The Magdalene Report: A Conclusion


Martin McAleese with the report into the Magdalene Laundries, published yesterday.

We had a chance to read it…

The mandate of the Committee (Ch 2 para 8) was to find out facts regarding State involvement in Magdalene Laundries. The report shows this involvement to be extensive and to occur through the criminal justice system (ch 9), industrial and reformatory schools (ch 10) and the mental health system (ch 11) it also shows in Ch 9 State involvement in keeping girls in laundries e.g. Gardai returning girls who had run away.

One feature of this section of the report is the fact that all state officials are referred to by their job title only and not by name. For example, the Minister for Justice is referred to without saying which Minister.

Judges are not identified even when dealing with decisions given (Ch 9 para 196 – a farcical situation arises at Ch 9 para 90 where a judge extensively involved in consultation on the laundries is described as ‘[unnamed judge] in text but is clearly identifiable from footnotes as Judge McCarthy!).

The section of the report dealing with confidentiality and data protection (para 53-57 of Ch 4) talks about the need to protect the privacy of the women even those who are deceased.

It does not talk about need to protect privacy of public officials performing public functions and failure to disclose the names of these persons does not appear to be justified by need to protect confidentiality of women.

In addition there is no attempt to link or relate the statistics appended at the end of the report to the body of Chs 9-11.

Instead stories are told in a somewhat disorganised fashion.

To the reader of Ch 9 who wants to know, for instance, how many women were sent to laundries by the courts, by which judges, when, how long they stayed and in particular whether or not any of them were retained for life, this information cannot be ascertained properly from Ch 9.

The total number of women sent to laundries by the courts (160) has to be ascertained from a different chapter, Ch 8, which (together with Appendix 4) sets out statistics with inadequate explanation.

To take a couple of examples which beg questions: women were being referred to the laundries through the court system as late as the 1980s; most of the referrals through the courts were to Sean McDermott Street and New Ross; Why? No attempt is made to explain. The statistics, overall though useful in some respects, are incomplete.

The same flaws are evident in relation to the methods of referral discussed in Chs 10 and 11.

One question highly relevant to the issue of state involvement in the laundries is how long the women referred by the State were kept there.

One would have expected, not generally, but in relation to each category of referral, details as to how many women were retained permanently and on average how long those not retained permanently stayed for.

This is not provided.

Such statistics as are provided on retention again lack explanation and beg questions – for example, why was the rate of retention in the laundry significantly higher in the 70s and 80s than in the 50s and 60s?

Although the report does show considerable State involvement, the extent of investigation into the nature of the involvement, the particular officials involved and what happened to the girls brought to the laundry by the State is extremely poor.

The emphasis generally is on narrative rather than facts and statistics.

One trend running through this part is how girls were brought to a laundry after abuse by family members. The laundry is almost portrayed as a safe harbour against such abuse.

This omits to consider the fact that, leaving aside the reality of life in the laundry, and the fact that the girls consent was not sought, the correct course of action would have been to report the abuse to the gardai.

To fail to do so was part of a cover-up.

Going beyond mandate:

In Ch 2 para 33 and 34 – the Committee says it also felt that an overall picture of life in Magdalene laundries should be given, though accepting the correctness or otherwise of this was outside its remit.

Whether or not the Committee should have done this is another question because it didn’t do it with any thoroughness or care.The chapter dealing with this Ch 19 is extremely poor from an analytical point of view.

Stories are told for instance by GPs and priests attending certain laundries.

They present a cosy picture in which the GPs are served tea and lovely food (Dr Michael Coughlan, Ch 19 para 82-86) and the women ask an unidentified priest [why unidentified when GP is identified?] for advice re. fights over one another’s bras (Ch 19 para 124). The priest says ‘you help them along like you would help your own children’.

There is no attempt whatsoever to link the evidence of the women given to the laundry in which they worked.

We do not read what the women in the specific laundries in Galway and Sean McDermott Street the subject of the GPs and priest’s comments – had to say about these comments and indeed the conditions under which they lived generally. There must have been some of them who gave evidence.

This chapter is one of narrative without any critical examination and with only one incident of reported sexual abuse involving women.(Ch 19 para 31).This section does not say how sexual abuse was defined and the question arises as to whether or not the issue of sexual abuse by male visitors to the laundry was put to the women concerned.

