Laundry work 'more cost-effective' than care at State facilities


Decisions made by the State’s health authorities to approve the transfer of a girl or woman to a Magdalene laundry hinged on the fact that such a transfer was “more cost-effective” than making direct provision for her in a State health facility, the report found.

Of the 10,012 women who spent time in a Magdalene laundry since 1922, the routes of entry are known for 8,025. Some 6.8 per cent of these were referred by the health and social services sector, which are defined as referrals by psychiatric hospitals, social workers, health authorities and county and city homes.

The committee found instances where decisions to approve the transfer of “an indigent, homeless, disabled or psychiatrically ill girl or woman to a Magdalene laundry hinged on the fact that such a transfer was more cost-effective than making direct provision for her in a facility operated by the health authorities”.

‘Cost-benefit analysis’

The committee could find no single thread or common policy running through these referrals, but a “cost-benefit analysis” was applied by the health authorities in “at least some cases”.

While the Government has acknowledged that women in the laundries were victims of abuse, it has maintained that because the laundries were privately run they lay outside the State’s remit.

Research by activist Maeve O’Rourke, which formed the basis of the complaint to the UN Committee against Torture in 2011, was centred on the premise that the State was complicit because it had dealt commercially with the laundries without ever subjecting them to official regulation or inspection.

In the decades following the establishment of the State, “five and possibly six” Magdalene laundries were approved as “extern institutions” for provision of public assistance – so women eligible for this could be sent to them rather than receive State payments.

The committee said State payments to “recognised extern institutions” as well as “organisations considered to be performing a service which would otherwise fall to the State to provide” were allowed under the Public Assistance Acts and the Health Acts.

Rejection by foster parents

Some placements of girls and young women in laundries by local health authorities occurred after they were rejected by their foster parents at about the age when maintenance payments for them ceased.

In other cases, the removal of unmarried mothers from county and city homes to institutions including Magdalene laundries “appears to have formed part of a broader shift to refocus these institutions on the elderly or the ill”.

Some girls and women were transferred from psychiatric hospitals to laundries. In some cases these were voluntary transfers, as the women used the institutions on a short-term basis as “a halfway house” upon leaving hospital.