‘Horrifying and shameful’

The stigma and suffering of former residents of the Magdalene Laundries has been “prolonged” by the Government’s failure to apologise for what happened, victims said.

‘Horrifying and shameful’

They accused Taoiseach Enda Kenny of “cruelty and ineptitude” for his response to the 1,000-page report which revealed significant State involvement in the Church-run laundries where thousands of women were subjected to unpaid labour.

Declining to apologise, Mr Kenny said the report presented a story that was “very different from the impression that many people might have of what happened”.

The report, by Martin McAleese, said that, until now, the operations of the laundries had “not been fully understood” and “fuelled by this absence of information, stories grew to fill these gaps”.

While they were cold, rigid places with demanding work and prayer regimes, “the ill-treatment, physical punishment, and abuse that was prevalent in the industrial school system was not something they experienced in the Magdalene Laundries”.

Campaign group Justice for Magdalenes said the report utterly minimised the abuse they suffered and the Government “should not see this as the full picture in any shape or form”. Spokeswoman Claire McGettrick said: “For Enda Kenny to decline the opportunity to apologise today prolongs the stigma for these women.”

JFM strongly rejected the report’s claim that the institutions were not commercial or profitable and did not “recruit” women to work.

In his introduction to the report, Mr McAleese said the religious orders responded in a “practical way as best they could” to the “fraught situations of the sometimes marginalised girls and women sent to them, by providing them with shelter, board, and work”.

Just one of the four orders that ran the 10 laundries apologised. However, Mr McAleese noted that many of the sisters involved in the institutions “have experienced a profound hurt in recent years” as the debate gained public prominence.

Under Dáil questioning, Mr Kenny said women ended up in the laundries for a “variety of reasons — not least of which was destitution and poverty”.

He said 10,012 women entered these laundries — not the 30,000 that had previously been estimated — and just 26% of those were referred by the State.

“I am sorry for those people that they lived in that kind of environment,” he said, adding it had occurred in “an Ireland which was a very hostile environment in the far off past”.

He compared the women to victims of other State failures. “We have seen what happened to the women who underwent symphysiotomies, or thalidomide victims.”

Mr Kenny said the stigma of the laundries needed “to be removed and should have been removed long before this. I really am sorry, and I regret, that that never happened.”

The Taoiseach is likely to come under criticism from his own backbench TDs over his handling of the issue, as well as the Labour Party, whose Labour Women group issued a statement last night calling for an apology.

Mari Steed, whose mother Josephine Murphy was in a laundry in Sunday’s Well, Cork, when she was adopted by a family in the US, said the Government’s response was horrifying. “What we witnessed today was absolutely shameful. I can’t recall ever being so angry,” Ms Steed said.

Katherine O’Donnell, director of the Women’s Studies Centre at UCD, who has researched the laundries for JFM, said the Taoiseach’s failure to apologise was down to “ineptitude”.

The report: The laundries in numbers


Number of women who spent time in Magdalene Laundries since 1922: 10,012 (excludes two laundries in Galway and Dublin run by the Sisters of Mercy).

Known admissions, including repeat admissions, from 1922 onwards: 14,607

Admissions for which routes of entry or referrals are known: 8,025

Number of these referrals made or facilitated by the State: 2,124 (25%)

Referrals of girls or women from the criminal justice system: 8.1%

Industrial and reformatory school referrals: 7.8%

Health and social services sector referrals: 6.8%

Mother and baby home referrals: 3.9%

Voluntary referrals: 16.4%

Referrals by families: 10.5%

Referrals by priests: 8.8%

Transfers from other Magdalene Laundries: 14.8%

Age at the time of entry:

Average age: 23.8

Age of youngest known entrant: 9

Age of oldest known entrant: 89

Duration of stay:

Less than three months: 35.6%

Less than six months: 47.4%

Less than one year: 61%

Less than 18 months: 68%

Less than two years: 73.2%

Less than three years: 79%

Less than five years: 85.6%

Less than 10 years: 92.3%

Known parental background (unknown 53.9%):

Both parents alive: 12.5%

Father dead, mother alive: 11.6%

Mother dead, father alive: 8.5%

Both parents dead: 13.5%

Deaths occurring in laundries: n879: Youngest 15, oldest 95.

Justice For Magdalenes’ reaction to the numbers:

JFM is aware of at least 988 women buried in laundry plots.

As the report omits the Sisters of Mercy-run laundries, the figure of 10,012 is in need of upward revision.

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