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magdalene site

Council working towards 'site of conscience' plan for former Magdalene laundry but funding still major issue

Social Democrat councillor Gary Gannon has said the State should help fund an on-site memorial.

DUBLIN CITY COUNCIL has agreed to work with councillors on the redevelopment of the State’s last Magdalene Laundry but has said funding will require “major consideration”. 

The redevelopment of the site on Dublin’s Sean McDermott Street has been a talking point for several years. Last year, councillors rejected the site’s sale to a Japanese hotel chain Toyoko Inn after a campaign led by Social Democrat councillor Gary Gannon. 

“There’s a general acceptance from the vast majority of councillors and from city managers that this site is important and that we’re going to build something meaningful,” Gannon told TheJournal.ie.

The council has yet to commit funding, however. Councillors argue that a mix of central government funding, philanthropic donations and council money should fund the redevelopment. 

Gannon has said that on-site consultation with architects and researchers at the old redbrick convent site will likely commence this autumn. 

The laundry was the last to close in Ireland, in 1996, and was demolished by the council in 2005 following a fire.

As part of the recently drafted ‘Dublin Agreement’ – which sets out council policy and plans for the next five years – councillors have set out a plan to develop the space as a multipurpose ‘Site of Conscience’. 

A spokesperson for Dublin City Council has said that “in due course there will be discussions with city councillors on the suggestion of ‘a site of conscience’”. 

However, they added that “the whole issue of funding for whatever goes on the site will require major consideration.”

They also confirmed that the council is not in a position to develop the site itself and that any redevelopment requires an ‘expression of interest’ proposal process which would then be presented to local councillors.

‘A Site of Conscience’

One recommendation from the May 2013 report by Justice John Quirke on compensation for the Magdalene women was that an appropriate memorial be built at the Sean McDermott Street site. 

Gannon argues that the State should therefore help fund the redevelopment alongside the council and philanthropic donors, a number of whom have already committed to help.

Magdalene. Our Lady of Lourdes convent on Sean McDermott Street. GoogleMaps GoogleMaps

Magdalene Laundries operated across the state ostensibly as rehabilitation centres for women who became pregnant outside of marriage, women with mental disabilities or homeless women. 

Only in recent years has the State tried to make amends for the incarceration of women and for the abuse and punishment meted outed by religious orders to women who worked in the laundries. 

In the wake of 2013′s McAleese report into state involvement with the laundries, the Magdalene Restorative Justice Scheme was established. Over €25 million has been paid to 700 women since the scheme was set up. 

It is estimated that 86 women died while living and working at the Sean McDermott Street laundry. 

Gannon has said the site of the former Magdalene Laundry on Sean McDermott Street will likely be multipurpose, however. 

Sites of Conscience have been developed worldwide as museums and memorials which highlight the past. 

The International Sites of Conscience Coalition now has 250 members. Founded in 1999 and spread across 55 countries, the coalition helps spread awareness about historically and socially important sites. 

Examples of memorial and museums re-purposed as ‘Sites of Conscience’ include Parramatta Female Factory Precinct in Australia, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York City and the Perm-36 Gulag Museum in Perm, Russia. 

“Talking to both survivors and locals it’s not just going to be a memorial,” Gannon has said. 

“The memorial will be multi-faceted. It’s going to be a memorial that could be a museum that could develop into a civic museum.”

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