Some 10,000 women and girls entered Magdalene laundries since 1922 with more than a quarter of referrals made or facilitated by the State, a report has found.
The 'Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen Laundries' was published this afternoon.
It found “significant” State involvement in the laundries.
the report, the committee said it found “no evidence” to support the
perception that “unmarried girls” had babies in the laundries or that
many of the women were prostitutes.
“The reality is much more complex” committee chairman Dr Martin McAleese writes in the introduction.
women admitted to the laundries “have for too long felt the social
stigma” of the “wholly inaccurate characterisation” of them as “fallen
women”, he said. “[This is] not borne out of facts.”
Reasons for Entry
committee found a wide range of reasons women and girls entered the 10
religious run laundries operating in the State between 1922 and 1996.
include: referrals by courts, mostly for minor or petty offences; by
social services; from industrial and reformatory schools; rejection by
foster parents; girls orphaned or in abusive homes; women with mental or
physical disabilities; poor and homeless women and girls placed by
their families for reasons including socio-moral attitudes.
and girls referred from industrial schools and non-State agencies would
not have known why they were being sent or how long they had to stay in
the laundries, the report finds. Those referred by officials in criminal
justice and social services would have been told reason and duration.
of us can begin to imagine the confusion and fear experienced by these
young girls, in many cases little more than children,” Dr McAleese
writes. “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 to and see their families again”.
The committee found “significant State involvement” with the laundries, Dr McAleese writes.
Referrals were made or facilitated by the State made up 26.5 per cent (2,124) of the 8,025 cases for which reasons are known.
8 per cent of women were referred to by the criminal justice system,
either on remand, as a condition of probation or less formal referrals
such as from the Garda.
Some of the criminal justice referrals were
based on legislation while others were ad hoc or informal. Common crimes
included failure to purchase a ticket, larceny, vagrancy, assault.
8 per cent were referred from industrial schools, another almost 7 per
cent from health and social services and almost 4 per cent from mother
and baby homes. Some women were referred to laundries by the health and
social services because it was cheaper than State-run facilities, the
The report found direct State involvement in: routes
of entry, workplace regulations and inspections, funding and financial
assistance to laundries, routes of exit, death registrations.
committee found the laundries were as workplaces subject to the
Factories Acts and inspected by the State to the same extent as
The records show the laundries were generally
compliant but standards are not equivalent to current workplaces.
Conditions in the laundries
girls found themselves alone in a “harsh and physically demanding work
environment”, Dr McAleese writes. The laundries were “lonely and
frightening” places for many of the women.
The committee does not
make findings on treatment of women because of the small sample of women
available to share their experiences. However, the women who shared
their experiences made no sexual abuse allegations against nuns.
women described the atmosphere as “cold” with a “rigid and
uncompromising regime of physically demanding work and prayer” with many
instances of “verbal censure”. Most women spoke of hurt due to the
“loss of freedom”, the “lack of information on when they could leave”
and denial of contact with family.
The former industrial school
residents made a “clear distinction” between schools and laundries. They
said the ill-treatment and abuse prevalent in the school was not
experienced in the laundries.
The religious orders say protection
of privacy was they reason some women were given a house or class name
instead of heir birth name.
However, the committee says many of the
women “felt as though their identity was being erased”.
Six in 10 women spent less than a year in the laundries, the report finds.
funding included capitation, grants and laundry contracts.
laundry, almost a fifth of business over a sample period was from the
The committee found the laundries operated on a subsistence or
break-even basis rather than being commercial or highly profitable.
four congregations who operated the laundries expressed their regret at
Reflecting on the report, the Sisters of the Good
Shepherds, the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, the Religious Sisters of
Charity and the Sisters of Mercy said: “We have become
increasingly aware that whereas our intention was to provide refuge and a
safe haven, the impact on some who have experienced our care has been
something different. We are aware that for some, their experience of our
care has been deeply wounding, we deeply regret this.”
Magdalene laundry in Ireland opened on Dublin’s Leeson Street in 1767.
Four female religious congregations came to dominate the running of the
The Good Shepherd Sisters also operated a Magdalene laundry in Belfast until 1977.
were 10 Magdalene laundries in the Republic following independence.
These were at Waterford, New Ross, two in Cork, Limerick, Galway, and
four in Dublin at Dún Laoghaire, Donnybrook, Drumcondra and Gloucester
Street/Seán MacDermott Street.
This latter – and last – laundry closed
in October 1996.