Fair compensation must follow Magdalene apology
Opinion:Make Visible the Tree/ This is the Place of Betrayal. Roll back the stone/ behind madonna blue walls.Make visible the tree.
Above percussion of engines
from gloom of catacombs
through a glaze of prayer,
scumble of chanting,
make visible the tree,
its branches ragged
with washed-out linens
of a bleached shroud.
In this shattered landscape,
of sulphur-yellow bulldozers
slice through wombs
of blood-soaked generations.
This is the place
forsaken, stares and stares
at a blank towel.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny might do worse than read Patricia Burke Brogan’s poem as he prepares to issue the much-anticipated official apology to survivors of the Magdalene laundries in the Dáil this afternoon.
It was, after all, Burke Brogan’s play Eclipsed (1992) that provided contemporary Ireland the narrative tropes with which to tell the story of the laundries and all the women confined therein.
Documentaries including Washing Away the Stain, Sex in a Cold Climate and The Forgotten Maggies would follow, then there were movies such as The Magdalene Sisters and Sinners, songs by recording artists Mary Coughlan and Joni Mitchell, and a raft of art works and photography installations, including those by Diane Fenster and Evelyn Glynn.
Across the intervening 21 years, Burke Brogan insisted that the whole story must emerge, that understanding would come only when all sides – the women, nuns, State, society and families – spoke their versions of our collective past.
Eclipsed, and later Stained Glass at Samhain (2002), enacted such a space for dialogue and comprehension. She would pay a price for her courageous voice, but she never wavered from “making visible” the “place of betrayal”, remembering the “blood-soaked generations” of “forsaken” Irish women, women and young girls “washed out”, literally “bleached” from the fabric of the nation’s history.
Today’s official apology must be offered in the same spirit of “making visible.” Survivors of the laundries have for too long lived with the stigma and shame attached to these institutions. Their lives too long marked by silence and secrecy. The State’s apology must help these women – and the children born to some of them who were forcibly adopted at home and abroad – obtain justice long overdue. For others, it will signal finally that they were not to blame.
In crafting the apology, Kenny might also look again at the late Mary Raftery’s documentary, States of Fear (1999).
Near the end of the first episode, Gerard Mannix Flynn speaks to the significance of an apology for survivors of the industrial and reformatory school system, asserting that “[o]ur pain can only be recognised and given its due process by the State – not just the Department of Justice, but the Department of Education and each department that was responsible – admitting that we were wronged. Not that they were wrong; that we were wronged. And that they knew we were wronged. And any apology that’s to be, is an apology that they didn’t act when they should have acted.”
Flynn’s words are echoed in calls for an apology from the courageous women who have spoken out in the two weeks since the publication of the McAleese report. The apology aside, it is to be hoped that the Taoiseach announces compensation measures that are fair, fast and inclusive of all women who spent time in these abusive and exploitative institutions.