At this point (Ch 19 para 32) the report, inexplicably, refers back to sexual abuse of Magdalenes by family members (something already mentioned earlier, see above). An extremely disturbing feature of this chapter is the section dealing with the Ryan Report (Ch 19 para 148 onwards).

The chapter acknowledges that there is a conflict with the Ryan Report but says that no information could be obtained from the CICA (the Committee to Inquire into Child Abuse) as to the facts behind these allegations (para 152) because of the confidentiality remit under which the CICA operated.

Overall the report establishes strong State involvement with the laundries without, however particularising it and relating narrative to statistics in the way in which one would expect.

However, outside its remit and without any proper investigation it portrays the laundries in a cosy manner.

Why this is done and why it has been done in the way in which it is done is hard to understand.

The section dealing with working conditions is so poorly researched that it could not really be said to be of much value.

The section dealing with State involvement would have been of much more value if the statistics had been properly integrated, attempts made to explain the ones actually compiled and more thought taken regarding which ones to compile. Again, no answers to very simple questions are given.

Even within its mandate, never mind when it goes outside it, the report reads like a school essay instead of an investigation.

The lack of focus is evident by the lack of any executive summary at the end of these chapters and indeed the lack of any proper conclusion to the report.

But most school essays, no matter how poorly researched, would at least have a conclusion setting out the answers reached pursuant to their mandate. The report doesn’t.

Read the report here

(Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland)

89 thoughts on “The Magdalene Report: A Conclusion

    1. martco

      also worth reading by John Pascal Rodgers:

      “For the Love of My Mother” ISBN-13: 978-0755315925
      “Eggshells and Broken Dreams” ISBN-13: 978-0955023910

      John Rodgers is the son of Bridget Rodgers and wrote these books to describe the story around his mother and what went on….maybe Himmler didn’t have to look too far for ideas….


  1. Sarah

    McAleese should never have been allowed to do this report. He is a practising Catholic – and his wife is well known for kissing the papal ring on the frequent public and private visits she makes to the Pope. His findings that women were not subject to gross physical harm is disgraceful. It’s not quite a whitewash, but it does exculpate the Church of things it did do.

    1. yourcommentisawaitingmoderation

      Sarah what selection criteria would you have used instead? You can’t discriminate against someone on the basis of religion.

      1. Sarah

        Well – for one – do not hire someone who is a practicising Catholic – a conflict of interest is very naturally going to occur. Secondly, don’t hire someone who is married to someone who has described the Pope as a wonderful human. Martin may disagree with his wife on this, but it’s about optics as well – he must be seen to be cleaner than clean. I was shocked, as is everyone, about the conclusion that physical abuse was not pervasive in the Magdalen houses. There is ample first person testimony to suggest that it was.

        1. yourcommentisawaitingmoderation

          Don’t appoint a woman, because they will be sympathetic, don’t appoint anyone who has been to the Vatican because they are not impartial. Don’t be ridiculous.

        2. Blobster

          What possible bearing does the fact that Senator McAleese’s wife has described the present Pope in favourable terms?? Honestly, that’s a bizarre criticism to throw at the man!

          Thanks Broadsheet for pointing out weaknesses in the report. I’m sure others will do likewise.

          When Senator McAleese took up this role he was very widely welcomed and well regarded. By all means, point out flaws in the investigation and report but don’t criticise the chairman (there was more than the Senator who carried out this work) because of his religion (or his wife’s).

          Your comment on physical abuse and “ample first person testimony” is telling. What would you have had the enquiry do? Invent evidence to agree with your personal view of history?

          1. Blobster


            I don’t see how I was doing that. I was simply asking for the report and Senator McAleese to be taken on their merits.

      1. cluster

        Over 40% of Irish people attend a Catholic Church every week.

        The real failings here, in my view, are state and societal. Who else was offering to look after poverty-stricken girls and young women? Unmarried mothers allowance was not introduced until 1973.

        Following your logic, no Irish person should be allowed to carry out the report.

      2. deliverusfromevil

        Hilarious. They couldn’t find enough witnesses to draw conclusions. They interviewed 100 people according to lunchtime Today FM yet Newstalk sez 1000 survive.
        Tl;dr #smellslikebullsh1t

  2. Formerly known as

    The analysis shows that a proper investigation is still required. What was Senator McAleese’s qualification to generate this report, other than being the hubby of a President?

