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Dublin: 12 °C Friday 18 April, 2014

Gone for good: Last Magdalene laundry to be converted into houses and sold

There are calls for a monument or museum to be built on the site to remember the women forced to stay in the institution in Dublin’s inner city.

The now-derelict laundry on Sean McDermott Street
The now-derelict laundry on Sean McDermott Street
Image: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

THE LAST MAGDALENE laundry to close will be converted into houses and sold as soon as the property market improves, according to Dublin City Council.

A spokeswoman for Dublin City Council said they “would hope for the site  to be re-developed commercially.” She said that this won’t happen until either house prices pick up or a developer wants to buy the site on Sean McDermott Street in Dublin’s inner city.

She also said that houses would have been built in 2007, but the deal fell through at the last minute when a developer pulled out because of the collapse in property values.

The laundry on Sean McDermott Street, which was closed in 1996, was given to the council by the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, who ran the institution.

In exchange, the council built them a new convent and gave them a 20-year lease on a specially built hostel. The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity declined to comment on any current developments on the site.

The interior of the laundry on Sean McDermott Street (Julien Behal/PA Wire)

Dublin City Manager Philip Maguire said at a council meeting that the land was only suitable for building commercial houses on because it is so close to O’Connell Street, and therefore “potentially very valuable”. However he also said that the council would not object to a memorial incorporated into any future developments.

Monument or museum

Steven O’Riordan from Magdalene Survivors Together met with the central area manager Charlie Lowe in March to discuss what to do with the site.

He is hopeful that the council will set aside a section of the building for a museum, saying:

From our perspective it [a memorial] would include a national museum and a monument.

He did say, however, that it would need to be “a viable initiative” for the council to support it. They are now waiting on the decision of Judge John Quirke, who will give his recommendation on what should be done with the site. Judge Quirke is also currently considering the claims of several hundred women who have applied for compensation from the Magdalene laundries fund.

(Photo: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland)

Depending on the decision, part of the site could be converted into a memorial. The council was unable to say where the money for a museum would come from if it were to be approved.

A spokeswoman did say that money in the council was “very tight” and that “it would possibly be government funded”.

“The problem is money…”

Two councillors, Lucy McRoberts (Labour) and Christy Burke (Independent), submitted a motion in March, asking for the council to get in touch with the survivors of the laundries to decide what to do with the site.

Although the council already met with the Magdalene Survivors Together, McRoberts says that she “would be looking for the council to commit to speaking to all of the survivor groups.”

The entrance to the former laundry. (Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland)

Both McRoberts and Burke submitted an amended proposal that was carried by the city council area committee.

The new proposal calls for the site to be developed in a way that “properly recognises and commemorates the women, children and babies born in the Magdalene Laundries”.

Burke says that everyone who he talked to about the proposal was in favour of at least a commemorative plaque.

He said that while a plaque was a start, he would be “looking for a commemorative area built. The least the state can do now is acknowledge the dignity and integrity of the women. The problem is money.”

Cllr McRoberts agreed, saying:

The problem with developing a museum is that it would need a huge amount of investment. A memorial plaque may not be considered appropriate [by itself] for survivors of the Magdalene laundries.

Dublin City Council expect to hear a decision from Judge Quirke within the next few weeks.

Read: Oldest known Magdalene survivor dies at 97 >

Read: Magdalene women remembered in vigils in Dublin and Galway >

Read: Enda Kenny “deeply regrets and apologises unreservedly” to Magdalene women in emotional speech >

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