Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Modern Magdalenes deserve state help anger of survivors of the Magdalene Laundries towards the Government is palpable and understandable.
Until very recently, the State denied outright that it was in any way responsible for the abuses reported in them.

It also told the United Nations Committee Against Torture (UNCAT) in May 2011 that the "vast majority" of young girls and women entered the laundries on a voluntary basis.

Now it has emerged that more than a quarter of referrals to Magdalene laundries were made or facilitated by the State, often without any clear legal basis.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has stopped short of a full apology – any admission of liability would pave the way for a mandatory redress scheme.

But the State's reticence to compensate survivors may also be explained by what former Senator Martin McAleese describes as the much more complex reality of the Magdalene Laundries.

The inter-departmental committee (IDC) report paints a harrowing picture of a dysfunctional, embryonic State post independence that had neither the ability nor resources to deal with vulnerable children and young persons shunned by society.

The dependence by the State on the Catholic Church to fill the void in the provision of social and healthcare services – in the absence of any State infrastructure – is manifest.

The surprising finding that there was no evidence of physical or sexual abuse in the laundries distinguishes the Magdalene's from previous watershed moments including the Ryan, Ferns and Dublin reports as well as the report of deaths of children in care.

Society's outrage on behalf of the Magdalene's must also be directed at the collusion, through silence, for the Ireland that did not speak up for the most vulnerable in their midst. 

Few agitated on behalf of these hidden souls.

The conditions that gave birth to the Magdalene Laundries still exist today.

Now, as then, there is still no out-of-hours system for vulnerable minors. Now, as then, we turn a blind eye to our modern day Magdalenes – the at-risk children who fall through the cracks society still prefers to ignore.

If the State is truly sorry for the sins of the past it will address the failures to assist those, particularly the young, most at risk at this very moment.

After all, we passed a Children's Referendum to enable the State to do so.

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