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: