The Shame of Ireland

The Shame of Ireland

IN JUNE 2009, just over a month after publication of the Ryan report, Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly spoke candidly about 20th century Irish society. “If things were hidden, they were hidden in clear sight, the crocodile lines of boys and girls that streamed out of the institutions, the certain knowledge that corporal punishment at the very least was practised therein, the incarcerated Magdalene women in their Madonna blues and whites who walked the open streets of towns and villages in church processions. Judges knew, lawyers knew, teachers knew, civil servants knew, childcare workers knew, gardaí knew. Not to know was not an option,” she said.

No one, anymore, can deny the truth about the dark side of a lesser Ireland and its treatment of vulnerable women and children. That is what makes it disappointing that, in its otherwise welcome statement on the Magdalene laundries, the Government did not go that crucial step further and make a formal apology on behalf of Ireland to those women whose plight was ignored completely throughout the State’s existence. Most of the women spent their lives enslaved, robbed of dignity, identity and all their human rights.

In one of those biting ironies of history the last Magdalene laundry in Ireland, which closed in 1996, was located on Sean MacDermott Street in Dublin. It is named after the executed signatory of the 1916 Proclamation of Independence which promised to cherish all the children of the nation equally. Could there be a more bitter comment on 20th century Ireland?

A formal apology is what the women survivors of those laundries want above all else. It would help establish their sense of equal citizenship. It would help restore some of their shattered self-esteem. It might help ease the stigma they still feel and others still feel towards them.

In May 1999 then taoiseach Bertie Ahern apologised to the men and women who, as children, had been abused in State residential institutions managed by religious congregations. For those former residents his apology on behalf of Ireland was of greatest significance. This Government should apologise similarly to the Magdalene women but is concerned about legal implications: in other words the financial consequences of doing so. Yet mechanisms are already in place whereby those financial implications can be addressed.

The Ryan report recommended that the 18 religious congregations involved in managing residential institutions for children should share with the State half the costs incurred in redress and reparation for former residents. Those congregations include the four which ran the Magdalene laundries. They and the State have already agreed to share redress costs and that a substantial amount be set aside for late applicants with real reasons for being late. These should include surviving Magdalene women. Elderly, poor and poorly educated, small in number and for so long invisible, the speedy and satisfactory amelioration of their difficult lives is a moral imperative on Ireland today.


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Comment by Rob Northall on June 23, 2011 at 10:02

HSE gave €87m since 2006 to Magdalene nuns

PATSY McGARRY, Religious Affairs Correspondent - The Irish Times - Tuesday, June 21, 2011

THE HSE has provided € 87 million in the past five years to three of the four religious congregations that ran the Magdalene laundries between 1922 and 1996, according to Minister for Health Dr James O’Reilly.

He disclosed the figure in response to a question from Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin.

He found it “astonishing” and said it contrasted “sharply with the State’s treatment of the women imprisoned in these institutions, who received no pay for their years of work, are in receipt of no pension and were excluded from the Residential Institutions Redress Scheme”.

If the State could “pay € 20 million per year to the orders who ran the laundries, it can certainly give the women who survived them their due”, he said.

In 2006 the Sisters of Mercy, the Sisters of Charity and the Good Shepherd Sisters received a total of €5.8 million from the HSE for health services provided.

That rose to €19.6 million in 2007, to €20.09 million in 2008, €20.4 million in 2009, and was €19.68 million in 2010. Absent from the HSE list are the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, who also ran Magdalene laundries.

The Mater hospital in Dublin is run by the Sisters of Mercy while St Vincent’s is a Sisters of Charity hospital. The Sisters of Mercy are also key providers of education in the State with involvement in more than 60 pre-schools, primary schools and secondary schools.

They have associations with four community schools and long involvement with Mary Immaculate College in Limerick.

Following publication of the Ryan report in May 2009, each of the 18 congregations that ran residential institutions for children investigated by Ryan, including the four that also ran Magdalene laundries, agreed to contribute 50 per cent of the €1.36 billion cost to the State of redress for people who had been in the institutions as children.

To date the contribution of the congregations is € 476.51 million, leaving more than € 200 million to reach their € 680 million share.

Last April Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn indicated that the Government was to ask the congregations to hand over titles to property worth up to € 200 million, to make up the shortfall.

Two of the 18 congregations indicated they had no resources at all to contribute. They are the Rosminians and the Good Shepherd Sisters. The latter have received more than €14.4 million from the HSE since 2006.

The State and congregations agreed to set aside € 110 million for late applicants for redress, which could include Magdalene women.


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Comment by Rob Northall on June 23, 2011 at 12:01


State apology is only way to express wrong done to Magdalenes

MARY RAFTERY - The Irish Times - Monday, June 20, 2011

OPINION: Damning information on State’s links to the laundries pops up in surprising places

Last week, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter became the first representative of the State to recognise officially that Irish society may have a duty to the thousands of women (most of them no longer with us) who toiled behind the locked doors of the Magdalene laundries.

However, his new committee of civil servants examining the State’s connections with laundries will need to deploy formidable skills in lateral thinking.

Official information on these institutions can be tricky to find, and may pop up in unexpected places. For instance, a search in military records might be instructive.

In the early 1940s, for example, it appeared that some State bodies, most particularly the Army, were transferring their laundry contracts from commercial laundries to what were euphemistically called “institutional laundries”. These of course were the large Magdalene operations, centred in Dublin, Cork, Waterford, Limerick, Galway and New Ross.

In 1941, minister for defence Oscar Traynor claimed in the Dáil that the contracts with Magdalene laundries “contain a fair wages clause”. This is a startling statement, as we know now (and indeed it would have been known at the time) that the women penitents locked up in these laundries did not receive wages for their work.

The matter had arisen in the Dáil at a time of concern that workers in commercial laundries were losing their jobs directly as a result of State contracts going to the nuns running the Magdalene laundries. The latter could outbid anyone, given their non-existent labour costs.

According to Mary Jones’s history of the Irish Women Workers’ Union, These Obstreperous Lassies , at least one laundry was forced to close in 1941 with the loss of 25 jobs. It had just lost an Army contract to the Sisters of Charity Magdalene laundry in Donnybrook.

The union wrote to the nuns running the laundries, begging them not to put workers out of a job by underbidding for State contracts. Their pleas fell on deaf ears.

This was the background to Traynor’s extraordinary statement.

There is, though, something perplexing about it. The full sentence in the Dáil record reads as follows: “As, however, these contracts contain a fair wages clause, I am having the matter reconsidered and will communicate further with the deputy as soon as practicable.”

No further communication can be found, and the mystery of why Traynor should have felt it necessary to reconsider the contracts going to Magdalene laundries remains unsolved. It is, however, undeniable that the State was perfectly content to save itself a few bob by using the cheaper Magdalene laundries – cheaper of course because of the slave labour of their inmates.

Shatter’s committee should also search the records of the Department of Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation – incorporating the old department of industry and commerce. A focus on files from the 1950s and 1960s on foot of the Factories Act 1955 would be productive. This specified detailed health and safety regulations for a range of establishments, among which the Magdalene laundries are clearly included.

What makes this so important is the requirement for all commercial operations covered by the Act to keep registers of their workers, especially listing all women and young people with their ages and specific occupations.

Further, they were obliged to send these details to the department regularly.

Consequently, the department’s inspectors had a legal duty to ensure that the names of all Magdalene workers were recorded in these registers and lodged with the State. Given that one of the rigorously applied rules of Magdalene laundries was that the names of all inmates were changed on entry, it would be interesting to see just how these laundries registered their workers. In the eventuality that no such details are discovered in departmental archives, the question then arises of State negligence in ensuring compliance with the law.

The Factories Act 1955 certainly gives the lie to former minister for education Batt O’Keeffe when he claimed that the State had no duty to inspect or regulate Magdalene laundries.

While the State did not fund these institutions, it is unarguable that the legal duty to inspect and regulate them as factories did exist.

Section 84 of the Act was headed “Institutions”, and clearly laid out that all such entities were covered by the legislation once “any manual labour is exercised in or incidental to the making, altering, repairing, ornamenting, finishing, washing, cleaning, or adapting for sale, of articles not intended for the use of the institution”.

Speaking in the Dáil in May 1955, the then minister for industry and commerce William Norton stated that “once you wash clothes in the institution, not for the institution, then that is a factory. In other words, you have a right to wash clothes for the institution, but if you start to wash other people’s clothes it is a factory, for the purpose of section 84.” The Justice for Magdalenes group has highlighted other connections between the State and the laundries, particularly in the way they were used for women on probation and remand, and indeed for children (up to 70 in 1970) transferred directly from the industrial schools.

However, there are also other factors to be considered by Government when deliberating on the issue of an apology to and redress for the survivors of the laundries. Any wider examination of the social dynamics surrounding these institutions will show many women were put in by their families who refused to take them back. Many others used them as a threat to keep young women under control.

Society now clearly recognises that what happened to the victims of this system was wrong. The only way this can be formally expressed is through a State apology. Any Government with the courage to act on this will receive nothing but praise.


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Comment by Rob Northall on July 19, 2011 at 13:58

Calls for more transparency in Magdalene investigation

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

CONCERNS have been raised that the terms of reference for the inter-departmental committee to investigate state interaction with the Magdalene Laundries have yet to be made public.

