A life unlived: 35 years of slavery in a Magdalene Laundry
One woman tells the story of her mother who was sent to a Laundry in Dublin at the age of 16 – and died there at the age of 51.
THE TREATMENT OF women incarcerated in Magdalene Laundries – and the level of State involvement in these Church-run institutions – has been highlighted yet again this month. There was disappointment among survivors and relatives of those kept in the Laundries when it was announced that a State committee’s final report into the matter would be delayed until the end of the year.
To reiterate the urgency of revealing the inter-departmental findings, the Justice for Magdalene advocacy group last week distributed some redacted statements of women detailing their lives in such institutions. (The group claims that there was State involvement in the operation of the Laundries as places to send women considered to be “problem girls”, due to poverty or pregnancy outside marriage for example.)
Samantha Long’s mother Margaret Bullen was placed in Gloucester Street (now Sean McDermott Street) Laundry c.1967 and died 35 years later, never having been released into society and her own home. Margaret died of an illness known as Goodpasture Syndrome, a disease of the kidneys and liver – one of the causes is exposure to industrial-strength chemicals such as those used in the Laundries.
Samantha made a lengthy statement to the interdepartmental committee, led by Senator Martin McAleese, about her mother’s life. Margaret Bullen had a tragic start in life: she was born in a mental institution in Grangegorman, Dublin to a mother who already had six children, Margaret being the youngest. Margaret was sent home to Kimmage to live with her siblings and father, where she remained until she was three years old. At that point, Margaret’s brother was sent to Artane industrial school and Margaret and her sister closest to her in age sent to the notorious High Park industrial school and Laundry in Drumcondra. That, as Samantha says of her mother, “was the end of her and the outside world”.
A second statement sent to Senator McAleese’s committee from a former Laundry inmate who remembers Margaret and her sister recounts how Margaret suffered fits as a young child but that they were ignored by the nuns there (then known as the Sisters of Charity of Refuge, now the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity).
Margaret appears to have been moved in her early teens to a special school called St Teresa’s in Blackrock, after she was certified mentally unfit for education, but fit for work. Her daughter Samantha says in her own statement:
She was assessed at age thirteen as being mentally challenged because on the day that they measured her, they said that she had an IQ of fifty, which I dispute after meeting her, even after all those years of institutionalisation.. And I think that if you’re hungry and tired from your slavery, your IQ wouldn’t be very sharp, or your skills on any given moment mightn’t be sharp. You would be probably just pulled into this room – “now we’re going to measure your IQ” – so even the shock of that wouldn’t, you know, you could shut down.
At roughly the age of 16, Margaret was sent to the Magdalene Laundry at Gloucester Street. The exact time and circumstances of her move there are not clear because Samantha and her sister are still waiting on full records to be supplied to them on their mother’s past.
She became pregnant – twice – with Samantha and her twin sister Etta, and later with another daughter, while officially under the care of the Gloucester Street nuns. The circumstances of these conceptions are again shrouded in mystery but Samantha says her conversations in later life with her mother when they were reunited led her to believe that Margaret had been the victim of sexual abuse and predators several times.
There was no education, no education and I, you know, I honestly believe for a long time she didn’t know how she got pregnant, she just knew that somebody hurt her once and then she had babies. I really believe that. She didn’t make that connection, I know that for sure. She was no, she didn’t have a boyfriend, let’s put it that way. And that’s the politest way that I can say that.
Some of the more harrowing details of Samantha’s testimony recount how her mother was denied society, education, wages and other basic rights for most of her life. This extract recalls Samantha and Etta’s first meeting with Margaret in the Gresham Hotel when they were 23 and had traced her as their biological mother. (Samantha and Etta were adopted by a loving couple in Dublin and later moved to Sligo in childhood.)
Margaret was only 42 at the time but looked much older. She was carrying a handbag but it was completely empty, because she didn’t own anything nor did she have any money. Samantha recalls:
And, she was just lovely, and she was asking extremely innocent questions like, she, it was the first time she ever had coffee and it was very exciting for her to have coffee and she hadn’t seen brown sugar before either and obviously in the Gresham there was brown and white sugar cubes on the table and it was all very fancy to her. And she was just overjoyed to be there and absolutely wowed by everything.
She looked, she looked like a pensioner. I couldn’t believe she was forty-two, I kept looking, I kept looking into her face to find a forty-two year old and I couldn’t, because she had the face of hard work, that face that you see in so many women that have just had to work too hard and have never had a rest and have never had anyone to take care of them or tell them to put their feet up, and who have just, just worked too hard. Because, as I said on the radio a few years ago, this was slavery and I don’t use that term lightly and I’m not an emotive person but slavery is a form of work for which you get no pay and you can’t leave and these were the white slaves of Ireland and they were never emancipated. And nobody stood up for them until now, until you guys (Justice for Magdalenes) did.
Samantha Long was asked by Senator McAleese’s commission what she would like the State to do to redress any wrongs committed against the women in Magdalene Laundries. She answered:
I would like the state to apologise for keeping those young girls behind bars, literally and figuratively. I would like the church and state to apologise for forcing them to do slave labour.
I would like the church, the state and society to redress their reputations and apologise for keeping them down, for denying them education, freedom, money, their babies and their lives, all of those things.
And I would like that the circumstances that they find themselves in, through the missing pieces that the rest of us get in life, because they had no education, so how could they make it?
They were sitting ducks, keep them down, keep them unaware of their rights, keep them without money, keep the roof over their head, feed them a little bit, keep them alive, just enough for work. Give them their wages now, give them their wages.
