Memory Laundering


From top: The former ‘Gloucester Street’ Magdalene Laundry, Sean McDermott Street, Dublin 1; the plans for a 351-bed hotel on the site by  Japanese hotel chain Toyoko Inn; Gary Gannon

“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” – George Orwell.

Dublin City Council has identified a preferred bidder for the Sean McDermott Street site that contains the last Magdalene Laundry to cease its operations, and the only former religious controlled laundry of its type that is currently in the possession of the State.

Last Tuesday, I was invited along with the seven other councillors who were elected to the North Inner City ward of Dublin City Council for an update on the proposed sale of the “Sean McDermott Convent Site”.

As I have been quite vocal about the importance of preserving this site as a centre of commemoration and remembrance to the victims and the survivors of not only this, but all religious controlled institutions of incarceration that have existed in this State since our foundation, I attended this meeting with some apprehension for what I was to be presented with.

I had anticipated being disappointed by any potential sale of a site of such enormous social and cultural importance to the shared memory of the Irish people, but in the week that has followed, my emotions upon remembering that meeting have been a heavy assortment of anger, sadness, and disbelief that such disregard could be shown to the suffering that occurred to Irish women on this site.

Dublin City Council’s preferred bidder for the site is the Japanese Hotel chain, Toyoko Inn. It is their intention to build a 351 bed hotel on this site.

They operate a type of no-frills business hotel model and have a reputation for almost exclusively hiring women with over 95% of their workforce being exclusively female. In 2015, the Toyoko Inn group purchased the Kinsealy Estate of former Taoiseach Charles Haughey.

In reporting on that sale, the quoted from an English language flyer for the hotel group which referred to the benefits of the unusual hiring practice:

“Beginning with the manager, the majority of our front desk and housekeeping staff are women,” it said. “Their dedicated efforts ensure a pleasant and comfortable stay for all our guests.”

I am very much open to being informed otherwise but it seems to be a cruel joke that given what occurred at this site for over one hundred years, where impoverished women were forced to clean the dirty bed-sheets of the major hotels in the city to generate huge profits for the religious institutions, that very shortly on this same site there will once again be people of low-income being paid relatively very little to clean and serve the needs of others in order to generate enormous wealth for a foreign institution.

The hotel group also intend to build a 140 bed student residence on the site. I have no problem at all with the emergence of student accommodation around the city but given that they come with no Part V conditions nor rent control for the students trying to access them, they are merely being used as means to exploit wealthier international students in their current form.

The proposal also includes ten residential units. I’ll repeat that because when I first heard it I couldn’t quite grasp what was being said to me. The proposal includes the plans for ten residential units. Ten. Four of which will be social units and six that will be sold privately.

That is ten units in the middle of the worst housing crisis in the history of the State in which people are dying on our streets and over 3000 homeless children are being crammed into family hubs and single room hotel accommodation.

There will be a cultural amenity on the site; a type of concert hall that will be built in what was previously the Church in the convent quarters of the former Magdalene Laundry. In normal circumstances I would be thrilled by such a development but it isn’t anticipated that this would be a public amenity but rather owned and operated by the purchaser.

This is of course their right as owners but this was once a place of communal gathering for the local community, and agnostic as I may be, I must admit that this particular church was one of beauty.

There are some retail units also planned and the welcome addition of a small community space for a youth drug rehabilitation project that currently operates out of the laundry. But what is not in the plans, is any reference at all to a memorial that was promised to the surviving women of the Magdalene Laundries.

This memorial to the victims was a recommendation made by Justice Quirke in 2013 and is something that many of the survivors and their representative groups hold very dear. I and other Councillors at this meeting did enquire as to the location of the memorial and it was suggested that it would be decided after the sale by the new owners of the site in consultation with DCC.

Quite literally, the memorial to the women incarcerated at this laundry and others will be an after-thought. That is both reprehensible and unforgivable.

To me, the sale of this former Magdalene laundry site represents the final stage of the cover up of abuse, coercion and control of women in this country. Only a fortnight after an ombudsman report found that many survivors were wrongfully denied redress, the deliberate attempts to forget and to airbrush our shameful past is almost complete.

