Tag Archives: Magdalene


This afternoon.

Justice for Magdalenes Research (JFMR), the National Women’s Council of Ireland, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and Amnesty International (Ireland) today called on the government to honour the promise it made to Magdalene survivors in June 2013, to
implement all of Mr Justice John Quirke’s recommendations for a Magdalene restorative justice scheme.

Criticising the Redress for Women Resident in Certain Institutions Bill 2014, Maeve O’Rourke of JFMR said: “This draft legislation does not meet Judge Quirke’s recommendation on healthcare for Magdalene women. It is an obvious and unacceptable paring back of what the government promised as part of the women’s redress package. Judge Quirke could not have been clearer in recommending that each woman should receive a card entitling her to the full range of health s ervices provided to state infected Hepatitis C survivors under the HAA card scheme.

Instead, the Bill promises little more than the regular medical card, which most of the women already have.” Ms O’Rourke’s criticism comes exactly 23 months after Enda Kenny’s emotional apology to Magdalene survivors on 19th February 2013.

Pic via Claire McGettrick

Previously: Magdalene Laundries on broadsheet

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 11.55.49

Last night’s Tonight with Vincent Browne was hosted by Tom McGurk and its panel included  Labour Party TD, Michael McNamara; United Left Alliance TD, Clare Daly; Deirdre Duffy, of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties; and Michael Clifford, of the Irish Examiner.

A short clip of Sir Nigel Rodley’s final comments at the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva, Switzerland yesterday was played during the show, specifically this comment:

“The Magdalene Laundries, the Mother and Baby Homes, the child abuse, the symphysiotomy – it’s quite a collection and it’s a collection that has carried on [for a] period that it’s hard to imagine any state party tolerating. And I guess I can’t prevent myself from observing that [they] are not disconnected from the institutional belief system that has predominated in the state party.”

The panel then discussed this comment.

Tom McGurk: “Is it the fault of the State? Is it the fault of society? Has it got historical roots? Is it just fair to blame the State as simple as he is doing there?”

Clare Daly: “I don’t think it was simple at all. I think he was quite clear, I think his contribution was very much a solid defence of human rights and I think it was a vindication of a huge number of campaigning Irish groups, particularly women’s groups in some ways, to feel what they’ve been saying, maybe crying in the wilderness for years, has actually been vindicated now because on the whole symphysiotomy issue which was the first time that group ended up in front of the UN. I mean the committee were clearly horrified at what had gone on. These women had been butchered in their prime. He made the point that the UN had serious concerns about the fact that the redress scheme, that the government has put in place, is not compatible with our human rights legislation which I think is a hugely important step, because these elderly ladies have been trying to make that point here. When somebody externally makes that point which supports them, it actually shores up what they’ve been saying in an important way.”

McGurk: “Sure, but did it not need context, to understand where all of this came from? I mean it’s a very complicated…”

Daly: “It’s not that complicated really.”

McGurk: “Well explain what the medical profession were doing and where that came from.”

Daly: “Well this is a very simple issue of gross medical negligence, which is a point that the Irish State seemed to have not taken on board because it was never medically acceptable in the period in which these were…”

McGurk: “But where did it come from Clare? Widespread practice…”

Daly: “It came from, I suppose the belief is, a Catholic ideology existing in some of the private hospitals which felt that if you were a woman of child-bearing years well then your Catholic duty was to procreate as much as possible. And if your body, if you like, didn’t allow you, because of your shape or whatever, Caesarian sections obviously limit the amount of pregnancies you could have. So they chose, instead, to carry out this butchery of literally, and you know, the testimony is horrific but carving people up with saws in some instances. Instead to facilitate them childbearing, but it led to a lifelong disability, incontinence, lack of interest in sex, and huge difficulties in all of the years. And the idea that that would not be acknowledged is wrong which it hasn’t been by the Irish State. It’s just appalling to these women and instead we have this shabby little redress scheme with a paltry amount of compensation and that the women have to forfeit all of their legal rights before they can even access it. It’s completely wrong. This is gross medical negligence and should be compensated as such.”

McGurk: “Michael, has it been accepted as wrong?”

Michael McNamara: “By the State?”

McGurk: “Yeah.”

McNamara: “Well, I mean there is an ex-gratia compensation scheme but one of the issues with the State, I understand, is criticised for, and I didn’t see the entirety of the hearing, was the fact that there wasn’t a proper process of finding fault, in effect, and apportioning blame. But I suppose there has been a compensation scheme and I suppose, to many women, that will bring closure, but obviously the human rights committee…”

Daly: “The women have met, hundreds of them met last weekend, and it’s been unanimously rejected. I mean if you compare for example the Lourdes Hospital redress scheme where the women’s wombs were taken, there was €45million allocated to that scheme. The amount of payment was substantially more and it was deemed to be medical negligence and in this scheme the courts have awarded between €300,000 and €600,000 and yet this scheme is saying between €50,000  and €150,000 for permanent  lifelong disabilities and pain, that’s no compensation. But I think what’s more affront for the women is that nowhere has the State recognised and this is what the UN validated today, if you like, that it was a violation of human rights and  that it shouldn’t have happened, it was medically unwarranted, it should not have happened.”

