Pope Benedict XVI has left the Vatican and is flying by helicopter to Castel Gandolfo where he will spend the final hours of his papacy.
The Pope is stepping down today after nearly eight years as leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.
Addressing cardinals on his final day in office, he called for the church to unite behind his successor.
The Pope pledged his own "unconditional" obedience to the next pontiff.
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and other members of the Vatican's Secretariat of State will formally bid farewell to the Pope.
He is then due to fly by helicopter to Castel Gandolfo, the Pope's summer retreat.
The empty office of Pope, or the Sede Vacante, will be formally declared at 7pm.
The 85-year-old Pontiff shocked the world earlier this month by announcing he was to resign on grounds of age and increasing frailty.
He is the first Pope to resign in nearly 600 years.
Addressing cardinals this morning, he said: "I will continue to be close to you in prayer, especially in the next few days...as you elect the new pope to whom I today declare my unconditional reverence and obedience," he said.
"In these past eight years we have lived with faith beautiful moments of radiant light in the path of the Church as well as moments when some clouds darkened the sky," he told cardinals gathered to bid him farewell.
"We tried to serve Christ and his Church," he said.
Benedict's papacy was dogged by sex abuse scandals, leaks of his private papers and reports of infighting among his closest aides.
Benedict, who was elected in 2005 following the death of John Paul II, held his last general audience in St Peter's Square yesterday in front of a huge crowd.
He recalled moments of "joy and light", but also times of difficulty when "it seemed like the Lord was sleeping".
Benedict will be known as "Pontiff emeritus" or "Pope emeritus" after he has resigned and will keep the name of "His Holiness, Benedict XVI".
He will dress in a white cassock without the mozzetta, or elbow-length cape, but will no longer wear the red papal shoes.
His "Fisherman's Ring", the special signet ring that contains the Pope's name and is impressed to validate certain official documents, will be destroyed with the lead seal of the pontificate.
Benedict is due to return to Rome in April to live in a convent in the Vatican.
Earlier this week, the Pope changed the rules of the conclave that will elect his successor, allowing cardinals to bring forward the start date if all of them arrive in Rome before the usual 15-day transition between pontificates.
An estimated 115 cardinals are expected to take part in the conclave, which takes place in conditions of secrecy in the Vatican's Sistine Chapel.
Meanwhile, a cardinal who voted in the last conclave said the next pope should be younger than him.
Cardinal Wilfred Napier, 72, said someone with the academic background of Benedict and outreach and care of John Paul II would make a good pope.
According to some online bookmakers, the former NUI Galway student is currently 80/1 to be the next pontiff.
The South African cardinal said a younger pope would be better able to travel and reach the people of the church.
He also said that in his view, the next pope should be from a part of the world where faith is still important in people's lives.
Sir, – One such father stood, a forlorn figure, at about 10am almost every day at the corner of St John’s Square, Limerick, under the shadow of the 280ft spire of the cathedral, observing his daughter as she marched in twin file from the local convent school to the Good Shepherd Convent and laundry where she lived.
It seemed to be his only way of keeping a watchful eye on her.
It was the early 1960s and it was generally not known whether the man in dark working clothes and cap, standing with his bicycle, had any control or option over his or his daughter’s circumstances.
He was certainly not a missing father, but looked a helpless figure, probably a victim of that grey time and of the laws and circumstances that pertained.
I never knew the outcome for father or daughter, however, the scene burned an indelible picture in my memory of a sad parent and an era that should not be forgotten but best left to history.
Orders of nuns involved in the operation of the Magdalene Laundries have been urged by TDs to make a contribution to a survivors’ compensation fund.
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By Mary Regan, Political Correspondent
Labour TD, Eamonn Maloney, said he did not accept the finding in the report on the laundries by Martin McAleese that they did not make money from the free labour of women and girls who worked in them.
“They did make money, they made lots of money,” he said during Dáil statements on the report, adding that most commercial laundries in the 1940s and 1950s closed because of competition from the Magdalenes.
“Not only has the church as yet to apologise for their role in operating these prisons, they do also have a role — because they made money — in compensating people,” he said.
The Dublin South West TD added that politicians must not be afraid to “stand up and say this”.
The Government has so far refused to say what contribution, if any, it will seek from the orders.
Four religious orders involved in the running of the laundries are due to meet with Justice Minister Alan Shatter and junior minister Kathleen Lynch.
Last Friday, Ms Lynch said the question of what would be considered a fair contribution was “debatable” and she did not want to go into it at this early stage.
“The mistake that was made with the industrial schools was that the deal was done in advance of knowing what the final cost would be,” she said.
“That was a major flaw in that process. And we don’t intend to make those same mistakes again.”
Fine Gael TD Joe O’Reilly there was “no avoiding the fact that the religious orders will have to make a contribution to the final fund”.
During last night’s Dáil statements, he said that in many cases, the orders involved have to pay for nursing home fees and the expensive care of their elderly demographic, and that should be taken into account.
“But where there are assets and where there is a capacity to pay, it would be cathartic and it would be part of a recovery process for the religious orders — and a very practical identification with the survivors if they made a financial contribution,” said Mr O’Reilly.
The Cavan-Monaghan TD said it was “not sufficient that they make no input into it”.
The four congregations which were referred to in the McAleese report on the laundries are the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity; the Sisters of Charity, which had assets of €33m in 2009; the Sisters of Mercy, which has a portfolio of assets of €1.8bn; and the Good Shepherd Sisters which, in 2009, had €16.8m worth of financial assets.
THE Taoiseach’s apology to the women who had survived the hardship and abuse of the Magdalene laundries represented significant social progress, for which he deserves congratulations.
It also, if it is to be seen as a real milestone, represents unfinished business.