Irish religious orders confirm they will not pay Magdalene Laundry victims
In a completely enraging move, two of the four religious orders that once ran Magdalene laundries in Ireland have again refused to contribute any money toward compensating the surviving women.
Over a year after the Irish Taoiseach (Prime minister) Enda Kenny gave a heartfelt State apology to the tens of thousands of women who had been cruelly incarcerated in Magdalene laundries, the Irish government’s repeated attempts to hold the orders financially accountable have met with blank refusals.
All four orders, which include The Sisters of Mercy, Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge, the Good Shepherd Sisters, and the Sisters of Charity have, at various times, publicly refused to contribute financially to the proposed compensation scheme.
According to recent reports in the Irish press, the four orders, which ran the Magdalene laundries, made almost $415 million in property deals during the Irish economic boom. Given those eye-popping figures, the refusal to offer one thin dime in compensation can be seen in its proper light.
It hasn’t quite been two decades since the last Magdalene Laundry in Ireland closed in 1996. That’s well within the living memory of young adults. All those decades of unpaid drudgery, with moral opprobrium added on top, and the orders don’t feel they have a case to answer?
Clearly they are hoping that even now most Irish people would prefer to look the other way – exactly the way they used to when these for-profit gulags were in operation.
Recall that the Irish government had to be brow beaten for years by a group of committed former inmates and their offspring before they finally offered the women a full apology. That apology was only offered in February 2013, by the way.
So the deep Irish reluctance to face up to the legacy of exploitation and widespread physical and sexual abuse within the church has been one of the most remarkable aspects of the now three decade long crisis.
Instead of principled stock-taking, denial, defensiveness and withholding have been the standard responses.
What fascinates me is what happens to a nation that fails to confront its own traumas? Will it hand them on to the next generation without comment? These orders profited for decades from indentured servitude. The women they incarcerated had to pay their own way out.
Now, flush with cash from their extensive property deals, they are withholding all material support from the women they once treated as chattel.
It is estimated that 600 Irish women who were once incarcerated in one of the laundries run by the four orders are still alive. All of them are elderly. The orders may hope that time turns the page on their stories and the nation forgets them. Waiting out the clock, they may be right.
It has been some time since we last covered the issue of the Magdalene Laundries. Since we last posted, the organisation Justice for Magdalenes has ceased its advocacy work on behalf of survivors . It will carry on research work – in particular an oral history project – under the directorship of Katherine O’Donnell at UCD. Justice for Magdalenes are to be commended for their years of important work. At the Jim Kemmy Thirst for Justice Awards Clare McGettrick asked that the Magdalene women would be treated as ‘national treasures’ and not as ‘second best’. This week, Mr. Justice John Quirke published his recommendations for a statutory redress scheme. His recommendations have been accepted by the government. It is difficult to conclude that this is the best we can do. Here are 10 problems with the Quirke scheme. There are certainly others.
1. Even an excellent redress scheme is only part of the answer.
Doing restorative justice also requires us to look beyond the immediate context of the Magdalene laundries. In a really creative and thorough report the Irish Human Rights Commission stresses that the Government must also take steps to prevent the repetition of the sorts of abuses suffered by the Magdalene women ; for instance
- revisiting legislation on the detention of adults with learning difficulties and mental health problems.
- legislating against forced labour.
- strengthening gender equality legislation.
- safeguarding the rights of adopted persons to information on their family of origin. (See news of a recent High Court case considering illegal adoptions here).
- reconsidering the state’s obligations to ensure non-state actors obligations with human rights principles.
- improving state record-keeping practices.
- reforming the burial and exhumation laws, the inadequacy of which was exposed by the High Park scandal. The orders’ records of death and burials continue to provoke disquiet among activists.
2. Quirke is based on McAleese. McAleese wasn’t good enough.
I blogged on the McAleese report soon after its publication . UNCAT has confirmed that the Interdepartmental Committee was not an independent inquiry of the sort required to meet Ireland’s obligations under international human rights law. McAleese must be followed by an independent inquiry with full statutory powers to compel and retain evidence. The accuracy of the McAleese Report is put in doubt by Quirke. For instance, while the McAleese report suggested that 61% of women admitted to the Laundries remained there for less than a year, the Magdalene women who presented evidence to Quirke’s team gave testimony indicating that this figure is closer to 9%. A new inquiry must also revisit McAleese’s findings on physical abuse within the Laundries, which are grossly at odds with the testimony collated by Justice for Magdalenes (This is, of course, unsurprising because the Interdepartmental Committee ignored JFM’s submissions of that testimony). The Quirke redress scheme is based on McAleese’s findings. In consequence, it does not purport to offer a remedy to women who suffered physical abuse in the Laundries.
3. The redress offered under the scheme is inadequate.
As well as making arrangements for healthcare provision, the Quirke scheme offers tax-free ex gratia payments to women based on the length of their documented service in the laundries. Representative groups are divided as to the adequacy of this element of the scheme.The scheme provides for a top figure of 100,000 euro in redress; the figure available to a woman who has spent 10 or more years in a laundry. Very few women fall into this category. The majority of women who spoke to Mr. Justice Quirke’s team had been in a laundry for 1-5 years. Most of these women are 66 or over, in ill-health, badly educated and living in relative poverty. A woman of 66 who had been in a laundry for 4years, would receive:
- Weekly payments equivalent to the state contributory pension, if she is not already in receipt of that pension.
