Taoiseach Enda Kenny botched the response and unwittingly inflicted more stress and hardship on the victims. The easy and honorable thing to do would have been to immediately apologise to the victims of what were essentially State-Sponsored Labour camps.
Instead of apologising Enda Kenny decided that his Government needed more time to examine and consider the findings of the Report. Now, in respect of putting together a proper financial compensation package for the estimated 1000 still surviving women who were interred in these prisons, a considered approach is certainly appropriate. But quite why an immediate apology did not follow is a source of bafflement to just about everyone outside of the Taoiseach’s close circle of handlers and advisors and prompted severe media criticism.
The backlash had an effect. Enda Kenny finally stood up in Dail Eireann (the Irish Parliament) and apologized to the women, some of whom were in attendance:
“Therefore, I, as Taoiseach, on behalf of the State, the Government and our citizens, apologise unreservedly to all those women for the hurt done to them, and any stigma they suffered, as a result of the time they spent in a Magdalene Laundry”
The Government has also established a fund to provide compensation for the victims of the 10 Magdalene Laundries. Labour leader Eamon Gilmore criticized the four religious orders who ran the Laundries and called on them to help provide compensation for the women.
The apology does not mark the end of the investigation into the running of the Laundries but it is a starting point and hopefully will provide some measure of, if not closure then at least acknowledgment, for the women who suffered so badly in these most terrible of places.
The Report by the Committee that was established to investigate the role that the Irish Government played in the abuses perpetuated in the notorious ‘Magdalene Laundries’ is to be published.
In the decades that followed the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922 and the Republic in 1948 the Catholic Church had tremendous influence in Ireland. It is only since the 1970′s that this influence has declined. Over the last two decades the litany of abuse carried out in institutions by religious orders and sponsored by the State has been graphically exposed. One such institution was the ‘Magdalene Laundry’ where young girls and women who had a child out of wedlock, or who were prostitutes, or who were even homeless, were basically interned.
The Laundries were state-sponsored workhouses. Although privately owned by religious orders they were subsidised by the Irish State for part of their existence. Thousands of women were forced to work in the Laundries which were run on a for-profit basis by several religious orders. The inmates were imbued with a sense of shame – their first names were changed and their surnames never used. They were often labelled as ‘Maggie’ by those of the public they encountered – a slang-word for a prostitute. It is both an amazing and damning fact that the final Laundry did not close until 1996. Located in Sean McDermott Street it is in the very heart of Dublin city centre.
The survivors of the Laundries – ‘Magdalene Survivors Together’ – have demanded that the Government finally issue an apology for the part it played in the abuse. The instigation of an appropriate compensation scheme is also the very least that can be done now. What compensation can their be for a life destroyed by these terrible places? Many did not even make it out the front gate. At least 988 women were buried within the grounds of the Laundries – likely many more died within the walls.
It is amazing that this new enquiry only took place after prompting from the United Nations Committee Against Torture in 2011. Perhaps now ‘Official Ireland’ will give these women some sense of justice.
RTE report highlighting the Magdalene survivors campaign:
The 2002 feature film ‘The Magdalene Sisters’ is available to view on YouTube:
The Central Statistics Office has released more figures from the 2011 census that has highlighted the changing makeup of religion in Ireland.
* The number of agnostics or atheists has increased dramatically and now represents 5.9% of the population
* Catholics represent 84.2% of the population, the lowest percentage ever recorded
* Muslims account for 1.1%
* Non-Christian religions in Ireland account for 1.9%
Other highlight from the 2011 census include:
* There were 42,854 more females than males in the State in April 2011
* Immigration by Irish nationals was 19,593 in the year to April 2011
* Immigration by foreign nationals in the year to April 2011 was 33,674. The largest groups came from Poland, UK, France, Lithuania, Spain and the USA
* Total housing stock grew to almost 2 million homes, of these almost 290,000 were vacant on census night giving a vacancy rate of 14.5%
* Over half a million (514,068) Irish residents spoke a foreign language. Polish was by far the most common, followed by French, Lithuanian and German