Financial records of five of the laundries survived and were available for examination by the authors of the McAleese report.
Quite the opposite from making large profits, Martin McAleese said the laundries found it difficult to survive without support. He did, however, acknowledge that none of the women who worked in the laundry were paid a wage for their labour.
“In summary, the analysis of the available financial records suggested that, in general, the Magdalene Laundries operated on a subsistence or close to break even basis, rather than on a commercial or highly profitable basis and would have found it difficult to survive financially without other sources of income — donations, bequests and financial support from the State,” said the report.
The report also hit out at media portrayals of the laundries making large profits.
“For example, a recent current affairs television programme broadcast a statement that the Magdalene Laundry in Galway made a profit of £56,000 in 1968. This is incorrect. The financial accounts for that year demonstrate that the figure broadcast was the approximate value of the laundry receipts without any deduction of operating costs and expenses. When these are taken into account, the Magdalene Laundry in Galway in fact made a net loss in that year.”
While the accounts provided by the orders showed losses in most years, this was not the case in all.
For example, the Good Shepherd laundry in Limerick had a high turnover and profit on average every year from between 1976 and 1982. When adjusted for 2011 values, it had an average annual turnover of over €1.3m every year in this period, earning over €102,000 in profit each year. This was all earned by women who were not receiving any payment for their work.
The report noted that the laundry 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”.