    The report relating stories from outsiders (a GP and priest) to draw a conclusion that the laundries were cosy places is ridiculous, when all the testimony I have seen from the victims is that it was a harsh environment.

      1. Bubba Top Mop

        He’s a qualified dentist.

        Hard to see how exactly he is qualified besides being married to Mary.

  3. Clark J Hazarde

    woah woah WOAH – r u saying a dentist first dude wasn’t qualified to carry out this REPORT? shurely not

    1. Rob

      Well, he’s very friendly with loyalist paramilitaries, in fairness. In a hands-across-the-divide kind of way. That helps, no?

  4. ex pat

    Agreed that statistical rigour should have underpinned this report.

    Petrified that this will lead to a full public enquiry where SC will protect the guilty who then get their exorbitant costs as was the case in what was effectively the Dublin County Council tribunal over a decade.

    Really sorry for these girls they were failed by a system that swept everything under the carpet. I don’t see how trying to apply 2013 norms to a different era will right transgressions that occurred so long ago. All it would serve to do is make a gang of solicitors richer and see public service costs elsewhere.

    1. Rob

      Nothing is going to right these transgressions, but the women who have survived should be properly compensated. Money won’t solve the problem, but it will help.

      1. ex pat

        Rob – the people that will compensate them in the main are taxpayers that were in education themselves or not even born when this system was in place. The state has got to prioritise current health and education spending over an army of lawyers getting multiple multi-grand days.

        1. yourcommentisawaitingmoderation

          The last one closed in 1996 ex-pat. It was slavery and reparations must be made. Anyway, you don’t pay tax here do you?

          1. ex pat

            I do pay tax in Ireland. The vast bulk of the numbers related to a far earlier period when the state had virtually no children’s system in place. By the late 1980’s the church had a very limited role in this sector.

            This goes to a full enquiry and there will be cuts in health and education spending; the Scarcity of Resources is far from an abstract 18th century concept at present; the big winners will not be the victims it will be a select bunch of law firms, expert in ambulance chasing.

          2. cluster

            Penal labour was legal in Ireland until 1997 (Still is in the US). 26% of the women were in there because of an encounter with the penal justice system.

        2. Rob

          I’m sorry but the State and/or the church can’t lock people up, torture them, abuse them, beat them, degrade them and hold them in forced servidute – slavery, effectively – and then give a half-arsed apology and expect it to be all ok. I don’t want to see lawyers being paid a fortune either, but a generous payment for each of the survivors based on the number of years they spent in these institutions should be issued. Given the complete shite we spend our money on in this country I don’t think there’s many that would disagree on this one.

          1. ex pat

            All of these acts were overseen by the system; take Mannix Flynn for instance, commits a crime, gets sentenced by a court, is incarcerated for a specified period of time at an industrial school. Nothing wrong so far. That specific people committed specific acts is unforgivable and a Cameron-esque apology is most certainly due. That is the extent of what should be due.

        3. Paul2

          I must disagree with you Ex-Pat. The state has an obligation to compensate survivors. If the state denies its responsibilities, then so too can the religious orders.

          You cannot draw a line in time and say because a sizeable proportion of the population were not born at the time of these events, the state does not have any responsibility.

          In order to protect citizens now and going forward, the state must be held accountable for past abuses.

          1. Kath

            Its very difficult for me to accept the fact that the gov’t spending of €3million on a website (that may or may not bring in more tourism) is a-okay but compensating those treated as subhuman slaves in abject brutality is given a pass? No, I don’t believe money will ever make up for what was done, but its a start.

      1. ex pat

        This was not slavery, it was an outdated form of incarceration; abhorrent by todays norms but unlike slavery there was a release date. The title of some of these institutions were ‘Industrial Schools’ the aim being to teach a trade; no one is saying that the correct balance between instruction and work persisted but to those outside the walls of these institutions it was assumed these people came out with a specific skill set that had a market demand.

        1. Rob

          Why are you trying to explain away and minimise the suffering these women endurred? I don’t get it.

          They were detained and used as a resource against their will. They were starved, abused, humiliated – and when they stepped out of line or didn’t meet their work quota they were beaten and tortured. You’re making out like they were on a fu(king FAS course!

