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The site of the former Magdalene laundry on Sean McDermott Street in Dublin city Leah Farrell/

Remembrance centre to be located at site of former Magdalene Laundry on Sean McDermott Street

The centre will honour survivors of mother and baby homes, industrial schools, reformatories, Magdalene laundries and related institutions.

LAST UPDATE | 29 Mar 2022

A NATIONAL CENTRE for Research and Remembrance is set to be located on the site of the former Magdalene Laundry on Sean McDermott Street in Dublin city centre.

The Government today approved the proposals for the centre, after Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman brought a memo to Cabinet this morning.

A spokesperson for the Department of Children confirmed the news this afternoon, saying the centre will “honour all those who were resident in mother and baby homes, industrial schools, reformatories, Magdalene laundries and related institutions”.

The development of a memorial centre was promised by the Government as part of the Action Plan it devised following the publication of the final report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes in January 2021.

As “a site of national conscience”, the National Centre for Research and Remembrance will comprise:

  • a museum and exhibition space, the development of which will be led by the National Museum of Ireland
  • a research centre and repository of records related to institutional trauma in the 20th century which will form part of the National Archives
  • a place for reflection and remembrance

The Department’s spokesperson said the site will also contribute to “the social and economic development of Dublin’s north east inner city” through social housing and local community facilities, and an educational and early learning facility.

The next phase of development will involve the creation of “comprehensive plans setting out detailed timeframes and cost estimates”. The centre will be “a major, multi-annual project, spanning a number of years”, the spokesperson added.

In recent years there has been much debate over how and where such a centre should be developed.

Open Heart City, a voluntary collective of survivor groups, historians and architects, previously mapped out how best to create a ‘site of conscience’ on the Sean McDermott Street site. It was the last Magdalene laundry in the State to close, in 1996.

Sites of Conscience have been set up worldwide. They are museums and memorials that highlight history, and in the process try to promote justice and human rights.

Other campaigners had raised concerns about locating the museum in Dublin, saying other locations should also be considered.

In a statement released this afternoon, the Department of Children said: “While physically situated in Dublin, the National Centre will be accessible for all survivors, whether in other parts of Ireland or abroad.

“It will provide digital access to records and exhibits, as well as developing physical presences elsewhere to enable survivors to visit more easily. In this way, the centre will be a national institution which achieves both a global reach and strong connections to, and benefits for, the local community.”

O’Gorman today also received approval to publish the Heads of the Mother and Baby Institutions Payment Scheme Bill later this week and to refer it to the Joint Oireachtas Committee for scrutiny.

Once passed, the Bill will pave the way for the opening of applications to the Government’s redress scheme. Under the scheme, survivors of mother and baby homes will be eligible for payments depending on how long they spent in an institution.

Some survivors have criticised the fact that payments are linked to the length of time a mother spent in an institution, and that children who spent fewer than six months in an institution are excluded from the scheme. Children who were boarded out are also not included in the scheme, leading to calls for it to be extended.

Personal testimonies

The Department’s spokesperson said “one unique aspect of the central repository will be the inclusion of the personal testimonies of survivors; allowing the lived experiences of survivors to be formally accepted as part of the official record”.

Many survivors had raised concerns about the treatment of their testimony by the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and questioned how certain findings were reached.

Judicial reviews involving high-profile survivors, Philomena Lee and Mary Harney, were heard by the High Court last November.

In December, the State acknowledged that survivors’ rights were breached when they were not given a draft of the Commission’s final report prior to its publication last year.

In a significant victory for survivors, the State admitted that Lee and Harney are identifiable in the final report and should have been given a right to reply to the sections relevant to them prior to the report’s publication

The wording of a statement acknowledging the breach of rights was agreed by all parties on 17 December and published alongside the final report of the Commission, as well as on the Department’s website and in the Oireachtas Library with the final report.

The statement noted: “A number of survivors do not accept the accounts given in the Final Report of the Commission of Investigation as a true and full reflection of the oral and documentary evidence they gave to the Confidential Committee or the Commission of Investigation.”

It also noted that the accuracy of certain paragraphs in the report “is not accepted by survivors”.

As such, a number of survivors and activists had argued the Commission’s final report was unfit to stand as the official record of what occurred in the 18 institutions under investigation.

The Government stood over the report but said it would find another way to ensure survivors’ testimony was heard.

“Recognising the sensitivity of this work and the importance of respecting data protection and privacy rights, the processes for preserving and accessing records will be progressed in conjunction with survivors and relevant experts, and will be supported by legal analysis and legislation,” today’s statement noted.

Steering Group

The proposals for the national centre were developed by the Secretary General to the Government, following informal consultation with key advocates and stakeholders. The plans were brought to the Government jointly by Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Minister O’Gorman today.

The Government also approved the next steps of the process which will involve formal consultation with survivor representatives and local community representatives, and the establishment of a Steering Group chaired by the current Secretary General, who will continue to chair this group following the end of his term.

Speaking today, O’Gorman said: “Today’s announcement on the establishment of a National Centre for Research and Remembrance advances a core commitment in the State’s response to the legacy of institutional trauma. Over the past three decades, Ireland has had a difficult reckoning with its history of institutional abuse.

“This centre will provide a place of reflection and remembrance, while also ensuring that future generations can fully understand the appalling impact of those institutions.

“I believe this project will make a significant contribution in our journey of recognising and learning from the failures of the past and acknowledging the hurt which continues to be felt by survivors and their families.

“By creating a National Centre for Research and Remembrance, the State recognises the role of memorialisation in working to rebuild a relationship of trust and support healing for those who were so profoundly wronged.

“As a site of national conscience, it is my hope that this Centre will offer an enduring reminder of the importance of striving continually to build and promote a progressive, respectful and equal society.”

‘Victory for survivors’

Social Democrats’ TD Gary Gannon welcomed today’s news, saying it is “an enormous victory for survivors, who have fought for years to ensure there was an appropriate memorial at the site”.

When Gannon was a member of Dublin City Council in 2018, there was a proposal to sell the site to an international hotel chain. However, councillors vetoed that proposal and instead backed plans to turn the site into a memorial.

In 2013, Justice John Quirke recommended that the site on Sean McDermott Street should be used for a memorial.

Speaking today, Gannon said: “My only regret, is that is has taken nearly 10 years, from Justice Quirke’s recommendation to today, to confirm that a memorial will placed on the site. Today’s news is a bright day for the north inner city, as we remember a very dark period in our history.

“While I welcome any advances on commemorating our horrific institutional past, it should be noted that this centre must developed through meaningful engagement with the survivors of mother and baby homes, industrial schools, reformatories, Magdalen laundries and related institutions.

“For decades, these individuals and groups have been denied justice by the State and the Church. It essential that they are at the centre of this process.

“If we are to move on from the past, then we must remember it and learn from it. This centre will be a place to remember and commemorate all of the women and children who suffered in Magdalene laundries around the country.”

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