- 32,500 euro in general damages. General damages provide redress for “the harsh and physically demanding work required of the women and the traumatic, on-going effects which their incarceration and misery within the laundries has had upon their security, confidence and self-esteem”, as well as for the women’s educational deficit and current poor living conditions. General damages are capped at 40,000 euro. A woman who spent, say, 20 years in a laundry is not entitled to more.
- 24,000 euro in respect of the labour undertaken in the laundries. No woman will receive more than 60,000 euro in respect of labour in the laundries, whatever her length of service.
A woman in this category will not receive a 56,500 euro lump sum. 50,000 euro will be paid as a lump sum, with the remainder to be paid in weekly installments for the rest of the woman’s life. The woman in our example would receive a weekly income of 239 euro, which represents the combination of her state pension, assuming she is receiving it for the first time (230 euro per week) and the remainder of the redress due to her which is to be eked over the remainder of her life at a rate of 9 euro per week. The absolute maximum ‘top up’ to the state pension which any woman will receive under this scheme is 130 euro per week. This life income will not pass to dependents when the woman dies. When we take account of the age and ill-health of the majority of Magdalene women, it seems clear that many will die before they have been paid the full redress due to them under Quirke’s formula. This is an especially troubling prospect for women who spent longer periods of time in the laundry, who are entitled to larger sums under the scheme.
4. Redress is not the same as compensation.
The Quirke scheme does not purport to offer compensation of the kind that would be available in a personal injuries claim. This scheme is not tailored to women’s individual injuries and experiences. It is a broad brush scheme based on broad brush assumptions. While a remedy in a personal injuries claim aims to put the claimant in the position she would be in had she not been wronged, this scheme aims only to “reflect the wish of the Irish community to reduce the hurt and pain suffered by the Magdalen women by providing them with monetary payments and with sufficient health and other State benefits to ensure that the remainder of their lives will be made as comfortable as is reasonably possible.”
Page 36 of the Report quotes Stephen Winter:
“In a restorative approach, monetary payments as sist the faultlessly burdened by significantly increasing the material resources available for ongoing development at both individual and community levels. But this is not their only restorative purpose. By recognising past failures, monetary redress payments play a role in expressing state sincerity. In terms of sincerity, individual payments fill an expressive gap in the depersonalised context of state redress… The voluntary character of the ex gratia payments may appear to support this expression of state sincerity. Not bound by the courts to deliver through an adversarial process pitting the state (yet again) against its victims, the payments’ discretionary quality expresses the sincere nature of the state’s reconciliatory intent.”
It is not clear that payments which appear to be patently inadequate can perform this function of sincerity. Simon McGarr (@Tupp_Ed on twitter) notes that Frank Shortt, who successfully sued the state for 27 months false imprisonment (a good analogy for the experience of the many Magdalene women who were illegally detained in the laundries) was awarded millions of euro in damages. There is a danger that if the state is perceived to have downgraded the Magdalene women’s financial entitlement, then the restorative expression of sincerity will begin to look more like risk management.
5. The redress scheme is run on heavily paternalistic principles.
As discussed above, where a woman is entitled to more than 50,000 euro under the Quirke scheme, part of the ex gratia payment will be received as a life income, which cannot then be passed on to a woman’s family as an inheritance. Women are not gaining an asset and do not have full control over the payments received. This provision is made in order to ‘strike a balance’ between the needs of ‘vulnerable’ women who fall within the scheme and those who are more capable of managing their own affairs. Why both groups of women should be treated identically is not clear.
6. Women living in the care of religious orders are not properly provided for.
Little of substance has been said about the position of those women who live in institutions run by the former Magdalene orders. What supports will be put in place to ensure that they have appropriate advocacy, that the money they receive under the scheme is properly used, and that their decisions are properly respected? Many of the orders with whom these women live, and lived under the laundries regime, are funded in respect of their care as ‘service-providers’ under the terms of the Health Act 2004. How will their payments under the scheme interact with that funding?
The Quirke Report stresses that the scheme’s administrator (as yet unidentified) must apply ‘a fair and robust eligibility or qualification process so that eligible applicants will have access to institutional and other relevant records and receive such additional and other co-operation and assistance from State and other agencies as they may require in order to enable them to properly record and verify the work which they have done and the periods(s) o f time which they have spent within the laundries.’ Eligibility may pose a significant hurdle. For instance, the records of the Magdalene Laundries in Galway and Dun Laoighre are not available. Other Magdalene women contend that the records of their period in the laundries are inaccurate, unreliable and in some cases have been deliberately altered. The religious orders still retain control of their records of women’s incarceration.
8. The waiver.
Women participating in the scheme are required to waive their entitlement to sue the state or its agencies in respect of their period in the Magdalene Laundries. Of course, the state is very well protected in this regard both by the statute of limitations and the principles on vicarious liability. Nevertheless, as the IHRC notes in its report at p.104 , many Magdalene women have, in principle, a claim against the state for breach of constitutional rights. This should not be lightly removed by an administrative scheme.
9. It is important to decouple remedies from an aggressive and slow adversarial process, but there is still room for responsibility.
Mr. Justice Quirke says of his scheme that:
(i) it will exclude mutually antagonistic roles and positions and will avoid invasive and painful inquiry and interrogation
(ii) it will not require the individual assessment of any of the Magdalen women and
(iii) it will be a speedy procedure as part of a final process of healing, reconciliation and closure and, in consequence,
(iv) it should reflect the expressed wishes of an overwhelming majority of the 337 Magdalen women who actively participated in a consultation process with the Commission.
