Plan to turn Dublin Magdalene laundry into memorial centre set for approval

Former institution on Seán McDermott Street in inner city to become ‘multipurpose site of conscience’

Plans to turn the former Magdalene laundry on Seán McDermott Street in Dublin’s north inner city into a national memorial and research centre are set to be approved by city councillors on Monday.

The National Centre for Research and Remembrance will be developed by the Office of Public Works (OPW) to honour former residents of mother and baby homes, industrial schools, reformatories, laundries and related institutions.

The Victorian building on Seán McDermott Street is the last Magdalene laundry remaining in State ownership, and the last such facility where women were incarcerated to be shut down.

More than 11,000 women and girls were held in 10 laundries operated by religious congregations from 1922 until the closure of the Seán McDermott Street laundry in 1996.

Ownership of the building was transferred by the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity in the late 1990s to the city council, which planned to develop the site for housing.

In 2006 the council finalised a public-private partnership housing deal with developer Bernard McNamara to build 179 apartments on the site, 20 per cent of which would be reserved for social and affordable housing. The scheme was one of five PPP deals between the council and Mr McNamara that collapsed in 2008, leaving large flat complexes including O’Devaney Gardens derelict, and buildings such as the laundry unused.

In 2018 the council was offered €14.5 million from international hotel group Toyoko Inn for the laundry site. The no-frills chain wanted to build a 350-bed hotel, student accommodation and shops. The proposal also included 60 apartments for social housing, likely to be used for senior citizens, as well as a memorial to the women who were incarcerated in the laundry.

The sale of the laundry had been recommended by the 2017 Mulvey report on the regeneration of the north inner city so the proceeds could be used to fund the economic and social measures. However, councillors voted against the sale for the hotel proposal in late 2018 to facilitate talks on an alternative use for the site.

Councillors subsequently agreed it should be developed as a “multipurpose site of conscience” that would “seek to honour and commemorate the victims and survivors of Ireland’s institutional past”.

The Government earlier this year announced plans for the research and remembrance centre, which will hold records related to institutional trauma that will form part of the National Archives. There will also be a museum and exhibition space, the development of which will be led by the National Museum of Ireland. The wider site will include social housing, in a newly built block, again likely to be reserved for senior citizens, and local community facilities as well as an educational and early-learning facility.

If the transfer of the site to the OPW is approved by councillors, it will be responsible for developing a master plan for the site and securing planning permission for the project, which is expected to take five years to complete.

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly is Dublin Editor of The Irish Times