          1. droid

            Dont you get it Rob? The real issue here is that we’re broke and we cant afford to compensate or pay legal fees as we have to give all of our money to failed banks instead.

            Moral and ethical concerns are irrelevant. Laws and such dont apply to the little people, especially women, and anyway, it all happened ages ago, and everyone thought that slavery and abuse was fine back then.

          2. cluster

            They were not all detained against their will. The majority were self-referred, no?

            Another 26% were effectively serving a sentence of penal labour. Not allowed now but legal in Ireland until 1997.

        2. droid

          I hate to resort to dictionary definitions, but sometimes it’s the only appropriate response as you dont seem to know what the word means:


          1. (Law) the state or condition of being a slave; a civil relationship whereby one person has absolute power over another and controls his life, liberty, and fortune
          2. the subjection of a person to another person, esp in being forced into work
          3. the condition of being subject to some influence or habit
          4. (Business / Industrial Relations & HR Terms) work done in harsh conditions for low pay

          1. teal

            or NO pay. many of the women who survived these appalling circumstances simply want compensation or a pension for all the years they were in forced labour with no pay. how much more like slavery can it get before people will comfortably use the term?

  5. AmeliaBedelia

    I read most of it too. The statistical analysis is skewed because of the amount of ‘unknowns’ is sizeable, up to almost half in most instances, and because of the problems of missing or unavailable records from the state and non-state bodies under review. The picture is certainly far from complete and this statement in the introduction is therefore debatable [2.17] “It is possible that some more detail could be added with more time, but the Committee is of the view that such additional time or probing would, at best, add only marginally to the facts already clearly and unambiguously established in this Report.”

    1. SDaedalus

      Amelia, I don’t think they even do their best with the statistics they have.

      Really important if to know how long the inmates referred in each individual category and sub-category stayed, also the no of years each of them stayed – all detention is bad but a 20 year old being admitted and staying for life far worse on its face than a 60 year old.

      The State’s role did not just relate to having these women admitted, if it had them admitted for specific period or purpose it had (independently of whether the initial admission was wrong, which of course it was, being without authority) a duty to see that they were released when it was over. The report should have looked into this too.

      1. AmeliaBedelia

        They fail to indicate sufficiently in the executive summary the problems with their datasets (and their usage) that the ‘statistics’ quoted with confidence by some government members are in fact merely suggestive rather than entirely reliable.

          1. deliverusfromevil

            For 45% of guests there was no record of why they were there. Many were sent by priests or family, no hint how they were assessed and judged.

  6. Murtles

    More outrageous amounts of money thrown at a job that ends up being half done half assed. I never knew it was possible to screw up an apology, but take a bow Mr Kenny.

      1. Sgt. Bilko

        + 1. You don’t go to a lawyer for root canal work. You shouldn’t give a dentist a job of work that should have been carried out by a lawyer.

        1. cluster

          The problem is that if a lawyer had been asked, the report would still not be finished and would cost an inordiante amount.

  7. Joanypony

    Is it me, or is the main message they’re trying to put out one of: ” Ah sure, it was bad, but Jaysus, it wasn’t near as bad as the stuff we found in the Ryan Report. And sure didn’t the poor girls have a roof over their heads..”

    1. Kevin

      It is worth considering what would’ve been the fate of some of these women if they hadn’t been incarcerated in the laundries. Most of the other likely possibilities were awful too.

      That’s not to defend the laundries, they are indefensible. Ireland was an awful place for many of its citizens back then.

        1. deliverusfromevil

          Eh, they washed linen for swanky hotels and bishop’s palaces, and put the Protestant laundries out of business who paid a small wage and aimed to train their charges.
          “The Story of the Court Laundry” Robert Tweedy, Wolfhound Press.
          The vicars of Christ preach mercy and love, why the relentless barbarity in practice?

  8. Am I Still on This Island

    In future can I suggest we save the furture reports and the bull and just lets accept some horrible facts

    From the prior to the formation of the state stay 1919-1990’s agent of the government & establishment regularly allowed their moral compass to be guided by the Roman Catholic Church.

