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Government memo from 1942 seeks advice on dealing with ‘immoral’ girls

The Minister for Justice was asked to find out how prevalent “offences of immorality” were among girls around the country.

A 1942 GOVERNMENT memo included in the Magdalene Laundries report published on Tuesday details how the Department of Education sought advice on how to deal with ‘immoral’ girls.

The memo says then-Minister for Education Thomas Derrig of Fianna Fáil was looking to find out if it would be possible to set up some kind of reformatory school for girls found guilty of “offences connected with immorality”.

The memo was sent to the Minister for Justice Gerald Boland by the assistant secretary of the Department of Education Proinnsais Ó Dubhthaigh.

The civil servant asked the Minister to find out how prevalent these ‘offences of immorality’ were throughout the country among young girls.

Ó Dubhthaigh also asked about the “desirability of taking steps of the nature now tenatively suggested for devoting proper care and attention to the welfare of such girls after conviction and committal by the Courts”.

The document signifies the approach by Irish authorities towards women and girls who were seen as in any way deviant or not fully compliant with Catholic mores and values of the time.

The memo notes the case of two girls aged 12 and 13 who were found to be guilty of prostitution in Limerick. The girls had been committed to a reformatory school for girls but the manager found them “only too well versed in immorality” and they were removed from the school.

The memo says:

While it is true that the number of cases of this kind that come to the notice of this Department (i.e. after conviction and committal by the Courts) is very small, that in itself is not sufficient to justify a conclusion that moral aberration amongst girls between the ages of, say, 12 and 17, in the country generally is a thing of rare occurrence.

It notes that the Minister for Education is considering a second type of reformatory school under the management of a religious organisation which would be “specially competent to deal with this type of case”.

Read: In their own words: Survivors’ accounts of life inside a Magdalene Laundry >

Video: Taoiseach stops short of apologising for Magdalene Laundries, angering survivors >

In numbers: the report into the State’s role in the Magdalene Laundries >

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