These are all laudable goals in the context of this redress scheme. However, it is important to recognise that the desire to avoid antagonism and delay can only take us so far. In particular, this scheme cannot do all of the work of ‘healing, reconciliation and closure’. As Katherine O’Donnell said on Wednesday’s Late Debate on RTE radio, taking the Magdalene women’s experience seriously means taking the time to do justice. Doing justice will necessarily entail further interrogation of the state’s involvement in the laundries. Closure cannot mean concealment.
10. The religious orders which held women in Magdalene Laundries may not contribute to funding the redress scheme.
At the launch of the Quirke Report, the Minister for Justice suggested that the religious orders which were involved in the running of Magdalene Laundries should contribute to the redress scheme. However, two orders have said that they do not plan to contribute. The religious orders are relying, in this regard, on the McAleese Report’s finding that the Magdalene Laundries were not profit-making enterprises. I criticised this finding here as based on incomplete and highly subjective evidence. Findings in relation to the laundries’ finances fell outside the terms of reference of the McAleese Report. The Inter-Departmental Committee, as Simon McGarr notes on Twitter, nevertheless included figures on the laundries’ finances for reasons of ‘public interest’. It is extremely disturbing to see these findings used to avoid participation in the redress scheme. The Quirke report raises, and not for the first time, the question of the State’s apparent inability to hold church organisations responsible for human rights abuses. The Irish Examiner reminds us that several religious orders implicated in the Magdalenes scandal amassed large sums of money in property deals during the economic boom.
Written by Máiréad Enright
Column: The Catholic Church owes the women of the Magdalene Laundries
The Catholic Church and the Irish State were both responsible for incarcerating women in the Magdalene Laundries – and so both must pay, writes Anne Ferris TD.
IN APRIL 1955, a Scottish writer researching a book about Ireland talked his way into the Magdalene Laundry in Galway. First he had to obtain the permission of the Bishop of Galway, Dr Michael John Browne, the same man who a decade later would refer to the RTE broadcaster Gay Byrne as “a purveyor of filth” for the sin of discussing the colour of a lady’s nightgown on the Late Late Show.
True to form, Bishop Browne warned the Scotsman “if you write anything wrong it will come back on you” adding as a condition of entry to the laundry that anything intended to be published about the visit would have to be approved in advance by the Mother Superior of the Sisters of Mercy.
The Scotsman, Dr Halliday Sutherland, agreed to abide by the bishop’s stipulation and was granted rare access to a Magdalene laundry. His subsequent account is worked into a single chapter in his 1956 book ‘Irish Journey’. To what extent it was censored by the Mother Superior, we will never know.
An ‘agreed’ year of unpaid domestic service
The day before he visited the laundry in Galway, Dr Sutherland visited the Mother and Baby home in Tuam. He noted that the accepted practice was that unmarried mothers in the Tuam home ‘agreed’ to provide a year of unpaid domestic service to the nuns, and that in addition to this servitude, the home received State support, via Galway County Council, to the tune of £1 per child or mother per week.
Sutherland was told that any child not adopted by the age of seven was sent to work in one of Ireland’s notorious Industrial Schools, no doubt a factor in the decisions of the thousands of Irish women who ‘agreed’ to the export of their children for Catholic adoptions abroad. Women who were re-admitted to the Tuam Mother and Baby Home on a second occasion were automatically sent to work at the Magdalene Home Laundry in Galway. By directing the women to the laundry and the children to the industrial schools the State saved money and the Church made money.
Church and State incarcerated women: both must pay
Today, thanks to the Magdalene survivors groups we know what the women suffered and that the Mother and Baby homes were only one of many routes by which the Church and State incarcerated women in the Magdalene laundries and similarly operated religious institutions. This is why in February of this year, after successive governments failed to engage meaningfully with the Magdalene survivors, the current Taoiseach made a formal apology to the women on behalf of the State.
This week the Government announced a redress fund for the survivors. It remains to be seen if the amount and means of payment will prove sufficient to compensate for the State’s role in this tragedy. No sum of money can take away the pain that these women have endured. In my capacity of Vice Chair of the Oireachtas Committee for Justice, Defence and Equality I personally undertake to closely monitor the progress of any necessary legislation designed to effect the speedy and appropriate distribution of redress to the women concerned. But there can be absolutely no ambiguity regarding the financial contribution to be made by the Church. There is now no hiding from the enormity of what these women suffered in the so called ‘care’ of these religious institutions.
Stripped of personal liberty
On the day in 1955 that Dr Halliday Sutherland visited the Galway Magdalene he met some of its seventy-three unpaid manual workers who lifted and toiled in the heat and wet doing laundry work for businesses, institutions and homes in Galway. One woman told him she had been there for 25 years. He asked another if she liked the laundry. She answered “yes” but according to Sutherland she did not look him in the eye. Later, he said, a nun told him that she was a bold girl.
“On Sundays they’re allowed to use cosmetics”, the sister-in-charge told him.
But…“Are the girls free?” asked Sutherland.
“Yes” said the nun.
“Can a girl leave whenever she chooses?
“No, we are not as lenient as all that.” said the Mother Superior.
Anne Ferris is the Labour Party TD for Wicklow and East Carlow. She is also Vice Chair of the Oireachtas Committee for Justice, Defence and Equality.
Force the Orders who ran the Magdalen Laundries to pay compensation.
Why this is important
Magdalene survivors to receive €11,500 to €100,000
By Joe Humphreys Wed, Jun 26, 2013, 20:24
Government provides at least €34.5 million to compensate women held in laundries
Survivors of the Magdalene laundries are to receive lump sum payments of between €11,500 and €100,000 for their time spent in the institutions, the Government has announced.
