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Trigger warning for violence against women, including rape and beatings and starvation and torture

Ireland's Magdalene laundries scandal must be laid to rest

Church, family and state were all complicit in the abuse of thousands of women. The UN is right: Ireland must investigate

This week the United Nations Committee Against Torture (Uncat) issued a highly significant statement on the Magdalene laundries. It criticised the Irish government for refusing to acknowledge the pain and abuse suffered by women incarcerated in the laundries, the last of which closed in 1996, and called for a thorough investigation and compensation scheme. In doing so, the UN has focused international attention on what has become a festering injustice.

Ireland has experience of dealing with the sins of its past. A formal apology was issued by the Irish government in 1999 to the tens of thousands of victims of child abuse in the country's vast industrial (residential) school system, run by Catholic nuns, brothers and priests. An exhaustive statutory inquiry produced the damning Ryan report, and a redress scheme has now cost around £1bn.

There has, however, been a strange resistance to any official acceptance of the injustice suffered by the Magdalene women. The state has wriggled and squirmed, claiming that the laundries were private institutions and all the women entered voluntarily. Uncat has now firmly rejected this, confirming what we in Ireland have long known in our hearts. We knew that women who escaped were caught by the police and returned to the punitive and often brutal regime within the laundries. Generations of Irish people colluded in this, using the laundries when it suited them to clean their clothes and control their daughters. MORE

What justice for Ireland’s Magdalenes? Forced labour, now and then

The truth about the Magdalene Laundries came to light after the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity sold land to a property developer in Dublin in 1993. They applied for an exhumation licence for the remains of 133 women. During the exhumation the remains of a further 22 women were discovered. Death certificates were provided for only 75 of the 133 women on the original application. The Department of the Environment provided the licence for the additional remains, without even a rudimentary enquiry. All but one of the women’s bodies were then cremated and reburied in Glasnevin Cemetery in a mass grave.

Various advocacy groups formed to campaign for an acknowledgement, apology and compensation for wages never received. The Magdalene Name Project was set up to try and trace women who were incarcerated by the state and the four religious congregations – the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, the Religious Sisters Charity, the Sisters of Mercy and the Good Shepherd Sisters – who stripped the women of their identity and their names.

The Irish State has refused to acknowledge its responsibility for the survivors of the Magdalen Laundries. Successive governments have solidly claimed that the laundries were privately run and that the State had no part in the forced detention and enslavement of women and girls. The attitude of the State can be summed up in this egregious statement by Minister for Education Batt O Keeffe in 2009
The Magdalen laundries were privately-owned and operated establishments which did not come within the responsibility of the State. The State did not refer individuals to the Magdalen laundries nor was it complicit in referring individuals to them
Aside from the horrific use of the word ‘employees’ for women who were enslaved, the Minister is factually incorrect. The Irish courts routinely referred women to various Magdalene laundries for a variety of crimes and these women were escorted to the laundries by Irish probation officers. Additionally, even if the women were ‘employed’ by a private company, the state still has a duty to uphold Irish law and maintain ethical working conditions. Starvation, forced labour, routine beatings and sexual abuse by employers is illegal now and was illegal then. MORE

The Magdalene Women

IN JUNE 2009, just over a month after publication of the Ryan report, Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly spoke candidly about 20th century Irish society. “If things were hidden, they were hidden in clear sight, the crocodile lines of boys and girls that streamed out of the institutions, the certain knowledge that corporal punishment at the very least was practised therein, the incarcerated Magdalene women in their Madonna blues and whites who walked the open streets of towns and villages in church processions. Judges knew, lawyers knew, teachers knew, civil servants knew, childcare workers knew, gardaí knew. Not to know was not an option,” she said.

No one, anymore, can deny the truth about the dark side of a lesser Ireland and its treatment of vulnerable women and children. That is what makes it disappointing that, in its otherwise welcome statement on the Magdalene laundries, the Government did not go that crucial step further and make a formal apology on behalf of Ireland to those women whose plight was ignored completely throughout the State’s existence. Most of the women spent their lives enslaved, robbed of dignity, identity and all their human rights.

In one of those biting ironies of history the last Magdalene laundry in Ireland, which closed in 1996, was located on Sean MacDermott Street in Dublin. It is named after the executed signatory of the 1916 Proclamation of Independence which promised to cherish all the children of the nation equally. Could there be a more bitter comment on 20th century Ireland?

State apology is only way to express wrong done to Magdalenes

The Irish Times - Monday, June 20, 2011


OPINION: Damning information on State’s links to the laundries pops up in surprising places

Last week, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter became the first representative of the State to recognise officially that Irish society may have a duty to the thousands of women (most of them no longer with us) who toiled behind the locked doors of the Magdalene laundries.

However, his new committee of civil servants examining the State’s connections with laundries will need to deploy formidable skills in lateral thinking.

Official information on these institutions can be tricky to find, and may pop up in unexpected places. For instance, a search in military records might be instructive.

For Full Article, see: State apology is only way to express wrong done to Magdalenes - The Irish Times - Mon, Jun 20, 2011

(ii) Officials do few favours for Magdalenes

The Irish Times - Saturday, June 18, 2011

It is vital that the person appointed to chair the Magdalenes committee is a formidable character, writes PATSY McGARRY

THOSE WHO reacted with a wry smile to the Irish Human Rights Commission response last Wednesday, to that Government announcement of an inter-departmental committee to look at the Magdalene women’s issue, could be forgiven. The commission gave it a “cautious” welcome.

Last November the same commission called on the Government to immediately establish a statutory inquiry into the Magdalene women’s treatment and to provide redress, as appropriate.

But that is not why those who did, smiled last Wednesday. The clue lay in the RTÉ Prime Time programme of June 7th last.

There, human rights commission president Dr Maurice Manning was in uncompromising mood about Government departments when it came to the Magdalene women. He was interviewed in connection with the United Nations Committee Against Torture report, published the previous day.

It too had called for a statutory inquiry into the Magdalene laundries but also for prosecution of those who abused the women.

Manning did not hold back. The IHRC report had been met by a “wall of official indifference”, he said. ...

The two Ministers concerned are Minister for Justice Alan Shatter and Minister for Older People Kathleen Lynch who are, most decidedly, “still in play” where this sad issue is concerned. The Magdalene women and supporting groups place great faith in both Ministers. Their further disappointment simply cannot be countenanced.

Officials do few favours for Magdalenes - The Irish Times - Sat, Jun 18, 2011
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