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Dublin: 15 °C Friday 19 September, 2014

This is how the world reacted to the Magdalene Laundries report

There were mixed messages across the world’s newspapers and news websites today.

Image: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

JUSTICE FOR MAGDALENES, an advocacy group for survivors, warned yesterday that the State’s involvement in the workhouse system and the Government’s failure to issue a formal apology would make international headlines.

“There is significant international interest. There is international spotlight on Ireland and the news today is that there is absolute irrefutable evidence of State involvement in the Magdalen Laundry system and the State has refused to apologise. And that’s the story that’s going to be out there for the next two weeks, watching to see what the Government does,” said Katherine O’Donnell.

Unfortunately for campaigners, a mixed message was emanated from the world’s media. Some, including Sky News and The Independent mistook Enda Kenny’s words in the Dáil for an apology.

However, this morning the horror stories from survivors became the key focus for most newspapers and websites.

In the US, The New York Times notes the Irish Premier’s apology “fails to appease workhouse survivors” and The Wall Street Journal reported an “Irish apology on workhouses”.

The Washington Post and the Financial Times told Margaret Bullen’s story and spoke with her daughter Samantha Long.

The inscription above the door claims it was a place of refuge. But for Margaret Bullen and thousands like her, the Magdalene laundry on Sean McDermott Street in Dublin’s city center was a prison and a workhouse.

In 1967, a 16-year-old Bullen was sent to the laundry, which was run by nuns, from an industrial school for neglected children. She did not leave until it closed in 1996. She remained institutionalized until she died in 2003 and was buried in a communal grave.

Al Jazeera’s video report says the report reveals the State was “working in tandem with the Catholic Church in getting girls into the workhouses”. It also described Enda Kenny’s reaction in the Dáil as a “sort of apology”.

Laurence Lee said there is a good reason why Ireland should want to offer an apology and compensation: its recently acquired seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The UN itself has described what happened in the laundries a form of torture.
Most of the victims are dead, many in communal graves, so are most of the nuns who locked them up while the Irish State and society looked the other way.
If a line has been drawn under the past, it is still far too late for many thousands of Irish women known throughout this county as the Magdalenes.

The Boston Globe highlighted Kenny’s emphasis on the “nuanced view of life in the laundries”, which was “far less stark or one-sided than has been depicted on stage and in film”.

Kenny rejected activists’ claims of laundry conditions akin to prison and slavery, and confined his statement of regret to the longtime popular view in Ireland that most residents of the Magdalene Laundries were ‘‘fallen women,’’ a euphemism for prostitutes.

The Guardian‘s headline read: ‘Ireland accepts state guilt in scandal’

Labelled the “Maggies”, the women were sent to the Magdalene laundries where they worked for nothing, serving in some cases “life sentences” simply for being unmarried mothers or regarded as morally wayward.

The Huffington Post, using Associated Press copy, ran with the headline:

Magdalene Laundries: Ireland Oversaw Abusive Catholic Asylums

It noted that the Prime Minister had stopped short of making an official apology.

CBS News in the US looked more deeply at the report, acknowledging:

Hard labour, enforced silence, and imprisonment – that was the sentence for more than 10,000 young Irish women sent off to the church-run Magdelen Laundries between 1922 and 1996, a dark chapter in Irish history that Steve Kroft reported on for 60 Minutes in January 1999.

CNN focused on the “ugly legacy” of the Magdalene Laundries, including the 130 unmarked graves at one of the former convents. Laura Smith-Spark and Peter Taggart’s comprehensive article, Report: Irish state sent thousands of women to infamous workhouses, noted that Kenny stopped short of the formal apology “many of the women have called for”.

‘Ireland finally says sorry to the 10,000 ‘Magdalene Sister slaves’ of its Catholic workhouses who were locked up and brutalised by nuns’ was the header on the UK’s The Daily Mail website. Although the piece led with what has been described as a “mealy-mouthed” apology, the report acknowledged the survivors’ total rejection of it.

Women who had their childhoods ‘stolen away’, locked up in Catholic-run workhouses received a qualified apology from the Irish government yesterday.

The Telegraph reported that Kenny “angered” many of the victims of the Magdalene Laundries by stopping short of a full apology.

The Irish prime minister apologised on Tuesday for the suffering endured by thousands of women locked up in the country’s Catholic-run workhouses after an inquiry found that 2,000 of them had been sent there by the state.

Emily Alpert in the Los Angeles Times says the Irish government was “enmeshed in a harsh system of laundries run by Catholic nuns, where women and girls worked behind locked doors without pay”.

The findings were heartening to activists who had pushed for acknowledgment of state involvement. However, activist groups were bitterly disappointed that Prime Minister Enda Kenny, who said Tuesday that he was sorry for how the women were treated, did not make a formal apology on behalf of the state.

BBC News shared the stories of Marina Gambold and Maureen Sullivan:

Marina Gambold was orphaned when she was eight years old after both her parents died. She lived with her grandmother for a couple of years but when she was 16 she found she had nowhere to go.

The priest then took her to the Magdalene laundry.

“I walked up the steps that day and the nun came out and said your name is changed, you are Fidelma, I went in and I was told I had to keep my silence. I was working in the laundry from eight in the morning until about six in the evening. I was starving with the hunger, I was given bread and dripping for my breakfast every morning. We had to scrub corridors, I used to cry with sore knees, housemaids’ knees, I used to work all day in the laundry, doing the white coats and the pleating.”

BBC also noted the lack of formal apology in a separate report.

Read TheJournal.ie’s coverage of the Magdalene Laundries report:

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