison for some women, a 1941 memo warned that they lacked any specialist training" to provide girls with a "fresh start" in life, and that education was "absent".

The number of Magdalene survivors is in the "high 100s", but just 118 came forward to give evidence due to the continued false stigma about being one of the "fallen women" in the laundries.

The report drew a distinction between the conditions in the laundries and the "brutality" of the industrial schools – also run by religious orders.

It said the vast majority of Magdalene residents had given no evidence of being physically abused there and none had been sexually abused. Contrary to public belief, the orders made little or no profit from running the institutions.

But the findings that the state was directly involved in the admission of 26pc – or 2,124 women – to the laundries contradict evidence it gave to the UN committee on torture two years ago.

The Department of Justice's then secretary general Sean Aylward said at that time that the vast majority of women went to the Magdalene Laundries voluntarily or with the consent of their parents or guardians and that women were only ordered to be detained at one institution in Dublin.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said yesterday that he was sorry it had taken until now for the State to carry out an investigation into what had happened.

"I regret in particular that many who suffered have not lived to see this day, when such a report is published, removing that stigma and letting the true facts finally emerge," he said.

But the Justice for Magdalenes campaign group said this fell "far short" of the full and sincere apology deserved by the women who were incarcerated against their will in the laundries.


Fianna Fail justice spokesman Niall Collins criticised Mr Kenny for not delivering an apology for the State's role in sending many of the women to the laundries and not committing to any redress scheme.

Sinn Fein deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said that an apology was due to the women who had endured "a very Irish form of slavery" in the laundries.

The average age of the women in the laundries was 23, but the youngest entrant was nine and the eldest was 89.

They were excluded from the State's €1bn compensation scheme for the victims of abuse in industrial schools.

A government spokesman refused to say last night if compensation for the Magdalene survivors would be considered.

Irish Independent

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