McGurk: “Do you see Deirdre this as having considerable impact?”

Deirdre Duffy: “Yes, I do and I think…”

McGurk: “It’s different to something before, in many ways?”

Duffy: “Well, I think it can have as much impact as we want it to have, as a country, as a society, as a Cabinet, a Government that’s going to move on now. And Tom, you asked a series of questions about what happened back in the day, why did this occur, and that actually is what Sir Rodley was getting at. Michael [McNamara] used the term blame but actually the word that he [Rodley] used was accountability. So what he said was that even though this Government has put in place a redress scheme, they’ve allocated money, they’re focusing only on the pecuniary impact of this or the pecuniary redress. So what he’s saying is that you need to look further, you need to look at truth finding and accountability mechanisms because, you raised the questions yourself, it’s not clear to everyone within Ireland, why this happened..and how this happened.”

McGurk: “Yes, where did this come from?”

Duffy: “Now there have been reports, a number of independent reports from survivors and also  State-sponsored reports which survivors claim were not independent and not thorough and would find numerous faults with. But I think what’s important for us right now is what Sir Rodley said around the collection of activities that I suppose produce a, or refer to our past, past abuses. So issues like the Magdalenes, the mother and baby homes,  the symphysiotomy and the child abuse, these are relics of our past that we need to deal with and  sweeping them under the carpet and allocating some form of  monetary compensation to women – because it’s all women – is not going to be good enough. It does not meet the…”

McGurk: “So ideally, how should the State deal with this? Spell it out then?”

Duffy: “Well it should set up independent inquiries. It’s something that the ICCL, the Survivors of Symphysiotomy and other groups, Justice for Magdalenes,  have been calling for for a number of years. We know we’re going to get an inquiry into the mother and baby homes, under the Commission of Investigations Act 2004, so why not have an inquiry into this collective, as Sir Rodley called it, series of abuses?”

Watch in full here

Mag3 Mag4Professor Gordon Lynch, of Kent University has collaborated with the Magdalene Institutions: Recording an Archival and Oral History Project to produce educational materials on the Magdalene Laundries, directed to 16-year-old and/or Transition Year students.

In a short film, Magdalene survivor Gabrielle O’Gorman (above) revisits the the Sean MacDermott Magdalene Laundry for the first time since her incarceration.

She was sent there by nuns when they disapproved of her relationship with a boy when she was 17.

She later escaped but was returned by the Gardaí, only to be sent to the Good Shepherd Laundry in Limerick, where she was told she would be called ‘Stella’.

This film was funded by the University of Kent, and completed with the help of the Women’s Studies Centre at University College Dublin who led an Irish Research Council project on the Magdalene Institutions.

Watch here

H/T: Women’s Museum of Ireland

Previously: All Apologies

A Question Of Sex, Gender And Class

Magdalene Further to the news that the four religious orders that Martin McAleese investigated – the Mercy Sisters, the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, the Sisters of Charity and the Good Shepherd Sisters – are refusing to contribute to the Magdalene Laundry redress scheme, which is estimated to cost €58million, the Magdalene Survivors Together group is calling on Catholics to boycott mass.

RTÉ reports:

Irish Catholics have been urged to boycott weekend Masses in protest at the refusal of the congregations of nuns which owned Magdalene laundries to contribute to the redress fund for survivors of the institutions.”

“The call has been made by the Magdalene Survivors Together group which also accuses Taoiseach Enda Kenny of siding with the orders on the issue.”

“In a statement, the group’s spokesman, Steven O’Riordan, said survivors need the public’s support because the Government is “totally out of its depth”.

“He also called on ministers to exempt the women from the Statute of Limitations so that they can sue the four congregations concerned.”


Catholics urged to boycott mass over Magdalene fund (RTÉ)

Pic: Gloucester Street Magdalenes via Limerick Museum


A tearful Enda Kenny in the Dáil, in the last few minutes:

“This is a national shame.”

Pic: RTÉ

His speech, which can be watched here, in full below:

“I begin today’s debate by thanking Dr Martin McAleese and his team for their excellent work on this report.

I thank equally all the women who met with them to assist in its compilation. I also thank the religious orders who cooperated fully with Dr. McAleese.

Together they have helped provide Ireland with a document of truth.