Under a new compensation scheme, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said approximately 600 women were expected qualify for the ex gratia payments, and “crucially payment of these sums of money is not dependent on proof of any hardship, injury or abuse”.
Members of one group representing survivors have rejected the offer. Magdalene Survivors Together want all the women detained to be given a basic payment of €50,000 and one member has called on the Government to go back to the drawing board.
While Mr Shatter said it was impossible to give an accurate prediction of total costs as the number of validated applicants had yet to be established “my officials estimate the total cost of these lump sum payments would be in the range of €34.5 million to €58 million.
A woman who spent any time of three months or less would receive a lump sum of €11,500, and the amount then increases. For one year it will be €20,500 and for five years €68,500. The maximum payment is €100,000 for women were in a laundry for 10 years or more.
Women who are entitled to more than €50,000 through the scheme will receive a €50,000 lump sum, plus an annual payment calculated from the remaining sum, which would be paid weekly.
Allowing for this condition, “one off payments in the range would total €24 million to €40 million with total weekly payments amounting to €70,000 to €1.26 million annually.”
To minimise further legal costs, Mr Justice Quirke, president of Law Reform Commission, recommended that before accepting any payment, the woman should agree not to make any further claim against the State and should have access to independent legal advice.
Mr Shatter said it was in discussions with the Legal Aid Board on how to provide that advice.
Mr Shatter has met the four religious congregations which ran the laundries and told them they are expected to contribute to the compensation. “There will be great disappointment within Cabinet if the congregations fail to make a contribution,” he said. Mr Shatter would not put a figure on how much they are expected to pay. During talks with the orders, some nuns said they still care for more than 100 Magdalene survivors at their own expense. “They are making a contribution by providing them with accommodation and supports,” he said. “Of course they are going to incur expense and work has to be done in providing us with the verifying records that are necessary.”
Women who were held in one of the Magdalene laundries rejected the offer and called on the Government to go back to the drawing board. Members of
Magdalene Survivors Together want all the women detained to be given a basic payment of €50,000 for the emotional and psychological damage suffered, with additional compensation sought for work at the laundries. They also want all the money paid in one bulk, instead of an initial lump sum followed by weekly amounts making up the balance.
Maureen Sullivan, the youngest known survivor admitted to one of the laundries, said women were forced to work from morning till night — washing floors from 7.30am, in a laundry throughout the day, and then making rosary beads at night. “I think they totted it up all wrong,” she said. “They need to go back to the drawing board.”
But Sally Mulready of the Irish Women Survivors Network, which represents around 60 UK based survivors, said it welcomed the scheme as a “fair, fast and just settlement, without endless lawyers and legal costs”.
She particularly welcomed the provision for enhanced pension which was fitting recognition of the time women spent working in the laundries.
The Sisters of Mercy ran two laundries, one in Dun Laoghaire which closed in 1963 and one in Galway which closed in 1984. It said its archives will be open for women to check how long they spent in the institutions.
The congregation also said it supported the possibility of mediation between nuns and surviving women. “We will welcome the opportunity for such interaction mindful that all Sisters who held positions of responsibility and worked in Galway or Dun Laoghaire are now deceased,” they said.
Other recommendations made by Judge Quirke include:
* Magdalene women will be granted free access to services — including GP, hospital care, drugs and dental counselling — by way of an enhanced medical card.
* All Magdalene women who have reached pensionable age will have income equivalent to the state contributory pension.
* Those who have not reached pensionable age will have income of 100 euro per week.
* All cash payments will be exempt from income tax and other taxes and will not be taken into account in means testing for social welfare or other benefits.
* A dedicated unit will be created to provide advice and support, assistance in meeting with religious congregations and social opportunities to meet other such women.
Give the laundry girls their compo
Rights watchdog: State acted wrongfully
SURVIVORS of the Magdalene Laundries should get compensation including unpaid wages, pensions and rehab, a watchdog has insisted.
In yesterday’s follow-up report to Martin McAleese’s laundries probe, the Irish Human Rights Commission said the State failed to protect women and girls sent to the institutions.
And IHRC commissioner Professor Siobhan Mullally said the McAleese inquiry fell short of drawing conclusions on the State’s obligations.
She added: “The State acted wrongfully in failing to protect these women by not putting in place adequate mechanisms to prevent such violations, and by failing to respond to their allegations over a protracted period.”
Call for Magdalene Laundry inquiry in NI
Former residents of Magdalene Laundries in Northern Ireland are calling for an inquiry into their abuse allegations.
Published Wednesday, 29 May 2013
It is thought hundreds of people across the region could come forward with their claims of abuse if a new investigation is established, or the current inquiry amended.
The current Historical Institutional Abuse inquiry does not cover victims of clerical child abuse and former residents of Magdalene Laundry-type institutions in NI.
But on Wednesday, they will gather to ask for the terms of that inquiry to be extended to include them.
They are backed by Amnesty International, and Patrick Corrigan from the organisation said it is now time for NI’s politicians to take further action.
He explained: “We are now coming to them with those other issues too, particular groups who have been left out of the current inquiry, children who have been abused at community or parish level, and women who were incarcerated effectively in those Magdalene Laundry-type institutions, and who suffered abuse not as children, but as adults.
“It’s now time for the Executive and the Assembly to turn their attention to justice and truth for those groups too.”
Many of these people are now in advanced years and they’ve had to live with shame, with stigma and they’ve a dark shadow cast over the whole of their lives, and a feeling that nobody wanted to know them and nobody was there when they were most vulnerable in their lives.