The Justice for Magdalenes (JFM) group has written to Justice Minister Alan Shatter and independent chairperson of the committee Dr Martin McAleese, to express its concern that the committee’s terms of reference and the powers of the independent chairman have yet to be made public in advance of the committee’s first meeting, which is expected to take place this week.

In the letter to Mr Shatter, Prof James Smith of JFM said such a move was crucial to "ensure transparency" in the process.

"We wish also to put in writing JFM’s continuing concerns regarding the proposed inter-departmental committee. It is important from JFM’s perspective that the committee’s terms of reference be made available publicly as soon as possible, and certainly no later than the end of the committee’s first meeting which you [Mr Shatter] mentioned would take place this week. Likewise, it is important that Dr Martin McAleese’s powers, as independent chair of the Committee, also be made available publicly," said the letter.

Prof Smith also makes it clear in the letter that the publication of these issues "is crucial" to ensuring the group’s continued support of the Government’s twin-track investigative process.

In both letters, Prof Smith also expressed his concern that the process of clarifying and creating a narrative of state interaction with the Magdalene Laundries extended beyond forms of direct involvement (referring women or girls to the laundries or supporting them by awarding contracts to them and engaging them to provide laundry services) to include acts of omission, or the ways in which the state failed to exercise due diligence in preventing abuse in the laundries (failure to inspect, regulate and monitor them).

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has indicated he is willing to open the Dublin Diocesan Archives for research into Church-state interaction on the laundries.

In a meeting with representatives of JFM last week, Archbishop Martin is also believed to have expressed his support for the inter-departmental committee to clarify any state interaction with the Magdalene Laundries.

He also believed to have agreed to encourage the religious orders involved to meet face-to-face with JFM, something also suggested by Cardinal Seán Brady.



Comment by Rev. Kobutsu Malone on August 2, 2011 at 18:23
Apologies are not enough, strip the institutions of ALL their wealth and distribute ALL OF IT fairly to the surviving Magdalnene ladies...
Comment by Rob Northall on August 2, 2011 at 18:38
Kobutsu I would like to see a Financially Bankrupt C.O.R.I. for they are Morally Bankrupt!!
Comment by Rob Northall on September 18, 2011 at 14:27

'Magdalene' women are seeking justice

Wednesday September 14 2011

SLIGO COUNTY Council has endorsed a campaign by the Justice for Magdalenes survivor advocacy group which is working to bring about an apology from the Church and the State and and the establishment of a redress scheme for all survivors of Ireland's Magdalene laundries.

Councillor Declan Bree said no one, neither Church or State had apologised for the abuse suffered in those institutions and that these women, the majority of whom were elderly and aging, had been denied restorative justice.

" The Magdalene laundries were excluded from the State's Residential Institutions Redress Act, 2002. Consequently, Magdalene survivors are denied redress when they apply to the Residential Institutions Redress Board.

" While the Vatican, the Bishops, hierarchy and the political establishment turned a blind eye, these women were treated as prisoners, worked like slaves and were subjected to horrifying levels of physical, sexual and psychological abuse.

He proposed that the Council support and endorse the campaign by the Justice for Magdalenes survivor advocacy group, and in particular their campaign for an apology from the State and the religious orders who ran the Magdalene Laundries, a lump sum compensation scheme for women survivors and a statutory pension reflecting their years of work in the laundry institutions and complete access to their records.

The motion was supported by Clr. Veronica Cawley who said it was the least the State could do for these women. The motion was unanimously agreed.

Comment by Rob Northall on October 16, 2011 at 14:32

Department of Justice, Equality and Defence

Magdalene Laundries

8:00 pm

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)

Question 455: To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality if the inter-Departmental committee on the Magdalene Laundries has met; if the committee’s terms of reference has been published; the date on which he expect an initial report to be made to Cabinet on the progress being made by this interdepartmental committee; and if he include an examination of the State’s interactions with Bethany Home in the work of the Committee. [26962/11]

Photo of Alan ShatterAlan Shatter (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Defence; Dublin South, Fine Gael)

I can advise the Deputy that the inter-departmental committee is charged with establishing the facts of the State’s involvement, clarifying any State interaction with the Magdalene Laundries, and with producing a narrative detailing such interaction. There are presently no plans to extend its brief beyond those institutions.

As the working arrangements of the committee are a matter for its chairperson, Senator Martin McAleese, and he is independent in this matter, I am not in a position to report on what progress is being made. I am aware however that they have held meetings with the religious congregations, representative groups of the women who resided there, and other interested parties. I understand that an interim report will be provided before the end of October.


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Comment by Rob Northall on October 16, 2011 at 14:35

Magdalene survivors’ stories ‘vital’

Saturday, October 15, 2011

SURVIVORS of the Magdalene Laundries want to ensure their involvement in any future redress scheme will not preclude them from including their life stories in a national museum.