The Magdalene laundries have cast a long shadow over Irish life over our sense of who we are.

It’s just two weeks since we received this report: the first-ever detailed Report into the State’s involvement in the Magdalene Laundries.

It shines a bright and necessary light on a dark chapter of Ireland’s history.

On coming to office the Government was determined to investigate the facts of the State’s involvement.

The government was adamant that these ageing and elderly women would get the compassion and the recognition for which they have fought for so long deserved so deeply and had, until now, been so abjectly denied.

The reality is that for 90 years Ireland subjected these women and their experience to a profound and studied indifference.

“I was determined because of this that this Government – this Dáil – would take the necessary time not just to commission the Report but to actually study it and having done so to reflect on its findings.

I believe that was the best way to formulate a plan and strategy that would help us make amends for the State’s role in the hurt of these extraordinary women.

I’m glad that so many of the women themselves agreed with that approach.

And I’m glad that this time of reflection gave me the chance to do the most important thing of all: to meet personally with the Magdalene Women. To sit down with them, face to face, to listen to their stories.

It was a humbling and inspiring experience.

“Today, as their Taoiseach, I am privileged to welcome some of these women to this House many of whom have travelled long distances to be here.

I warmly welcome you every one of you to your national parliament, to Dail Eireann.

What we discuss today is your story. What we address today is how you took this country’s terrible ‘secret’ and made it your own. Burying it carrying it in your hearts here at home, or with you to England and to Canada America and Australia on behalf of Ireland and the Irish people.

“But from this moment on you need carry it no more. Because today we take it back. Today we acknowledge the role of the State in your ordeal.

We now know that the State itself was directly involved in over a quarter of all admissions to the Magdalene Laundries.

Be it through the social services reformatories psychiatric institutions county homes the prison and probation service and industrial schools.

“In fact we have decided to include all the Magdalene women in our response regardless of how they were admitted.

Dr McAleese set out to investigate five areas in particular;

1: The routes by which the women entered the laundries
2: Regulations of the workplace and State inspections
3: State funding of and financial assistance to the laundries
4: The routes by which the girls and women left the laundries
5: Death registrations, burials and exhumations

In all five areas there was found to be direct State involvement.

“As I read this Report and as I listened to these women, it struck me that for generations Ireland had created a particular portrait of itself as a good living God-fearing nation.

Through this and other reports we know this flattering self-portrait to be fictitious.

It would be easy to explain away all that happened – all we did in those great moral and social salves of ‘the culture back then’ = the ‘order of the day’, ‘the terrible times that were in it’.

“Yes, by any standards it was a cruel, pitiless Ireland distinctly lacking in a quality of mercy. That much is clear, both from the ages of the Report, and from the stories of the women I met.

As I sat with these women as they told their stories it was clear that while every woman’s story was different each of them shared a particular experience of a particular Ireland judgemental intolerant petty and prim.

In the laundries themselves some women spent weeks others months more of them years. But the thread that ran through their many stories was a palpable sense of suffocation not just physical in that they were incarcerated but psychological .spiritual social. Their stories were enriched by an astonishing vividness of recall of situation and circumstance.

“Here are some of the things I read in the report and they said directly to me:

“The work was so hard, the regime was cruel.”
“I felt all alone, nobody wanted me.”
“They sent me because they thought I was going to a good school.”
“I seen these older people beside me, I used cry myself to sleep.”
“I was bold, I wasn’t going to school.”
“I was locked up I thought I would never get out.”
“We had to sew at night even when we were sick.”
“I heard a radio sometimes in the distance.”
“We were not allowed to talk to each other.”
“Your letters were checked.”
“I was so short I needed a stool to put washing in.”
“The noise was desperate.”
“I thought I would go mad from the silence.”
“The heat was unbelievable.”
“I broke a cup once and had to wear it hanging around my neck for three days.”
“I felt always tired always wet .always humiliated.”
“My father came for me after three months but I was too ashamed to go home.”
“I never saw my Mam again she died while I was in there.”

“The Magdalene Women might have been told that they were washing away a wrong or a sin but we know now and to our shame they were only ever scrubbing away our nation’s shadow.

Today, just as the State accepts its direct involvement in the Magdalene Laundries society too has its responsibility.

I believe I speak for millions of Irish people all over the world when I say we put away these women because .for too many years we put away our conscience.

We swapped our personal scruples for a solid public apparatus that kept us in tune and in step with a sense of what was ‘proper behaviour’ or the ‘appropriate view’ according to a sort of moral code that was fostered at the time particularly in the 1930s, 40s and 50s.

“We lived with the damaging idea that what was desirable and acceptable in the eyes of the Church and the State was the same and interchangeable.

