No redress for residents Magdalen laundries

 

FORMER RESIDENTS of Magdalen laundries are not eligible for compensation from the Residential Institutions Redress Board, Minister for Education Batt O’Keeffe has said.

“The Magdalen laundries were privately-owned and operated establishments which did not come within the responsibility of the State. The State did not refer individuals to the Magdalen laundries nor was it complicit in referring individuals to them,” he said.

He also pointed out that the laundries were not subject to State regulation or supervision and so had not been listed in the schedule to the Residential Institutions Redress Act, 2002.

Mr O’Keeffe was replying in a letter to Tom Kitt TD, who had made representations to the Minister concerning former residents of the laundries.

He did so on behalf of James Smith, associate professor at the English department and Irish studies programme in Boston College and author of Irelands Magdalen Laundries and the Nation’s Architecture of Containment, (2008, Manchester University Press). In his letter, Mr O’Keeffe made the point that “in terms of establishing a distinct scheme for former employees of the Magdalen laundries, the situation in relation to children who were taken into the laundries privately or who entered the laundries as adults is quite different to persons who were resident in State-run institutions.”

An exception to this, he said,would be children who were transferred from a State-regulated institution to a Magdalen laundry and suffered abuse while resident there.

“The justification for this [latter] provision is that the State was still responsible for the welfare and protection of children transferred to a Magdalen laundry from a State-regulated institution provided they had not been officially discharged from the scheduled institution,” he said.

Expressing gratitude to Mr Kitt for his efforts in the case on behalf of the Justice for Magdalens group, Dr Smith challenged the Minister’s use of the word “employees” when referring to women in the laundries.

“They were never ‘employees . . . if they were they would have received payment surely,” he said.

He continued: “If the Minister insists that they were ‘employees’ then surely the State holds some responsibility to ensure that the laundries complied with the Factories Acts in terms of safe work practices, fair pay, regular work days, etc.”

He also insisted that the State was complicit in referring women to the laundries.

“The Irish courts routinely referred women to various Magdalen laundries upon receiving suspended sentences for a variety of crimes, and I have archival documents detailing communication between judges and mothers superior of a number of convents arranging such referrals,” he said.

“Likewise I can document that these women were escorted by the States probation officers upon entry to the laundries. There is no record of the probation officers checking to ensure such women were released upon the end of their suggested period of confinement,” he said.

Magdelen laundries: a brief history of the institutions

THE FIRST Magdalen laundry opened on Dublin’s Leeson Street in 1767. After the Famine, four female Catholic religious congregations came to dominate the running of the laundries.

These were the Sisters of Mercy (SM), Sisters of Charity (SC), Sisters of our Lady of Charity of Refuge (SCR), and the Good Shepherd Sisters (GSS).

The latter congregation operated a Magdalen laundry in Belfast until 1977.

Altogether there were 10 Catholic Magdalen laundries in the Republic following independence. These were at Waterford (GSS), New Ross (SC), two in Cork (GSS and SC), Limerick (GSS), Galway (SM), and four in Dublin at Dún Laoghaire (SM), Donnybrook (SC), Drumcondra (SCR) and Gloucester/Seán MacDermott Street (SCR).

The last one in Ireland ceased operation at Gloucester/Seán MacDermott Street 13 years ago, in October 1996.

There was one Protestant-run “Magdalen Asylum” at Leeson Street in Dublin, which ceased to function as such in 1918/19 (though continuing as a baby home) and one in Belfast which operated until the 1960s.

Although there is dispute as to whether the (privately) Protestant-run Bethany House in Dublin’s Rathgar was a “Magdalen Asylum”, there are records of women being referred there by the courts.

It is not known how many women passed through these laundries, but as many as 10,000 passed through them in the 19th century, some of whom may have re-entered the laundries on a number of occasions.

Figures for the 20th century are unknown.

The religious congregations have not released any records for women entering the laundries after 1900.

However, hundreds of Magdalen women were interred in mass-burial plots at Glasnevin (115), St Laurences in Limerick (265), Bohermore in Galway (118), with a further 72 “consecrated Magdalen’s” buried at Forster Street there.

Many more are believed buried at the convent sites of other former laundries.