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Magdalene Laundries made very little money, says report

Despite a common perception that the laundries were highly profitable, the report by Senator Martin McAleese says they barely broke even.

MAGDALENE LAUNDRIES BARELY broke even and were not run on a commercial or even profitable basis, the report by Senator Martin McAleese has said.

The report notes that despite a common perception that the laundries were highly profitable, this was rarely the case.

It found that laundries would have been unable to survive financially if they had not received income through donations, bequests and financial support from the State.

However Katherine O’Donnelly of Justice for Magdalenes disputed the figures and said the group will be examining the financial side of the report as it does not tally with their evidence. She said:

It doesn’t tally. We need to go back and look at that to see how the religious sisters were such poor managers. They had an unpaid workforce and lucrative contracts and they made no money?

The figures in the report come from the religious organisations and their accountants. No outside group audited the figures before they were submitted.

After the figures were provided by the religious groups, the committee then requested the congregations to ask their accountants to review the records and where possible to prepare financial reports, including average income and expenditure, using 2011 euro values based on the Consumer Price Index produced by the Central Statistics Office.

  • Sean McDermot Street, Order of Our Lady of Charity, Dublin (1922 to 1973).

Figures for the Seán McDermott Street laundry in Dublin’s inner city found that laundry receipts brought in an average of €705,063 every year (using the equivalent euro figure).

The report spent an average of €914,763 every year on laundry and maintenance expenses, leaving it with a deficit of more than €200,000.

However it received more €220,000 in other income (such as donations) in an average year, leaving it with a surplus of just over €12,357 per year.

The report also found that the laundry brought in more than €600,000 per year in today’s money between 1974 and 1996 but ran an average deficit of €62,000.

Accountants Robert J Kidney & Co for the religious congregation noted that sales peaked at than €950,000 at the laundry in 1948 and decreased each year after that.

They also said that the average laundry receipts over €705,000 per year would “not be considered substantial in today’s terms given that the current turnover threshold for a small company for audit purposes for example is €3.8 million”.

  • High Park, Order of Our Lady of Charity, Dublin (1985 – 1991)

Records for High Park were not as easy to come by, the report notes. Financial records for everything which took place at High Park – including a farm and a school – were all pooled together, making it impossible to tell which income and expenditure was directly related to the laundry.

However accountants Robert J Kidney & Co estimated that the average laundry income between 1922 and 1979 was €695,842, noting that the laundry facility was similar in size to Sean McDermott Street.

Figures for 1985 to 1991 suggest the laundry had sales €361,229 per year on average with expenses of €419,271, leaving a deficit of €59,042.

However the laundry also brought in more than €300,000 per year in other income, leading to total income of almost €250,000.

The cost of residents maintenance plus other costs was more than €380,000, leading to a total average deficit of €136,000.

The accountants noted: “There is no evidence that operation of the laundries had a financial benefit to the Order”.

  • Sisters of the Good Shepherd Laundry, Limerick, 1922 t0 1975.

The report for the Limerick laundry includes actual figures received, as well as the euro equivalents. It notes that the yearly average income for the laundry was just under £30,000, the equivalent of €766,000 in today’s money.

Expenditure was €411,000, leaving a surplus of €325,000. When other income and general expenses were taken into account, the laundry ran a surplus each year of £2,098 or €13,356 in today’s money.

Accountant for the religious congregation Noel Delahunty & Co noted that the nuns running the laundry were not commercially savvy:

The Sisters were not skilled in the management of a commercial enterprise. The laundry, while under their management, was operated as a source of funds to support the maintenance of the girls and women together with a contribution to the upkeep of the sisters.

The laundry made a surplus for 27 out of its 61 years when it was run by the religious order and ran a deficit for the remaining 34 years.

  • Religious Sisters of Charity, Peacock Lane Laundry, Cork.

The report shows the Cork laundry had an average surplus of £1,050 – the equivalent of €4,984 in today’s money – for a period from 1970 onwards.

The laundry brought in €620,000 in receipts in an average year. Expenses for the girls and women at the laundry were around €142,000 and around €57,000 for the nuns.

An average of eight or nine nuns worked in the laundry at any one time.

Accountants Nolan & Associates noted that there were small surpluses or deficits in most years and it was never run on a commercial basis.

  • Sisters of Mercy, Galway, 1943 to 1971

The Galway laundry brought in an average of £31,681 each year – the equivalent of €815,774 in today’s money. Once expenses were taken into account, the laundry ran a net surplus of just under €50,000.

Accountants L&P Trustee Services noted the laundry generated a surplus for 16 of the 24 years, with an average surplus of €49,771.

They also note that the Sisters of Mercy continued to care for 18 women in the home after the closure of the laundry in 1984 for the remainder of their lives.

A Prime Time programme broadcast in September 2012 stated that the Galway laundry had made a profit of more than €1 million in today’s money, but the accountants said this was “plainly mistaken”, noting that the programme only looked at money that came in but did not look at the expenses.


Direct operating costs covered laundry expenses – such as capital expenditure on machinery, vans, detergents – and the general maintenance costs of the women who worked at them, which covered some pocket money, clothing and food, but not wages, which were not paid to the women who worked at them.

Records for a number of laundries, including the Sisters of the Good Shepherd laundries in New Ross, Waterford or Cork and the Religious Sisters of Charity laundry in Donnybrook, could not be found.

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

Read: Magdalene Laundries report finds direct State involvement >

Read: A life unlived: 35 years of slavery in a Magdalene Laundry >

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