The Irish Times view on the Magdalene laundries: Let it never be repeated

As discussion of a memorial to the women continues, surely the greatest would be an Ireland where such suffering as they endured can never be repeated

 

What occurred at Dublin’s Mansion House last Tuesday evening was cathartic for many. Hundreds of people gathered there to welcome 230 women who had been in Magdalene laundries as they arrived from Áras an Uachtaráin for a gala dinner hosted by the Lord Mayor.

As they entered, some so feeble they had to be carried on stretchers, others on zimmer frames or sticks, the crowd lined their route on either side and cheered, applauded, hugged them, called them heroes and wept. The women wept too, overwhelmed at the warmth of this unscheduled welcome. Afterwards they made clear how moved they were by the experience. They were not the ones who should have been grateful.

Their very presence in Dublin this week allowed official Ireland and those hundreds at the Mansion House to purge some of the guilt this society feels at its outrageous indifference to those elderly women’s fate when they were among us as girls. That guilt will remain a moral stain on those of us who did nothing up to the closure in 1996 of the last Magdalene laundry, on Dublin’s Seán MacDermott Street. The 10 laundries which existed in this State after Independence were a nadir of 20th century Ireland’s mistreatment of vulnerable women.

In theatre, catharsis is what happens at the end of a tragedy when the audience feels a purging of emotions such as terror and pity – two things abundantly associated with the Magdalene laundries. However, the tragedy in this instance is not resolved. The four religious congregations which ran the laundries have yet to apologise for, even acknowledge, the regimes of wanton cruelty they supervised in those places or to entertain any discussion whatever about redress.

They have also refused to hand over records relating to the women. This cannot be tolerated. As President Michael D Higgins said, it is “far beyond time” all such records were released.

The women are to be thanked for contributing to the success of the Dublin Honours Magdalenes events. So too must be the indefatigable Justice for Magdalenes Research group, businesswoman Norah Casey, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, Lord Mayor of Dublin Micheál Mac Donncha and Dublin City Council. Gratitude is due also to Patricia McDonnell who, in 1993, set up the Magdalene Memorial Committee, along with Margo Kelly and Blathnaid Ní Chinnéide. It was the first such group in Ireland.

As President Higgins told the women at Áras an Uachtaráin, what they suffered showed the great harm that can be done “when society fails to address institutional indifference or cruelty wherever it might arise”. As discussion of a memorial to the women continues, surely the greatest would be an Ireland where such suffering as they endured can never be repeated.

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