CYNICAL. BIZARRE. BAFFLING. Disappointing. Disingenuous. Horrifying. Inept. Half-hearted. Shameful.
Those are just some of the words used today to describe Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s response to the Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen Laundries.
Survivors and advocacy groups expressed their disappointment at his failure to offer a full and official apology in the wake of Senator Martin McAleese confirming there was direct State involvement in the system.
“That is not an apology,” was a phrase expressed multiple times at two separate press conferences, held by Magdalene Survivors Together and the Justice for Magdalenes group, in Dublin’s city centre.
Mari Steed, the daughter of a Magdalene, went further in her criticism. “Today, if anything, showed us that Mr Kenny might eat his own words when he said we should no longer be living in a Magdalen Ireland. And I think we still are.” Her words were met with nods, and groans of agreement from the rest of the panel.
A corridor in the now derelict Sisters of Our Lady of Charity Magdalene Laundry on Sean McDermott St in Dublin’s north inner city. (Image: Julien Behal/PA Wire/Press Association Images)
Claire McGettrick of Justice for Magdalenes added, “To get up in the Dáil and refuse to apologise to a group of ageing, vulnerable group of women…is frankly cynical.”
“This could have been good day…this could have been a good news story. But it is continuing and prolonging the torture. These women want a bit of peace before they die.
“Dragging out this process is cynical, cruel, torturous and not good enough.”
Marina Gambold, a survivor speaks to TheJournal.ie, about her hopes for an apology. (Image: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland)
Marina Gambold is a survivor hoping with fervour that she will hear an apology.
“I would love him to say it. I would cry with gladness.” She has previous experience of how the words could help.
“I’d love him to say it because Bertie Aherne done it to the other schools. I was happy that day because my brother was in Artane. An apology to me would mean the world, a million dollars.”
Finding herself without adult family at the age of 16, the Wexford native was taken by a priest to the Sisters of the Good Shepherd laundry in New Ross.
“The day I went in, I was so sad when she said your name isn’t Marina anymore, it’s Fidelma.
“My brother when he came to find me when he came out of Artane school, he came in and [the sister] said, ‘Who are you looking for?’ and he said Marina Byrne. I thought it was very sad, he looked for me for three years. He is in Australia now – he’d never come back.”
(They now have a great relationship and talk most days. She also has another brother who she did not meet until he ws 15 years old.)
“I would love to have been brought up with my mother and father. I always felt as if I wasn’t normal,” the 78-year-old told TheJournal.ie. “They put a lot of fear into us.”
Maureen Sullivan reacts during a press conference this afternoon. (Image: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland)
Marina was one of four survivors to talk during the Magdalene Survivors Together press conference following the release of the report. While they all welcomed the publiction for its ability to show they were “telling the truth” about their past.
They shared horror stories of their time in the laundries; of being fed nothing but bread and dripping or watered-down milk, of punishments which included eating that inhumane meal off the floor or being locked on an outdoor balcony for two day and two nights, of 15-hour work days which left them with “housemaid’s knees”.
The common painful memory of all four women was when their names were changed on entering the institutions.
“They took my name, they took my identity,” said Maureen Sullivan. They also took the school books and pencil case she had brought with her, along with the expectation or reality of an education.
“I will go to the grave with the pain,” Mary Smyth proclaimed. “It is soul destroying. Worse than prison.”
What happens now?
Barrister Maeve O’Rourke explains that the incidence of abuse, forced paid work and incarceration across Ireland’s 10 Magdalene Laundries had been established prior to this report.
What Martin McAleese has provided today is proof that some of the excuses previously made by the State in relation to the women who survived the system are untrue. When Magdalenes were omitted from the Ryan commission and the Residential Institutions Redress Board it was because the laundries were described as private entities, run independently of the State.
When asked about State collusion or commitals, Ministers have claimed that the majority of women entered the facilities of their own free will and that no children were found in the convent dormitories.
“All those things – the idea that there weren’t children in the laundries, the idea that the State didn’t refer women and girls there and the idea that the State didn’t know because the State wasn’t inspecting – all those three reasons have been proved to be untrue,” said O’Rourke.
“UNCAT is watching this very carefully. It gave a one year deadline in June 2011 for not only an independent and thorough investigation but also for the women to obtain redress within that time. It is not going away from their desk and the Irish government goes to different human rights committees every year or two years.”
Katherine O’Donnell, also of JFM warns that the issue is not going away.
“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.”
“We’ve been waiting so long for this. The report is very long and there’s a lot to digest. I’m glad that Senator McAleese’s inquiry has confirmed that there was State involvement in the Magdalene Laundries and I’m anticipating the Dáil debate in two weeks time. I really would like to hear a full State apology because that is what most of us are waiting for, as opposed to money or anything else.
“I hope the Taoiseach or the Minister for Justice find it in their hearts to to that for the women, for my late mother. She can’t have anything else, only a moral victory. That’s all that she wants. I hope for that for her.”