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Dublin: 12 °C Wednesday 20 August, 2014

Pressure on Government as Magdalene Laundries report due

Survivors are demanding an official State apology, as well as the return of lost wages and a proper compensation scheme.

Magdalenes from the Gloucester Street Laundry in 1960
Magdalenes from the Gloucester Street Laundry in 1960
Image: @louiselowe3 via Twitter

SURVIVOR ADVOCACY GROUPS continue to apply pressure to the Government this morning, demanding an apology for the State’s involvement in the Magdalene Laundries, where up to 30,000 women were incarcerated between 1922 and 1996.

Senator Martin McAleese’s 1,000-page report establishing the facts of the State’s involvement with the institutions and the religious congregations that operated them will be discussed at this morning’s Cabinet meeting.

The document has taken 18-months to compile and has been delayed several times because of the emergence of fresh information and detail. The McAleese-led inter-departmental committee was set up in June 2011 after the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, the Religious Sisters Charity, the Sisters of Mercy and the Good Shepherd Sisters agreed to cooperate and participate in an inquiry.

That same month, the UN Committee Against Torture (UNCAT) said that it is “gravely concerned at the failure of the State to protect girls and women who were involuntarily confined between 1922 and 1996 in the Magdalene Laundries”. It recommended an independent inquiry.

Up to 30,000 women were incarcerated at the institutions during the 20th century. The homes were seen as places to house women, often known as ‘problem girls’ or ‘girls who got in trouble’, affected by pregnancy outside marriage, poverty and crime.

Some Magdalenes were taken into the laundries as young children.

Justice for Magdalenes, a group that has been working towards a State apology and a compensation scheme for 10 years, is certain that there was State complicity in the incarceration and slavery of thousands of women. It has submitted evidence to the committee of the State committing girls to the institutions through industrial schools, the judicial system and mother-and-baby-homes. The group also claims Magdalenes were kept locked up by using the forces of An Garda Síochána.

Furthermore, the State provided the congregations operating the institutions with lucrative contracts.

Justice for Magdalenes has called for the government to “establish a transparent and non-adversarial compensation process, that includes the provision of pensions, lost wages, health and housing services, as well as redress, and that is open to all survivors, putting their welfare at the forefront”.

“Magdalene survivors have waited too long for justice and this should not be now burdened with either a complicated legal process or a closed-door policy of compensation.”

The group has compiled a video collection of current Ministers speaking about the laundries to “remind them of their words in opposition”. They can be seen here.

Those who were forced to work, without pay or education, across the laundries system were omitted from the Residential Institutions Redress Board following the Ryan Report.

The years worked by the women are also not considered by their statutory pensions because they do not count.

It is not clear how many Magdalenes are still alive today. The last of the 10 laundries closed at Sean MacDermott Street in Dublin in 1996.

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