Apologies to women after Magdalene laundries report


Sir, - In the media coverage surrounding the report on the Magdalene laundries there is a noticeable absence of the term "forced labour" and of the State's long-standing legal obligations to suppress it.

Ireland ratified the "Forced Labour Convention" in 1931. It defines the term forced labour as "all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily".

The State went on to ratify the "Abolition of Forced Labour Convention" (which superseded the previous one) in 1958. It states, "Each member of the International Labour Organisation which ratifies this convention undertakes to suppress and not to make use of any form of forced or compulsory labour as a means of political coercion or education or as a punishment for holding or expressing political views or views ideologically opposed to the established political, social or economic system." - Yours, etc,


Rue Moillebeau,

Geneva, Switzerland.

Sir, - I am very disappointed by the Government's reaction to the inter-departmental committee on the Magdalene laundries (Front page, February 6th). It seems that poor, marginalised women have had their experience equivocated and demeaned by the report and the Taoiseach's utterances, thus buttressing the historic injustice done to them.

I declare an interest here: I was born in a sister-institution to a laundry to a woman who had done nothing wrong but to offend official-Ireland's vision of its hypocritical self.

Today is a re-run of the insult to the late Bridget McCole, who was chased to the grave by a cautious and overly-zealous State: it is thoroughly shameful. - Yours, etc,


Clonalvy, Co Meath.

A chara, - In the Magdalene laundries report, Dr Martin McAleese says that the women admitted to the laundries "have for too long felt the social stigma" of the "wholly inaccurate characterisation" of them as "fallen women", and that the facts are that most of the women were not "fallen women", such as unmarried pregnant girls, or prostitutes.

It shouldn't matter. An unmarried mother or a sex worker is just as deserving of a State apology for mistreatment and effective false imprisonment as an orphaned girl or a disabled woman. It is right to have investigated the Magdalene laundries; it would be wrong to come to the conclusion that these women didn't deserve what happened to them because they turned out to be the "right" kind of victims. They didn't deserve it because it was wrong to treat people like that, and the State should apologise to them. - Is mise,


George's Quay,

Dublin 2.

Sir, - The shameful and backward response from the Governmentis as shameful and backward as the institutions were themselves. Heartless. - Yours, etc,


Church Road, Killiney,

Co Dublin.

Sir, - Women held in the Magdalene laundries deserved respect and human rights, not imprisonment and inhumane working conditions.

Where was their Lincoln? Where is he or she now? - Yours, etc,



Dublin 7.

Sir, - "Fumbling in the greasy till", our Government is soon to pay €3.1 billion in promissory notes while to date €0 has been paid to the victims of the Magadelene laundries.

Our Government's kowtowing to foreign financial pressure while refusing to countenance either apology or compensation for these women, these citizens of Ireland, is an egregious insult to them and to anyone with a modicum of decency. - Is mise,




Sir, - Enda Kenny has been rightly criticised both inside and outside the Dáil for his embarrassingly insensitive response to the Magdalene report on Tuesday.

However, just because he happens to be in office at this time does not mean he is the only leader who needs to apologise. As this report covers the period from 1922 to 1996, both Labour and Fianna Fáil bear responsibility for government inaction during this period.

In this regard, both Eamon Gilmore and Micheál Martin should offer the strongest possible apologies for of their parties' culpability over many years. It is the least the Magdalene victims deserve. - Yours, etc,


Grosvenor Road,

Dublin 6.

Sir, - By today's standards, the Magdalene laundries were harsh places, but based on Senator Martin McAleese's report, they appear to me from memory to be on a par with a normal Christian Brothers school of the time.

The religious orders held a very firm disciplinary line in all their institutions and sometimes they went over that line, but all in all I think their intentions were generally good. However, while fingers are being pointed and apologies sought, it can't be forgotten that it was our society which pushed these young women out and the religious who took them in.

My mother recounted a story of a father who, along with the rest of the family, disowned his pregnant daughter and literally threw her into the street. She had nowhere to go but was taken in by the religious. Today, in the same situation she might have ended up homeless or worse.

It is very important to learn from the past and help all people who were victims of bullying and bad practice - and change.

In this review we must also acknowledge that it was we, in our general society, who ostracised these young girls because they were pregnant, had special needs or came from abusive families - maybe we all need to apologise? - Yours,e tc,


Taney Crescent,


Dublin 14.

