State played major role in sending women to laundries
Despite suggestions these institutions were highly profitable, the committee’s analysis of financial records indicated this was not the case. Most operated on a “subsistence or close to break-even” basis.
“The financial accounts tend to support the fact that, what came to be known as the Magdalene laundries, were historically established as refuges, homes or asylums for marginalised women, ” the report states.
It says that while many women referred by State authorities or services were aware of how long they were required to stay, this was not the case for many of those referred by groups outside the State, such as industrial schools or families.
“None of us can begin to imagine the confusion and fear experienced by these young girls, in many cases little more than children,” Senator McAleese writes, “on entering the laundries, 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 and see their families again.”
The report notes the position of the congregations is that they responded in practical ways as best they could to the fraught situations of sometimes marginalised girls and women sent to them. The committee says it found no evidence to contradict their claim that they did not recruit women for these institutions.
While the congregations made their archives open to the committee, the group said it believed their refusal to do so for others was for legal or moral reasons, rather than secrecy or self-interest.
More than 10,000 women and girls entered 10 Magdalene laundries between 1922 and 1996 .
Referrals made or facilitated by the State made up 26.5 per cent (2,124) of the 8,025 cases for which reasons are known.
The committee found “no evidence” that “unmarried girls” had babies in laundries or that many of the women were prostitutes.
State funding of laundries included subventions from local authorities for women they placed and State laundry contracts.
The laundries operated on a subsistence or break-even basis rather than being commercial or highly profitable.
Women and girls referred from industrial schools and non-State agencies would not have known why or for how long they were being sent.
Reasons for entry ranged from court and industrial school referrals, foster parent rejection, physical or mental disability, homelessness , family placement.
Girls found themselves alone in a “harsh and physically demanding work environment”, and laundries were “lonely and frightening” places for many.