For the victims of abuse, Mr Corrigan said they want the state to acknowledge “the pain they went through”.
He added: “They now want to turn to our political representatives, and we are asking today for those leaders to listen to those victims now as adults, and to give them the truth, the justice and the acknowledgement that they crave before they finally pass away themselves.”
The current inquiry is investigating allegations of abuse at 35 sites across NI, including state-run children’s homes, institutions run by the Catholic Church, borstals, and institutions run by Protestant churches or voluntary sector organisations.
The three-year review, chaired by Sir Anthony Hart, could cost up to £19m.
After hearing from the alleged victims, an acknowledgement forum panel will produce a report to Sir Anthony detailing the claims.
Earlier this year, Taoiseach Enda Kenny described the Magdalene Laundries as “the nation’s shame”.
Speaking in the Irish government, Mr Kenny apologised to the victims of abuse after a report found thousands of women forced into the workhouses were physically and verbally abused.
The 18-month inquiry found 10,000 single mothers, women, and girls as young as 11 were forced into detention, mostly in the for-profit laundries. More than 2,000 women were sent to the laundries by the Irish authorities.
Some were detained for petty crime, others for disability, or pregnancy outside marriage.
(Reuters) – Many of the women and girls subjected to harsh discipline and unpaid work in Ireland’s now-notorious Magdalene Laundries were sent there by the Irish state, an official report said on Tuesday.
The laundries, run by Catholic nuns, have been accused of treating inmates like “slaves” for decades of the 20th century, imposing a regime of fear and prayer on girls sometimes put in their care for simply falling pregnant outside wedlock.
Irish governments had in the past denied blame, emphasising the laundries were private institutions, but the 1,000-page report concludes there was “significant state involvement”, with one in four inmates sent there via various arms of the state.
The laundries, depicted in the award-winning film “The Magdalene Sisters”, put 10,000 women and girls, as young as nine, through an uncompromising regime from the foundation of the Irish state in 1922 until 1996.
The report’s findings follow investigations into clerical sex abuse and state-abetted cover-ups that have shattered the authority of the church in Ireland and rocked the Catholic Church’s reputation worldwide.
“Many of the women who met with the committee experienced the laundries as lonely and frightening places. For too long, they have been and have felt forgotten,” said the report, compiled by an inter-departmental government committee established in 2011.
“None of us can begin to imagine the confusion and fear experienced by these young girls, in many cases little more than children, on entering the laundries – not knowing where they were, feeling abandoned.”
Groups representing survivors of the Magdalene Laundries – named after Mary Magdalene, the “fallen woman” of the gospels – asked Prime Minister Enda Kenny to apologise on behalf of the state and want a compensation scheme to be established.
Kenny stopped short of the full apology demanded, saying the Magdalene Laundries was not a “single issue story”.
“To those residents who went through the Magdalene Laundries in a variety of ways, 26 percent of them from state involvement, I am sorry for those people that they lived in that kind of environment,” Kenny told parliament.
Justice for Magdalenes, a group comprised of former inmates, family members of those who died and human rights activists, said Kenny’s statement fell far short of a sincere apology and that what could have been a positive day had “been ruined”.
“I LOST MY YOUTH”
Years of crisis over sexual abuse of children have prompted several Irish bishops to resign. Last month a new head of the Roman Catholic Church was appointed to succeed Cardinal Sean Brady, whose tenure had been plagued by allegations he failed to warn parents their children were being abused.
Unlike other harrowing reports where priests were found to have beaten and raped children in Catholic-run institutions, no allegations of sexual or physical abuse were made against the nuns at the laundries, Tuesday’s report said.
However former inmates, one in 10 of whom died in care, the youngest at 15, described the atmosphere in the laundries as cold, with an uncompromising regime of physically demanding work and prayer enforced by scoldings and humiliations.
Many women still find it difficult to tell their stories, the report said. The committee, chaired by Martin McAleese, husband of former Irish President Mary McAleese, was only able to survey 100 “survivors”.
Some, like Mary Currington, were too embarrassed to talk about their past until recently. Housed in a laundry against her will from 1963 to 1969, she only told her now husband about her experiences after he asked her to marry him.
Currington was sent to the laundries after being brought up in Ireland’s now defunct Catholic-run industrial schools, themselves the subject of a 2009 report that labelled them places of fear, neglect and endemic sexual abuse.
Born to an unmarried mother, she returned to the nuns for help aged 18, only to be sent to a laundry where her name was changed, long hair cut and clothes replaced by rags. Expect for a 30 minute break for exercise, her days were spent behind a sewing machine.
“They locked me up for six whole years in that place. I lost my youth,” the mother-of-two, known to the nuns as Geraldine, told Reuters from her home in England.
“All your life was about prayer, what did it do for us? They enslaved us, most of them were very horrible people. I don’t know how they said they were people of God, they were not people of God… It’s ruined my whole life.”
‘Magdalene Laundries’ was a giant laundry business run by Nuns (Sisters of Mercy) who forced young women into these asylums, torturing and using them for free labor. Held against their will, the girls were degraded, and manipulated into believing they had to be washed of their ‘sins’ for being “fallen women”. That is, for getting pregnant before marriage (including victims of rape), for being “too pretty” and “tempting to men”, mentally disabled, or if a girl was outspoken, strong-willed, or otherwise non-conforming.