Sir, - "This State has behaved shamelessly where these vulnerable, long-suffering, put-upon women are concerned. At every turn, it has abjured its responsibility to them" (Analysis, February 6th). This summation of the report into the Magdalene laundries, by your religious affairs correspondent Patsy McGarry, gets to the heart of the matter.

How can the current Taoiseach of this so-called Republic, Enda Kenny, not fully and unreservedly apologise to the women who went through these institutions? It is abhorrent to common decency that these institutions operated for so long in this State and as the report has clearly shown, operated fully within the framework of this State.

Instead of repaying the €3.1 billion promissory note, Mr Kenny should rip that up and pay compensation to the women who came through this despicable system. Even that will not be enough to erase their suffering; and nothing can erase the shame on this nation for establishing, supporting and then excusing the operation of these laundries. - Yours, etc,


Monkstown Valley,

Co Dublin.

Sir, - As leader of the country, an important element of the Taoiseach's role is to keep a finger on the emotional pulse of the people and, at times, to give voice to their feelings.

The fact that we, as a country, tolerated the practice of slavery in the 20th century, is an eradicable stain on our national conscience. It does nothing for our confidence as a nation, at a time when we most need to be confident, to know that we live in a society which allowed young Irish citizens to be robbed of freedom, family, education, social interaction and, in a refinement of cruelty, their own names.

It really doesn't matter what the State did or didn't do - to quote Burke, "all that is necessary for the forces of evil to prevail in the world is for enough good men to do nothing". What matters now is that the Taoiseach, as leader of the people of Ireland, unreservedly gives voice to our collective sorrow and regret . - Yours, etc,


Adelaide Street,

Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin.

Sir, - I taught arts and crafts at High Park Convent in North Dublin in spring 1970, hired by Sister Anne, who had a small budget for enrichment classes for the teenagers living at the convent. She also had convinced the powers-that-be that the younger girls should have their own dorm, apart from women who had lived and were going to die at the convent in the service of the laundry there. She successfully fought for a half-way house and job training programme for the girls so that they might have a chance at life outside the laundry and the convent.

As an American student then I didn't know what I was seeing at the time, except that I knew Sister Anne was special. As stories continue to come out about the laundries, I realise I saw a true liberator in action. Sr Anne, you're the best. - Yours, etc,


S Yampa Way,


Colorado, US.

Sir, - Despite an absolute responsibility on An Taoiseach to make an apology to the victims of the Magdalene laundries, I take exception to his remark that Ireland, between the 1920s and 1950s was "authoritarian".

When viewed in the context of real authoritarian regimes that dominated Europe at this time, from fascists in Germany and elsewhere before the second World War to Communists behind the Iron Curtain afterwards, it is in fact admirable that our fledgling nation was able to create a democratic state during this period.

We have made appalling mistakes as a country, with the disgrace of the Magdalene laundries being a case in point, but please do not forget the positive things to take from our history when considering this latest shame. - Yours, etc,


Annadale Drive,


Dublin 9.

Sir, - Could certain broadcasters and politicians - the latest being Kathleen Lynch on Primetime this week - please learn English before they open their mouths in public.

If I hear another politician state that the Magdalene survivors should receive or will get a "fulsome" apology, I will crack up. That's exactly what those victims have been getting! "Fulsome" means excessive, cloying and insincere! But there again, that's just what they have been getting from the Government! - Yours, etc,


Hand Park,


Co Dublin.

Sir, - Another chapter in a long list of the sordid, depraved and frankly disgusting activities of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland was revealed by the publication of the report into the operation of church- run laundries in this country.

Numerous official reports in which the church reluctantly participated and admitted some guilt (though the hierarchy is still involved in denial and cover-up), have revealed that the Roman Catholic church as an organisation is not fit to have any involvement in publicly- funded programmes - most especially in the areas of education and health.

It has over many years corrupted the body politic to the extent that nearly all levels of civic authority turned a blind eye to its activities.

What is now needed is a truly secular republic, where the rights of all citizens are protected by the Constitution and legislature and where vested interests are unable to opt out of their democratic obligations. - Yours, etc,


Newtown Road,

Celbridge, Co Kildare.

Sir, - My generation will never really know the experience of fear and abuse that occurred in the Magdalene laundries. I wish I could see that those brave women get the apology they deserve. On February 5th they did not get the apology they deserve from the Government, but I can guarantee that they gained the sympathy, solidarity and support of all Irish people! - Yours, etc,


St Laurence's Road,

Chapelizod, Dublin 20.