Earlier this year an interdepartmental group, headed up by Senator Martin McAleese, was established by the Ministers for Justice and Health to "clarify" any state involvement in the Magdalene Laundries. In August, Justice for Magdalenes (JFM) was asked to forward to the Ministers details of the redress scheme the group are proposing. It’s estimated that thousands of women were incarcerated at Magdalene Laundries, but only a few hundred are still alive.

As part of a Restorative Justice and Reparations Scheme, JFM is seeking a state apology, a dedicated unit within the Department of Justice which will act as a ‘hub’ for survivors enabling them to access pensions and wages they were never paid. They are seeking financial reparations through a part extension of the Residential Institutions Redress Board and also the preservation of their oral histories.

JFM advisory board member, Dr Katherine O’Donnell said: "It is crucial that participation in the scheme should in no way restrict women from publicly discussing what happened to them. It is vital that this is archived in a museum as this is our history". Survivors of industrial schools who contributed to the Ryan Report were restricted from retelling their testimonies in public.

JFM is asking the State to "make an absolute commitment to minimise as far as possible the adversarial nature of the process", said JFM Coordinating Committee member, Claire McGettrick.

"The scheme that we have sent to the Ministers differs from the previous redress board, in that JFM recommends that the State will accept as fact that the Magdalene Laundries were abusive, punitive institutions in which girls and women were routinely subjected to forced unpaid labour and unlawful and false imprisonment. As such then, each applicant will be afforded a certain minimum level of compensation simply for demonstrating that she spent time in a Magdalene institution," she said.

JFM is also seeking a memorial to commemorate the Magdalene Laundries and the teaching of the history of the Laundries in Ireland’s schools.

Senator McAleese’s interim report on the Magdalene Laundries is due to be published next week.

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Comment by Rob Northall on October 26, 2011 at 15:36
PRESS RELEASE 26 October 2011—For Immediate Release

Justice for Magdalenes cautiously welcomes Magdalene Inter-Departmental Committee Interim Report

Justice for Magdalenes (JFM), the survivor advocacy group, has welcomed the interim progress report of the Inter-Departmental
Committee to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalene Laundries. The report was published yesterday by the
Department of Justice, with Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Mr Alan Shatter TD, welcoming the co-operation the
Committee is receiving from Government Departments, the religious orders and representative groups of women who were
formerly resident in the Laundries. He is aware of the complexity of the task involved and notes the Committee’s intention to
conclude their work by mid 2012. JFM also acknowledges this work, although remains guarded on several key concerns.

Primary among the group’s concerns is the Inter-Departmental Committee’s stated mandate:

“The role given by Government to the Committee is a fact-finding one. The Committee is not authorised to consider or
make determinations on individual complaints, or to recommend or provide redress in individual cases. The fact-finding
role of the Committee also means that it will not issue or recommend apologies.”

JFM accepts the Committee’s “fact-finding” remit. However, it was JFM’s hope that the Minister for Justice would, as a matter of
urgency, move forward the discussions for “the putting in place of a restorative and reconciliation process and the structure that
might be utilized to faciliate such process” (Government Statement, 14 June 2011). JFM was asked by the Minister’s office in
August to further develop our proposed “Restorative Justice and Repartations Scheme.” We submitted the revised scheme on
October 14 last. We are concerned by Minister Shatter’s comments in Dail Éireann yesterday that, “The Government will not
pre-empt the work of Senator McAleese’s group … When that work is complete, other issues will then be addressed.”

Dr. James Smith (Boston College), a member of JFM’s Advisory Committee, stated, “survivors should not be asked to wait for
the completion of the Committee’s work before the government address the issue of pensions or lost wages. These are legal
entitlements as distinct from compensation for abuse. Many of the women are aging and elderly and deserve action on these
fronts immediately. And, they deserve an immediate apology.”

Maeve O’Rourke added, “the Minister needs to determine a threshold for ‘state involvement with the Magdalene Laundries’,
short of the Committee’s final report, which will warrant an apology and restorative measures. Both the IHRC and UNCAT
accept JFM’s evidence of state complicity. We need to move forward on the areas that will make a difference to the lives of
these women in the short term.”

Also of grave concern to JFM is the Committee’s intention to exclude data disclosed to them by the religious orders as part of a
centralised archive established by the Committee. Citing that the orders represent the relevant ‘data controllers’ under the Data
Protection Act, the Committee maintains that “all such records will be destroyed and/or returned to the relevant Religious Order
upon conclusion of the Committee’s work and publication of its Report”. JFM committee director and co-founder, Mari Steed,
having recently fought for resolution of records control between the HSE and former Sacred Heart Adoption Society, sees a
parallel between the two data protection issues: “Given already existing evidence of State complicity in Magdalene placements
and remand of women, it is clear that the State was an ‘actor

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