The innocent ladies were forced to work endlessly without compensation, starved, and physically abused, denied of their rights and freedom. They also endured a daily regime that included long periods of prayer and enforced silence. An estimated 30,000 women passed through Ireland’s laundries and the last asylum in Ireland closed on September 25, 1996. To-date, the “Sisters of Mercy” deny the abuse they have caused, but claim that the documents of many inmates have burned in “accidental” fires. The Irish government has done nothing about this. In fact, to-date the government claims the ladies were here “willingly”. Survivor testimonies prove otherwise.
Call for Magdalene survivors redress
Two advocacy groups have called on the State to issue a formal apology and to establish a redress scheme for survivors of the Magdalene Laundries.
The Adoption Rights Alliance and the Justice for Magdalenes (JFM) group said they wished to highlight the “unacceptable lack of response from both church and State in facing up to Ireland’s dark past in its treatment of vulnerable women incarcerated in Magdalene Laundries” and mother-and-baby homes.
The identities, history and heritage of their children were also taken away through the closed, secret adoption practices run by the Catholic Church, the groups said.
Director of JFM Mari Steed was in Dublin to participate in an RTÉ documentary about vaccine trials conducted on infants in those mother and baby homes without their mothers’ consent.
Ms Steed was born at the Bessboro mother-and-baby home in Cork in 1960 and sent to the United States for adoption in December 1961.
She was one of the more than 200 children involved in the vaccine trials conducted by then Burroughs Wellcome (now Glaxo SmithKline).
Ms Steed, the daughter of a Magdalene survivor, was one of more than 2,000 children secretly sent to the United States from Ireland for adoption.
She said she found the ethics of the vaccine trials “absolutely abhorrent”.
As well as the fact the women in the Magdalene homes were neither told about the trials nor asked for their consent, there had been no medical follow-up to check for after-effects.
Ms Steed said she had a “very happy” adoptive upbringing but had become curious and had sought to trace her blood mother in the early 1990s.
She had met with “harassment”, “lies” and “a road block” at every stage, she said. She was reunited with her birth mother in 2001.
Susan Lohan of the Adoption Rights Alliance called for changes to the closed, sealed adoption process used here. Ms Lohan said this would not be addressed by the Adoption Bill, which is due to be passed into law shortly.
Ms Lohan said the Adoption Board was a “moribund” organisation, with no representation from adopted people on its board.
Claire McGettrick of the Justice for Magdalenes and Adoption Rights Alliance criticised the “stonewalling” by the Church and State in relation to the Magdalenes redress issue.
She said the Conference of Religious in Ireland had declined to meet the groups.
Representatives of the Justice for Magdalenes group met Primate of All-Ireland Cardinal Seán Brady last June. He encouraged them in their efforts to establish dialogue with religious congregations.
Cardinal Brady said at the time it was a welcome opportunity to listen to the perspective of the group on “the story of the involvement of church, State and society in the former Magdalene laundries”.
The group’s representatives said today they were waiting for a further response from Cardinal Brady.
The Adoption Rights Alliance says there are more than 42,000, and possibly as many as 50,000, adopted people in Ireland.
In some cases in the 50s and 60s, children were adopted illegally from institutions, and their births were registered as if they were the natural-born children of the adoptive parents. The groups have no figures on the number of children affected.
A Life of Servitude Behind Convent Walls
Someone once said the only thing really new in the world is the history we don’t know. The Irish people are learning that right now and it’s a painful experience.
It began five years ago when an order of nuns in Dublin sold off part of its convent to real estate developers. On that property were the remains of 133 women buried in unmarked graves, and buried with them was a scandal.
As it turns out, the women had been virtual prisoners, confined by the Catholic Church behind convent walls for perceived sins of the flesh, and sentenced to a life of servitude in something called the Magdalene laundries.
It sounds medieval, something that happened hundreds of years ago, but, in fact, the last Magdalene laundry closed just over two years ago. And as the story was firstly reported in 1999, revelations have shocked the Irish people, embarrassed the Catholic Church and tarnished the country’s image.
From the front, the former Good Shepherd Convent in Cork looks like an exclusive private school, with a hidden history too heavy to tell. At the back of the convent, you can still see the skeleton of the washhouse, one of dozens of Magdalene institutions scattered across the countryside.
It was there that Mary Norris and Josephine McCarthy each spent three years of hard labor, enforced silence and prayer, after it was decided that they were in moral danger and unfit to live in Irish society.
Both had come from troubled homes, spent time in Catholic orphanages, and were sent out as servant girls, where they ran into trouble with their employers for staying out late. They were turned over to the nuns because it was suspected they either were, or were about to become, sexually active. Josephine says she was accused of having sex in the backseat of a car.
“And then the next thing I knew, I was with this woman on a train to Cork. And I was just brought up here. I was just told my name was Phyllis, and I’d work in the laundry,” said McCarthy, walking down the laundry during her revisit to the convent.
They were given new names by the nuns to help them break from their pasts. No one knows how many women were sent off to the laundries. The religious orders refuse to make those records available, but estimates range into the tens of thousands.
The church was the only authority under which they were held, as Norris explained. “I would have rather been down in the women’s jail. At least I would have got a sentence and I would know when I was leaving,” she said.
“It’s made me feel a horrible, dirty person all my life,” McCarthy added, when the two of them walked past the convent.
They were both teenagers when they came here, Norris in the 1950s and McCarthy in the 1960s. Their only crime was appearing to violate the moral code dictated by the church. At that time, it was the church and not the state that was the most powerful force in Ireland. There was no due process and no appeal.
According to McCarthy, the women got up about 5 in the morning, went to Mass, had breakfast, started work and then went to bed about 7 at night.
