Wednesday, February 06, 2013

State referred more than a quarter of the 10,000 who were detained in laundries

Alan Shatter: Sorry the state did not do moreMore than 10,000 women spent time in Magdalene Laundries across the country between 1922 and 1996.

More than one 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, gardaí, 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.

Survivors have been campaigning for 10 years for an apology from the State and Catholic Church as well as a transparent compensation scheme.

The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity religious order ran laundries at Drumcondra and Seán MacDermott St in Dublin; the Sisters of Mercy in Galway and Dún Laoghaire; the Religious Sisters of Charity in Donnybrook, Dublin, and Cork; and the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in Limerick, Cork, Waterford and New Ross.

The last laundry, Seán MacDermott St in Dublin’s north inner city, closed in 1996.

Justice for Magdalenes (JFM), an advocacy group, said it is aware of at least 988 women who were buried in laundry plots in cemeteries across Ireland and therefore must have stayed for life.

The inquiry could only certify 879.

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.

About 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 Dún Laoghaire and Galway — were missing substantial records.

Women were forced into the Magdalene 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.

Only a small number of the women were there for prostitution — despite the stigma attached to women who were sent to the laundries, who 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 Jul 2011.

“I am sorry that the State did not do more, and the Government recog-nises 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 been 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.”

Despite that, the report’s introduction was benign in its account of life in a laundry.

It reported a harsh, physically demanding environment with a cold atmosphere and a rigid uncompromising work and prayer regime.

However, it found no allegations of sex abuse against nuns and the torture, beatings, and abuse meted out in the industrial and reform schools was not present.

Verbal and psychological abuse was common, alongside the deep hurt felt by the women at their loss of freedom, the report found.

Women rarely had their heads shaved as punishment, but rather they had their hair cut back short in a bob, the report also found.


More than 100 women were spoken to by the inquiry committee, more than half of whom are in nursing homes.

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