State had 'significant' role in Magdalene laundry referrals

The entrance to the former Magdalene laundry at St Mary's Convent on  Grace Park Road, Drumcondra, Dublin. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh/The Irish Times

The entrance to the former Magdalene laundry at St Mary's Convent on Grace Park Road, Drumcondra, Dublin. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh/The Irish Times

Tue, Feb 5, 2013, 00:00

Some 10,000 women and girls entered Magdalene laundries since 1922 with more than a quarter of referrals made or facilitated by the State, a report has found.

The 'Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen Laundries' was published this afternoon. It found “significant” State involvement in the laundries.

In the report, the committee said it found “no evidence” to support the perception that “unmarried girls” had babies in the laundries or that many of the women were prostitutes.

“The reality is much more complex” committee chairman Dr Martin McAleese writes in the introduction.

The women admitted to the laundries “have for too long felt the social stigma” of the “wholly inaccurate characterisation” of them as “fallen women”, he said. “[This is] not borne out of facts.”

In the Dáil this afternoon, Taoiseach Enda Kenny expressed his sympathies with survivors of the laundries and the families of those who have died. “To those residents who went into the Magdalene laundries from a variety of ways, 26 per cent from State involvement, I’m sorry for those people that they lived in that kind of environment,” he said. However, he stopped short of issuing a full State apology.

Reasons for Entry

The committee found a wide range of reasons women and girls entered the 10 religious run laundries operating in the State between 1922 and 1996.

Reasons include: referrals by courts, mostly for minor or petty offences; by social services; from industrial and reformatory schools; rejection by foster parents; girls orphaned or in abusive homes; women with mental or physical disabilities; poor and homeless women and girls placed by their families for reasons including socio-moral attitudes.

Women and girls referred from industrial schools and non-State agencies would not have known why they were being sent or how long they had to stay in the laundries, the report finds. Those referred by officials in criminal justice and social services would have been told reason and duration.

“None of us can begin to imagine the confusion and fear experienced by these young girls, in many cases little more than children,” Dr McAleese writes. “Not knowing why they were there, feeling abandoned, wondering whether they had done something wrong and not knowing when, if ever, they would get out to and see their families again”.

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