“That was it. That was our life. And we dare not ask questions,” she said. “And (the work is) very hard. You’d have to hand-wash – scrub. You’d have no knuckles left. Ironing – you would be burnt. It was just hard work.”
The choice of work was no accident. They were called “Magdalenes”, or “penitents”. By scrubbing, they were supposed to wash away their sins along with the stains on the laundry of the orphanages, churches, prisons and even the local butcher shop.
The income from their labor put a roof over their heads, food on their plates, and financed any other ventures the nuns might be involved in.
Besides washing all day, every “Magdalene” needed to pray out loud for her sins.
The laundries got their name from Mary Magdalene, the fallen woman who became one of Jesus’ closest followers. They began 150 years ago as homes to rehabilitate prostitutes. But by the early 20th century, the role had been expanded to care for unwed mothers and other young women the church considered to be wayward.
The stigma attached to illegitimacy and promiscuity was so severe that the woman was often thrown out of her home, driven from her community, disowned by her family. And for many, the laundries were the only things that stood between them and the street. Although few visual records could be found, some of the massive compounds are still standing.
One of the former Magdalene institutions in Waterford is now a college campus. Niall McElwee, a sociologist who teaches here, has written about the Magdalens.
He said girls could be sent to the institution by different people – parish priests, Catholic curates, family members and sometimes even the girls themselves.
Although some people knew the laundries existed, according to McElwee, what went on behind the convent walls was largely a mystery. It was a place to be feared.
“There would have been apple trees, for example. And this would be one place where children would not steal apples, mainly because they were afraid of what would happen to them if they got caught inside,” he explained.
“Some people are arguing that these were prisons. At least in a prison, people had certain rights and responsibilities that were certainly taken away from the women within these walls.”
Quoting from one of the religious people, McElwee said in those days, “every effort was made to try and locate these girls.” Therefore, even if the confined girls wanted to escape, it would have been very difficult. At the Magdalene institution in Cork, Norris and McCarthy were locked behind 20-foot brick walls, topped with shards of broken glass that were mortared into the concrete.
The only way out was to be claimed by a relative who was willing to take responsibility. McCarthy recalled that they were watched 24 hours a day. And the chances of being claimed was slim, too.
“My mother didn’t know where I was. My sisters didn’t know where I was. Nobody knew where I was,” said Norris.
In some cases, inquiring family members were told that the church had found their missing relatives in other cities, and with new names, they could be difficult to locate.
Norris was finally released when an aunt in Boston began making inquiries. McCarthy was rescued by a brother in London.
She said, “When I left, they gave my brother an envelope with three 10-shilling notes in it. And my brother asked the nun what it was for, and she said, ‘That’s the payment for working.’ And my brother wasn’t very nice. And he just tore it up and threw it back at her.”
At that time, 30 shillings was about $3.20.
According to McCarthy and Norris, the experience was hardest on unmarried mothers. Their children were taken from them at birth and placed in orphanages, sometimes within the same compound. Both of them remembered a woman who could see and hear her child. “She couldn’t even talk to her; she couldn’t smile at her. And that was her daughter, her baby daughter in the orphanage,” McCarthy recalled.
Most of the babies were eventually adopted, some by good Catholic families in the United States.
Vincent Browne, founder of Magill magazine, is one of Ireland’s most respected editors and journalists. He believes what happened to those “Magdalenes” have a lot to do with people’s attitudes on sex and women.
“That part of the veneration of the Blessed Virgin has been to accord a status to virginity,” he said. “To some extent, women who had had sex, within or without marriage, were regarded as unclean and – and as less than perfect.”
Browne said the nuns believed that through suffering and hard work in the laundries for the greater glory of God, they might find salvation in heaven.
“And I suppose a lot of conscientious Catholics were going to be preserved for the hereafter, even though their lives on Earth was going to be harsh and difficult,” he added.
When the last laundries finally closed, most of the Magdalenes had nowhere to go. Many of them now reside in group homes and convents around the country. For example, a convent in Dublin still holds some women now being cared for by the same nuns who once confined them.
The association that represents the nuns, or the Conference of Religious of Ireland, declined an interview. It, however, provided CBS a statement saying, the Sisters accept the part they played in this regrettable era and asked that it be examined in context. The statement also admits that many former Magdalenes had painful memories and welcomed the opportunity for them to speak with us.
But when the CBS reporter knocked on the door, he was told, “There’s no one to speak.”
“I think the attitude at the moment is to batten down the hatches and hope to God that the scandals over-blow and that the media take up some other cause,” said McElwee.
The story of the Magdalene laundries is but the latest blow to the prestige and power of the Catholic Church in Ireland, which no longer dominates the political agenda. The church, perhaps afraid of litigation and a movement to win some sort of compensation for the women, has remained silent.
The only church official who was willing to discuss the laundries was Willie Walsh, Bishop of Killaloe.
He said, “I think we ought never to be afraid of truth. I think truth is a fundamental Gospel value.” He agreed that in some ways, the values of Gospel could not be reconciled with the treatment that some of these Magdalen women received.
For now, the women must be content with small victories. Norris petitioned the sisters of the Good Shepherd in Cork to at least list the names of the Magdalenes who had been buried in unmarked graves behind the laundry. The nuns complied.
“I, who lived in that society, have a deep sense of shame at the wrong that has been done to them,” said Bishop Walsh. “I would see an obligation in us to make some effort to make our reparation for the wrongs that were done to these girls. It’s not just a matter for the nuns, or for the religious orders. I think it’s a matter for all of us in society.”