You can stop this sale though. The final decision to dispose of council land is a reserved function of elected members to Dublin City Council.

I strongly encourage you to contact your local Councillors and inform them not to accept neither this sale, nor any other disposal of this property that doesn’t contain a suitable memorial that honours and commemorates the Magdalene women both past and present.

And most importantly, a memorial that is designed in consultation with the survivors themselves and the various different representative groups who have fought alongside them for many years.

Gary Gannon is a Social Democrats Councillor on Dublin City Counicil for Dublin’s North Inner City.  Follow Gary on Twitter: @1garygannon

Previously: The Last Laundry

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35 thoughts on “Memory Laundering

  1. Killian G

    I know this is probably a massively naive question, but I (!) always wonder..

    With something like this, why can’t DCC simply develop it into residential apartments itself – and recoup the cost by selling however many units necessary privately, and using whatever’s left for public housing.

    It would cost the council nothing, but in return it would get x amount of public housing units and introduce y amount of additional private housing units to the market (relieving some pressure on rents and property prices).

    1. Donal

      I believe the answer is that they have been discouraged from this by governmental policy over recent decades, and the collapse of PPP schemes in various places in city when the private sector side of the partnership collapsed in 2008 (McNamara in Inchicore was one I think?) has reduced further their desire to be developers.

      It is much easier to sell the land but in a fashion whereby they know what the buyer will build, and they know that the buyer has the financing to complete the build

    1. sarklor

      Just a casual reminder that a certain Councillor’s family have interests in the kind of pubs that wouldn’t exist in their current form if certain areas were to be regenerated.

  2. Rob_G

    I wonder what the unemployment rate is in the area surrounding Sean McDerrmott St is, and I wonder how many jobs a 351-bed hotel would provide?

      1. Brother Barnabas

        Good question, Andrew.

        How many people from the area do you think would be offered a job on the hotel?

        I’ve a friend from Sean McDermot St who was tired sending out CVs without a single reply. I suggested he use my address. First CV he sent, he got called for interview.

        Weird. Or not.

          1. Brother Barnabas

            That’s something I’m not at liberty to answer.

            But I can’t stop you thinking it, can I?

            And you’re free to read between the lines.

            You know what I’m saying?

  3. snowey

    time and society must move on.
    This doesn’t mean we don’t remember and respect the past and I agree a memorial would be appropriate.

    However I find emotive stuff like this (below) grating.

    “I am very much open to being informed otherwise but it seems to be a cruel joke that given what occurred at this site for over one hundred years, ”

    employing women has no connection to the women previously enslaved on the same site.
    Just makes GG lose the argument with such nonsense.

    1. snowey

      I agree a memorial would be appropriate.

      just to clarify , I mean a plaque or statue – not something that would stop the hotel or other developments.

  4. Kid Creole Jensen

    I dont know why Broadsheet gives so much publicity to members of the social democrats over other parties.

    1. Killian G

      BS seems to be a fairly open platform to me…. I bet if Leo wanted to pen a weekly column, he’d be more than welcome

  5. Rob_G

    So, in summation, these are the things that Cllr. Gannon does not want done with the site:

    – construction of a hotel that will provide jobs in the hospitality industry (and additional jobs in the building industry during the contruction phase)
    – construction of student accomodation, that would ease the housing crisis (albeit in a small way)
    – construction of a small number of residential units (60/40 mix of private/social housing)

    Instead, he wants to turn this vast empty building in a deprived area of the north inner city into… a memorial, providing no jobs nor accomodation for anyone.

    Vote Gannon #1: he’s strong on grandstanding political gestures, though less strong on measures that would actually improve the lives of his constituents or benefit his area in any way.

    1. Harry Molloy

      It’s much more appropriate with his brand of politics to state what you’re against. Helps people know what to be pissed off about.

    2. Barry the Hatchet

      Rob, your reading comprehension is obviously not the best. He’s not saying the whole site should be turned into a memorial. He said, for instance, that he was in favour (in principle) of the plans for a concert hall. His objection is, amongst other things, that the memorial is an afterthought. If the council were suggesting turning the building into social housing, with public amenities and an appropriate memorial, I think he would probably be in favour. And I have to say I agree with him.

