N. Ireland struggles to confront Catholic Church’s enslavement of 1000s of women
3/29/2013 6:09pm by Paresh Dave
NOTE FROM JOHN ARAVOSIS: Below is a follow-up to a story we reported on last month about the Catholic-church-run Magdalene laundries that imprisoned up to 30,000 Irish women as slave labor over the past century. This update is authored by Paresh Dave, a journalism student at USC who recently traveled to Ireland and Northern Ireland for 10 days under a grant from the Luce Foundation.
BELFAST — A damning report concluded last month that the Irish government breached its duty of care to thousands of women who were abused over a 74-year-period in church-run asylums known as Magdelene laundries. In response, the head of the Irish government apologized to victims and laid out a compensation package.
In Northern Ireland, however, there is no forthcoming apology or redress for Magdelene survivors.
Northern Ireland’s investigation into institutional abuse just kicked off in January — 216 complaints have been filed through March 10. But the inquiry covers only people younger than 18 who were abused in at least 35 places, such as live-in trade schools, between 1922 and 1995. Established by the government, these institutions were generally run by religious orders.
In contrast to the Republic of Ireland, left out in the infant Northern investigation are victims of abuse at local churches and the infamous Magdalene laundries.
Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland program director, said too few of the Magdalene victims came forward as the investigation was originally being organized, so there wasn’t enough political will to include them. Amnesty is pushing lawmakers to now include them.
A Northern Ireland Assembly committee heard last Wednesday that it certainly can expand the investigation, if government leaders decide to.
In an interview following the hearing, Amnesty’s Corrigan said Northern Ireland is playing catch up with its southern neighbor.
“The victims in the south have pushed the door open,” he said. “Victims in the north are now asking, ‘Why is my government not responding?’”
Corrigan called for a meeting last month with the two partisan leaders who head the Northern Irish government, but hasn’t heard back from either.
At Wednesday’s hearing, the chairman of the committee that oversees those two leaders suggested there’s potential for action by summer on whether a new inquiry should be started, or the existing one amended.
Corrigan said it would be cost-efficient to expand the existing Historical Institutional Abuse inquiry to include the potentially several thousand Magdelene victims. The goal of the investigation is to determine whether the state failed in its duty toward children in its care, and if so, what should be done about that now.
Dealing with people who were abused at local churches is more difficult. Corrigan said that, unlike with the Magdalene laundries, it’s hard to make a case that the Northern Irish government had a watchdog role inside churches. Because of the strong ties between the Irish government and the Roman Catholic Church, the situation was different in the south.
Yet with a new abuse story emerging nearly every week, many observers now see the likelihood for a more comprehensive investigation in Northern Ireland.
“We don’t know the full story about the abuse crisis in the North,” said William Crawley, a BBC presenter based in Belfast, during an interview. “But we will before the calm hits.”
A report isn’t likely to come out until January 2016.
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.
Force the Orders who ran the Magdalen Laundries to pay compensation.
Why this is important
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.