The Magdalene Report: A Conclusion


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


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)

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