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Nuns 'adamant' that girls didn't work in Magdalene Laundry despite survivor testimony

For some of the women, it was still a case their word against the nuns’ words in 2018.
Jul 15th 2019, 12:06 AM 57,344 110

Magdalene Laundries in Glasnevin Source: PA Archive/PA Images

A RELIGIOUS ORDER was “adamant” with the government that women seeking redress did not work in a Magdalene Laundry after 1980, despite their claims and testimony. 

Last year, the government’s compensation scheme was expanded to women who worked in the Magdalene laundries of 12 religious institutions but were resident in one of 14 adjoining institutions. They were initially left out of the programme. 

Women who lived in one of these institutions – An Grianán training centre which was attached to St Mary’s High Park Convent’s Magdalene laundry in Drumcondra – became eligible under the expanded scheme. 

Last November, the Department of Justice & Equality published an addendum to the scheme to include the previously excluded women. So far, 104 women have applied for compensation for the work they undertook at the laundries. 

Once new applications were made to the department from November, its Restorative Justice Unit began contacting religious orders to find out if, when and for how long women worked in Magdalene Laundries. 

Several applications submitted in late 2018 by women who worked in An Grianán were called into question by the department which cited information provided by religious orders that contradicted the women’s claims that they worked in their adjacent laundry (High Park). 

The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, the order that ran An Grianán and High Park, claims it stopped sending girls to the laundry after 1980 when Sister Margaret took over its operation. 

The women applying to the scheme, however, maintained in their applications that nothing changed in the day-to-day running of the order after this date and that girls were still sent to work in the laundry regardless. 

Correspondence dated from December to January between the Department of Justice & Equality and the Sisters of Charity shows that the order firmly denied that girls were sent to the High Park laundry after 1980. 

Questioned by the department, the Sisters continued to refute the claims, correspondence released to TheJournal.ie under the Freedom of Information Act shows.

Eventually, the department sided with the women’s testimony. 

According to a spokesperson, it now believes “that, on the balance of probabilities, certain residents were likely to have worked in the laundry after 1980″.  

However, at least 10 women from An Grianán are still awaiting compensation. There has been widespread criticism of how the scheme has been administered, particularly in relation to delayed payments to ageing women.  

Mary Lawlor, who lived in An Grianán between 1975 and 1982, told TheJournal.ie that arising from this delay “there was a lot of very upset women.”

‘Adamant’ 

Magdalene laundries operated throughout Ireland until 1996, ostensibly as rehabilitation centres for women who became pregnant outside of marriage, women with mental disabilities or homeless women. 

Following a 2017 Ombudsman review, the government’s compensation scheme was expanded to women who worked in the Magdalene laundries of 12 religious institutions but were resident in one of 14 adjoining institutions.

The department’s Restorative Justice Unit, which administers the redress scheme, contacted the religious order to find out details about how the An Grianán centre operated. 

An Grianán - Irish for ‘sunny place’ – was used as a training centre for young girls and was adjacent to the High Park Magdalene Laundry in Drumcondra. 

Women whose applications are currently being processed under the revised scheme were excluded from the government’s original redress scheme.

Although they worked in Magdalene laundries they did not live in religious institutions which ran the laundries but in these adjacent training centres or industrial schools. 

Following the scheme’s expansion to include these women, the department published its addendum which stated that the current cohort of women must provide records of how long they worked in Magdalene laundries in order to receive the ‘work’ element of their lump sum payment. 

Capture The site of the former Magdalene Laundry in Donnybrook, Dublin. Source: RollingNews.ie

Between December and January, the department wrote to the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge in order to find out had these women worked at the laundry after 1980.

Having consulted the nun who ran An Grianán from 1980 onwards, a representative of the Sisters advised that the unit “was an entirely separate unit from St. Mary’s even though they shared the large building”.

“I have advised in the past how the physical layout of the of the teenage unit cut them off completely from the refuge and laundry,” the order’s representative replied to the department. 

[The nun] is adamant that the girls were not sent to the laundry in St Mary’s to work there during the eighties. 

Lawyer Maeve O’Rourke, a member of Justice for Magdalenes Research (JFMR), has said these emails “demonstrate the haphazard and opaque nature of the department’s process of examining Magdalene survivors’ applications” and that “women have had to contend with the nuns’ word against theirs”.

In February, TheJournal.ie reported that Dublin-based solicitor Wendy Lyon was calling for the department to furnish the religious orders’ contradictory information to the women and their legal representation. 

“If there is a factual dispute, then we need to know the basis of their facts,” Lyon said at the time.

‘Sunny place’

In its correspondence with the department, the religious order added that the girls used a utility room at An Grianán which was used to “foster responsibility” amongst the girls as well as “independence and the development of normal coping skills that would be part of day to day home and family life”. 

“It is possible that those who now state that they worked in the laundry throughout their tenure in An Grianán are referring to this facility,” the reply to the department reads.

The Irish Examiner reported in April that a laundry was constructed in the early months of 1984 at a cost of £17,000.

The order added that “over the past few years this question has arisen a number of times” and that the order’s nuns “have consistently stated that from 1980 onwards the girls in An Grianán did not work in the laundry”. 

The department replied to the Sisters of Charity asking why girls were no longer sent to the laundry to work, what changes were put in place after 1980 and if it was possible that some girls were sent there.

The department also asked the Sisters of Charity to confirm if the washing facilities at An Grianán were “similar to such facilities in a private house”. 

“The applicants in question will be invited to attend for interview so it would be very helpful for us to have a clear picture of how An Grianán operated during this period,” the department wrote in an email. 

The Restorative Justice Unit followed up this email one week later, having received no clarification from the Sisters of Charity and pressed the order’s representative for a response.

“We’re anxious to start the interview with the An Grianán applicants,” the department wrote. “We are receiving telephone calls from them every day asking for an update.” 

Later in January, the department wrote to the Sisters of Charity again saying that interviews with women who applied for compensation cannot proceed until it has received further clarification from the order. 

‘Nuns’ word against theirs’ 

Since contacting the Sisters, the department has accepted that residents of An Grianán were likely to have worked in the High Park laundry. 

O’Rourke, of Justice for Magdalenes Research, has said the women who worked in An Grianán have had to endure serious delays in the processing of their applications. 

“Neither the nuns nor the State have been able to produce the records of ‘young persons’ that the Magdalene Laundries were required to keep and to deposit with the State from time to time under Factories legislation.

Therefore, the women have had to contend with the nuns’ word against theirs.

For several years, members of JFMR have requested access to the administrative records of the Magdalene Laundries that are held by the State. 

On 22 November 2018, in response to a Parliamentary Question, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan stated that “there are no plans at this stage to provide access to the [...] archive at this time”.

According to the department, of the 35 applicants from An Grianán, 25 have now received an award and offers have issued to seven applicants.

Lawlor said that she “couldn’t believe the Department of Justice actually stopped the whole procedure.”

It devastated the girls. I felt like vomiting when I heard it. I just couldn’t believe it.

A spokesperson for the justice department has said that each redress application “is assessed individually on its own merits”.

“In processing an application, the Department does not just solely rely on records received from a religious congregation,” they added. 

“Where appropriate, it also seeks records from other sources and may raise queries in relation to any records received.  Where necessary, the Department meets with applicants and others in relation to applications.

“Taking all available records and testimonies into account, a decision is then made as to whether, on the balance of probabilities, an applicant qualifies for the scheme.”

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Cónal Thomas

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