    Agents of the State were complicate in facilitating church and State employees in the Physical, Mental and emotional Abuse of children in their care.
    The church and state were complicate in using wards of the state and others for SLAVE Labour. For this there is no applying modern noms slavery had been outlawed for nearly 100 years in the 1950’s.

    The Church and State were complicate in the theft of children from their mothers and taking the childhood of many others.

    As at present date the state has paid remuneration to some individuals.

    The Roman Catholic Church has paid none.

    What should happen is going forward, the state seizes Church assets in lieu of its failure to contribute to victim’s remuneration fund, starting with Schools/Colleges/Hospitals.

    That no religious organisation is allowed to contribute to Government or state business going forward.

      1. Bubba Top Mop


        Especially when you consider that the Church (and its various religious orders) own a whole pile of land and buildings they have no use for whatsoever.

        There are a fair few convents with a token number of aged nuns living in them. Building that formerly had maybe a 100 nuns living there now with 10/15 aged nuns living in them.

        Whats going to happen these buildings in 10-20 years when the last of these aged nuns dies out?

    1. cluster

      The RCC does not deserve the blame on this one. These institutions were legal and were well-known about.

      By all means, seize their properties to pay for redress for the churches many other victims (industrial school abuse etc.)

  9. Liam

    Reading the report telling how GPs and priests found the laundries “cosy” places, I can’t help but think of the Roscommon “house of horrors” case and how social workers were given tea and cake in the living room while the children they were there to check up on were barely surviving in a rodent-infested hellhole on the other side of the living room wall. And yet in this report, the polite face of the laundries shown to the pillars of society is taken as proof enough that everything was grand.
    Will this country never change? Will it never learn? Does it want to?

    1. Bubba Top Mop

      The notion that the opinion of GPs visiting for an hour or two on a Sunday being given tea and cake in the best room is somehow ths same, if not more valid than people who were trapped in these institutions every single minute of every single day for long stretches of their lives is fairly revolting stuff.

      1. Ureii

        Godwin klaxxon !!but The international Red Cross were pleased with the conditions they witnessed in theresienstadt.

  10. The Citizen

    It annoys me that someone like Kenny can be a politician for 28 years and a teacher for 5 and still be known by the latter. Bit Irish. The same with Martin McAleese, he’s not just a “dentist”. No one apart from his wife knows more about the presidency of Ireland than he does. His work throughout the peace process was invaluable as was his support to a very good presidency.

    All that being said, this report is inane and does a great disservice to all connected to the laundries.
    The statistical analysis chapter is laughable in its presentation of the same (irrelevant through gaps) data in first a pie chart, then a graph, then a few wavy colours etc.

    There are no conclusions.

    The terms of reference are used as both armour and a carpet.

    And most unforgivably: it is very badly written.

    If this was a “real” editorial from Broadsheet rather than the usual Skibbereen Eagle shite then well done. Probably need a way of differentiating though, just saying.

    1. SDaedalus

      He may know about the Presidency but that’s not the same as doing a report like this. It is a task for not just a politician but a politician experienced in the task of interviewing people, collating data or at least supervising such work.

      I can’t speak for Mr McAleese’s religious views but what is clear is that whoever was behind this report was an incurable Pollyanna who wants to believe that illegal interference with people’s liberty was all just a big misunderstanding and everyone meant well.

      Basically he appears to have approached it in the same way as a peace process.

    2. frillykeane

      Interestingly Martie McAleese qualified as an Accountant and worked in a Top Tier firm in Dublin before studying Dent.

      So his flimsy stats and waffley awfully blanketty blank script must have been expected …hense his selection

    3. frillykeane

      I suspect Mary and Nick Robinson are equally knowing about Presidency stuff.

      And I doubt they’d speak so softly in a report into the State sponsered Magdalene Slave Trade

  11. totalledge

    It’s not the most hard-hitting investigative report ever, I’ll give you that, but the title of the report is “Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen Laundries”.

    The key words there are “to establish the facts”, not to draw conclusions, not to apportion blame, not come up with some sort of conclusion.

    Martin McAleese is not a journalist, he couldn’t follow the story if he thought he was on to something juicy, he had to stick to his remit. It’s not fair to give him a kicking for this.

    What his previous profession has to do with it, I have no idea; the Flood/Moriarty/McCracken tribunals were left to the lawyers, how did that pan out?

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