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Magdalene Laundries: 'Memorial needed for women detained under heartless, vicious regime'

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald argues work should begin on a memorial on the site of the Sean McDermott St Laundry.

Mary Lou McDonald

WHO WILL EVER forget the outpouring of emotion from the Magdalene women when the State finally apologised for its role in their barbarous captivity?

Some of these women were in the visitors’ gallery of the Dáil on the 19 February 2013 when the Taoiseach made his remarks, and their raw emotion could be felt throughout Leinster House.

For my part, I’ve worked with many of the women who endured the Magdalene Laundries in the years running up the State’s apology, and since.

During my statements that night, I set out the State’s complicity in the women’s detention and abuse. It oversaw the system of slave labour woven into the Laundries, a system that the State had commercial relationships with and was responsible for the inspection of the institutions.

Yet the State’s guilt went much deeper than the horror of unending incarceration. It was a party to the wholesale violation of the basic freedoms and rights of the girls and women detained. The brutality of the regime they were locked within was heartless, vicious and violent. Yet the women’s humanity and dignity has always shone through.

Many of the women and girls enslaved in the Laundries did not live to see the State acknowledge and accept its neglect and complicity in their trauma. They too must be remembered.

On the evening of the 19 February, the former Taoiseach committed to engage directly with survivors on the creation of an appropriate memorial to be financed by Government.

Mr Justice John Quirke in his recommendations for a redress scheme and related matters noted the consensus in favour of the creation and maintenance of a memorial within the former Seán McDermott Street Laundry site.

He went on to recommend the acquisition, maintenance and administration of any garden, museum or other form of memorial.

In recent months, Dublin City Council management agreed to the creation of a memorial on the Seán McDermott Street site. Whilst they have sought to tie the memorial to the controversial sale and development of the site there is not a single reason why the memorial itself cannot proceed as a standalone project.

Justice for Magdalene Research (JFMR) has long advocated that the surviving women’s experiences be memorialised.

Last month, the Justice and Equality Minister committed to facilitate JFMR plans to honour the women at a two-day event in Dublin in June where they will discuss how they would like their experiences to be officially remembered.

Ardmhéara Bhaile Átha Cliath Mícheál MacDonncha announced that he will host the women at the Mansion House during the event.

Everything is moving in the right direction, but we are not there yet.

Thanks to the long years of advocacy by organisations like JFMR and the personal strength of the surviving women, we are much closer to securing an appropriate memorial at the Seán McDermott Street site.

The Department of Justice must work with JFMR by ensuring all women who accessed the Department’s Magdalene Redress Scheme are invited to attend the #HonourMagdalenes Dublin event in June. Funding must be released by the Department.

Dublin City Council management must engage in this process and work with the Department to deliver an appropriate memorial to the women at the Seán McDermott Street site, as determined by the women themselves following the June consultation.

As a woman and mother, these women’s experiences stay with me. Each of these women were failed, over and over again by the State and wider society.

#HonourMagdalenes is an opportunity that must be grasped enthusiastically with both hands by the Government and Dublin City Council.

Mary Lou McDonald TD is the leader of Sinn Féin.

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