State played major role in sending women to laundries
Martin McAleese at a press conference after the publication of the report investigating State involvement with the Magdalene laundries between 1922 and 1996. photograph: sasko lazarov/ photocall ireland
The State played a significant role in sending thousands of young women to Magdalene laundries, according to an official report published yesterday.
The interdepartmental committee report, chaired by Independent Senator Martin McAleese, has found that about 10,000 women are known to have entered Magdalene laundries since 1922 and the closure of the last institution in 1996.
The State referred or facilitated the transfer of at least 26.5 per cent of women to these institutions, based on available records. It also found direct State involvement in key areas such as the funding and inspection of the laundries.
The report focuses on the State’s involvement with 10 of the laundries operated by four religious congregations from 1922 on: the Sisters of the Good Shepherd; the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity; the Religious Sisters of Charity; and the Sisters of Mercy.
It says the majority of women (61 per cent) spent less than a year there, despite a widespread perception that many spent most of their lives in these institutions. The average age of women at the time of entry was 24 years.
There was no evidence to support the perception that unmarried girls or women had babies in these facilities or that many of those admitted were prostitutes, according to the report.
The reality was “much more complex”, with women referred by State officials in the criminal justice system, industrial schools, social services, psychiatric hospitals or county homes. They accounted for 26.5 per cent of referrals.
In addition, many were categorised as “self-referrals” (16 per cent), while some women were also placed there by their families (11 per cent) or by priests (9 per cent). A significant number were also transferred from other Magdalene laundries (15 per cent).
In an introduction to the report, Senator McAleese states that many of the women found the laundries to be “lonely and frightening places” and for too long felt forgotten.
“For many of them, an inability to share their story in the years after their time in a Magdalene laundry has only added to the confusion and pain about that period of their lives,” he writes.
By today’s standards, the work environment was “harsh and physically demanding”, according to the report, and the psychological impact on these women was “undoubtedly traumatic and lasting”.
The vast majority of women who spoke with the committee, however, said the ill-treatment, physical punishment and abuse prevalent in industrial schools was not something they experienced in the laundries.
There is also evidence that the State directly or indirectly funded these institutions. In one facility, contracts from the Defence Forces and other State agencies accounted for almost a fifth of business.