Is it this mindset then this moral subservience that gave us the social mores the required and exclusive ‘values’ of the time that welcomed the compliant, obedient and lucky ‘us’ and banished the more problematic, spirited or unlucky ‘them’?

And to our nation’s shame it must be said that if these women had managed to scale the high walls of the laundries they’d have had their work cut out for them to negotiate the height and the depth of the barricades around society’s ‘proper’ heart. For we saw difference as something to be feared and hidden rather than embraced and celebrated.

“But were these our ‘values’?

Because we can ask ourselves for a State – least of all a republic.
What is the ‘value’ of the tacit and unchallenged decree that saw society humiliate and degrade these girls and women?”

What is the ‘value’ of the ignorance and arrogance that saw us publicly call them ‘Penitents’ for their ‘crime’ of being poor or abused or just plain unlucky enough to be already the inmate of a reformatory, or an industrial school or a psychiatric institution?

We can ask ourselves as the families we were then what was worthy what was good about that great euphemism of ‘putting away’ our daughters our sisters our aunties ?

Those ‘values’ those failures those wrongs characterised Magdalene Ireland.

“Today we live in a very different Ireland with a very a different consciousness awareness – an Ireland where we have more compassion empathy insight heart.

We do because at last we are learning those terrible lessons. We do because at last we are giving up our secrets.

We do because in naming and addressing the wrong, as is happening here today, we are trying to make sure we quarantine such abject behaviour in our past and eradicate it from Ireland’s present and Ireland’s future.

“In a society guided by the principles of compassion and social justice there never would have been any need for institutions such as the Magdalene Laundries.

The Report shows that the perception that the Magdalene Laundries were reserved for what were offensively and judgementally called “fallen women” is not based upon fact at all but upon prejudice. The women are and always were wholly blameless.

Therefore, I, as Taoiseach, on behalf of the State, the government and our citizens deeply regret and apologise unreservedly to all those women for the hurt that was done to them, and for any stigma they suffered, as a result of the time they spent in a Magdalene Laundry. Continue reading


Via Justin McCarthy Today Fm

Solidarity With The Magdalenes is a Facebook page set up by supporters of the magdalenes.

They will be meeting tomorrow at the gates of Stephen’s Green, Dublin, at 11.30am to put flowers at a memorial bench [unveiled by Mary Robinson in 1996] to those who worked in the laundries (above) in the green.

You can show your support here.

In Cork there will be flowers laid at St Joseph’s Graveyard on the Tory Top Road tomorrow at 2pm.

Thanks Rachel Robinson

Pic: Magdalenelaundries.com

Meanwhile, in March

Joe Little on RTÉ Nine O’Clock News discussing the Magdalene Laundry report, age and contrition.

Joe Little: “I think their (survivors’) greatest disappoint is that although the accusation of profiteering which was levelled against the nuns was dissected carefully by the committee, there was no similar dissection of the allegation that there was slave labour involved. And I think that remains the big question mark hanging over this and the big moral argument facing the Cabinet.”

Eileen Dunne: “Now official Ireland reacted today in the shape of the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice and also the Orders. Where do those reactions leave them?”

Little: “Well the Taoiseach’s regret, while very sincere, this was the way Ireland was back then, and between the 20s and the 50s, in particular, is to be expected. Anyone with an iota of empathy would regret that I think. Certainly in my age group, we would regret very much that this was going on, under our noses.”

A ‘Magdalen Girl’, name and date unknown.


Four congregations ran the Magdalene Laundries: The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, the Mercy Sisters, the Sisters of Charity and the Good Shepherd Sisters across Ireland.

It’s believed 30,000 women were incarcerated between 1922 and 1996. They have claimed the State, most notably the gardaí, knew the nuns behind the laundries were holding these women involuntarily.

Today’s report is a response to a UN Committee Against Torture’s call for an investigation into the residents’ claims.

Records were available for eight of the ten laundries investigated. Two ran by the Sisters of Mercy (Galway and Dún Laoghaire) did not have records.

What the Taoiseach told the Dáil:

The report deals not with 30,000 women but with 10,012. He said the actual number of known admissions was 14,607, as some women entered the laundries more than once.

He said the State was involved in just 26% of cases whereby women were sent to the laundries.

The average age was 23, the median age was 20, the youngest girl was nine, the oldest woman was 89.

He said just over 10% of women sent to the laundries were sent there by their families, and 19% went there themselves.

There was no evidence of sexual abuse at the laundries.

He said “destitution and poverty” were among the reasons women ended up in the laundries.

He said the stigma of being a resident should have been removed and he was sorry it has not happened sooner.

More here.

Read the report here. 

Pic via Aine Phillips 

UPDATE: Magdalene Survivors Reject Taoiseach’s Apology (breakingnews.ie)