      1. Rob_G

        Nothing wrong with my reading comprehension, Barry, although I appreciate your concern.

        Cllr Cannon seems to have some aversion to any vacant property within DCC limits being used for anything other than social housing or a publicly-funded amenity (he was ok with a concert hall as a public amenity, but not one that would be owned by the nasty developers who actually would purchase it).

        While social housing and publicly-funded amenities are of course important things for a city to have, there needs to be some economic activity in cities to pay the rates to fund these things. DCC can’t turn every plot of land it owns into social housing; it would go broke. This development would provide jobs, and would even provide (a few) social housing units to boot – it is a good compromise. I would be interested to hear what Gannon’s plans are to alleviate the housing crisis and to provide jobs in his area.

        1. Rob_G

          – which is not to mention his dreadfully condescending attitude to people working in the hospitality sector.

        2. Jw

          Well why don’t they make an effort to tackle the housing problem instead of sitting on thier fat arses and talking poo and the health services and the shortage of guards and the discrimination against people living in areas of the inner city every body can’t afford a house in leafy foxrock .Jw.

  6. Baz

    Gary dreams of a North Korean like Ireland where property is seized and turned into memorials

    That’s the height of Gary’s Pygmy thinking.

      1. Andrew

        Poor Erica. Is she getting tired of her ‘forever home’ already? Will the terrible oppression ever cease?
        The council should get a team down to her gaff immediately to sort this out.

  7. bisted

    …any neutral would agree that Catherine Murphy has been one of the most effective and consistent performers in the Dail…that she would dilute (or pollute) that effectiveness by letting opportunists like Ann Marie McNally or lightweights like Gary Gannon sully her reputation is amazing…

  8. Mark Dowling

    The site should be acquired by the State. Instead it is being left in the hands of DCC who are (as all local authorities are) stuck for cash and cannot simply leave it as is or operate it as a museum. DCC get all the blame for turning it into a foreign owned enterprise purging any unpleasant reminders of its former use (and the abuses which went with them), and the State and its former partner the Church waits for everyone to forget when the next outrage erupts.

    Very neat and tidy.

  9. Jim

    Are they going to have the hotel within the existing building? It would be a shame to demolish a perfectly good structure with a stunning facade.

  10. Paddy at the Howth Summit

    Sean McDermott Street.

    Develop the hell out of it. I bet Mr. Gannon doesn’t live there. Or even been there.

  11. patricia kelly

    It is difficult to understand how this property is in the hands of the state.How can the state dialogue in relation to this issue .This building was constructed maintained and flourished as a business by the unpaid labours of girls and women who were incarcerated by their families , the machinery of the state, and the church .All of these parties benefited from “Illegal earnings” at the expense of the vulnerable in this country . The poor the destitute ,the neglected the shunned ,the disowned ,the people unable to provide for themselves were hidden away from society behind these walls of injustice. Some were institutionalised to the point that they were unable to live out these prisons. The employees of Tusla are being paid by the monies due to the victims of these crimes against humanity . The moneys should be distributed by the established civil service under normal business ,we at least owe them that much.
    The people who paid for its upkeep over the years and so allowed its survival have no say in what happens to this site, or any of the other sites. The orders who were responsible for the psychological,social and physical abuse of these people are still allowed to trade in this country under the same name (make no mistake these were businesses .They amassed large portfolios of property and wealth , not from the work they did but the directed slavery of generations of Irish women and children )They are not liable for property tax due to their charitable status .They are exempt from other taxes ,as they belong to religious organisations.
    They deprive citizens of this state and others access to information relating to medical history by not disclosing family histories . These records could support families with genetic conditions , and prevent further hardships .
    The “powers in the state can have a catfight over these properties , over what is happening to them without acknowledging that the survivors of our criminal history deserved a part of these properties . It may be a museum to remember what has happened in this country for decades , it may be a percentages of the profits on the sale . It should not be a few tears shed in public and a few words spoken by people who are impressed by the sound of the sincerity in their voice , but continue to deny the truth of this history , by limiting and directing investigations . Governments will be remembered for what they did not do in this case, because they did nothing, and still do nothing.

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