I read over the weekend that there was cynicism behind the apology. Nothing, I believe, could be further from the truth. The Taoiseach’s apology, and the meetings he had with the women in the fortnight before, was clearly entirely heartfelt. In fact, watching and listening to it, it was clear that the experience had left a lasting mark on the Taoiseach and on those around him. He had learned, and applied, a huge amount in a fortnight. Now that passion and insight must be applied to other things.
Back in 2009, I wrote here about an elderly lady, who spent all her days in St Clares Ward in St Lukes Hospital in Clonmel. I’ve often thought about her since, wondering was she still alive. This is what I wrote at the time: “She has been a patient in the hospital for 68 years, since 1941. The place that has been her home for her entire adult life is described as ‘locked at night for security reasons’, and with ‘little evidence of individual programmes of activities, linked to assessed needs’. Her living area is described as ‘dull décor, peeling plaster and extensive exposed pipe work. There were no fixed bed screens or curtains in some areas … The storage space was very limited for residents. Even in the single rooms this severely limited opportunities to store personal items, such as toiletries, and to personalise areas with photographs and mementos’.”
Sixty-eight years. You’d have to wonder, wouldn’t you, what that elderly lady did wrong, what terrible crime she committed against our state, to deserve a lifetime locked away like that. And it’s continuing. Yes, there has been one significant piece of progress, in that admissions to old unsuitable psychiatric hospitals have stopped – at least for now. But when mental health inspectors recently visited St Brigid’s Hospital in Ballinasloe, it was suggested to them that staff might want to move people with an intellectual disability, who had been in a community setting for many years, back to a hospital ward setting, complete with seclusion suite. The only reason for doing this would be to save costs.
Inspectors rightly said this was “unacceptable and not in line with national mental health policy”. But they went on to note some of the conditions in the hospital. They don’t publish a menu, and neither staff nor residents ever know what the main meal is on any given day. There were no privacy curtains attached to the windows of the doors of two single rooms in St Dympna’s Ward. There were still no privacy locks on the doors in the showers in St Dympna’s Ward. The ward was grim, pokey and dated.
That’s one hospital. Inclusion Ireland has noted that in St Senan’s Hospital in Enniscorthy the Mental Health Commission has also raised serious concerns about the treatment of people with an intellectual disability, describing their ward as “extremely impoverished” with “no opportunities for engagement in meaningful activities”. Mental health inspectors said they were extremely concerned at the lack of therapy provision and that residents were engaging in severe institutionalised behaviour.
In overall terms the Mental Health Commission continues to talk about terrible morale in all of these institutions, outdated conditions, the inability of staff in a penal-type custodial setting to think in terms of treatment and recovery, and — crucially — the failure to appoint an overall Director of Mental Health Services. Paddy Connolly, the CEO of Inclusion Ireland, said recently that “people with an intellectual disability living in institutions, both mental health services and disability services, have largely been forgotten by society, and Government continues to fund State services that are not providing them with appropriate care”.
To make matters worse, it has been pointed out many times that people with an intellectual disability, and people with long-term psychiatric illnesses, are at least living in the conditions that are inspected annually. Residential facilities exclusively for people with an intellectual disability are not inspected at all. There are no enforceable standards applied, although they have existed in draft form for years.
That’s one area. Fiona Cassidy of the Irish Thalidomide Association has fought for several years now to highlight another. Prior to the last general election, Enda Kenny met the association and committed himself to sorting the outstanding issues they faced. As good as his word, the Programme for Government includes such a commitment. But there it has stopped. Futile meetings have taken place with the Department of Health, but at the same time the State Claims Agency has been authorised to oppose thalidomide survivors in their quest for justice. At the same time, SoS — the voluntary organisation made up mainly of survivors of symphysiotomy — has been seeking an independent inquiry into these secret and shameful operations, which have done incredible damage to a number of women in Ireland. Their campaign has gone on so long that their main fear now is that the statute of limitations will be used against them.
Symphysiotomies caused death in some cases, and intense pain and life-long difficulties in many others. The operations were not carried out for essential medical reasons — in fact the procedure was phased out many years ago in most jurisdictions. The only report prepared on the use of the procedure in Ireland attributes its use to the “unswervingly Catholic ethos” of the hospitals involved.
I COULD go on. There are children, hundreds of them, who live in so-called “reception centres” in Ireland, and they are deprived of some of the basic rights of childhood. I’ve visited some of them — they are soulless places, kept clean with public money and acting much more as prisons than refuges. But rather than list all the elements of Ireland’s past, could I make a suggestion? If the Taoiseach is serious — and I believe he is — I think he should ask parliament to take on this job.
Specifically, what could work is an all-party committee, chaired by a junior minister — Kathleen Lynch has earned the job — to prepare a report on the range of issues that we need to face up to. It would need to be broadly based and open to submission, and it could be given two years to complete a comprehensive report.
We talk often about peace and reconciliation processes, but we have approached the secret issues of Ireland’s past on a piecemeal basis so far. It’s time surely that we decided to be open and honest with each other about the things we’ve done wrong, the people we’ve mistreated, and the scandals we’ve covered up. Each of the reports published so far — Ryan, Murphy, McAleese and others — have changed us for the better.
It’s time to address the rest of the unfinished business.
Minister for Justice & Equality Alan Shatter has said he is considering very carefully demands for an investigation of the former Protestant-run Bethany Home.
Former residents have accused the Government of discriminating against them on religious grounds by excluding them from the remit of its investigation of the Catholic-run Magdalene Laundries.
Mr Shatter gave his assurance to William Irwin, a Co Armagh-based member of the Northern Assembly.
However, he told him there are no plans at present to expand the brief of the Government-appointed McAleese Committee to include the Bethany mother-and-baby home where, despite State inspections, a number of unreported deaths occurred before and during WWII.
The McAleese Committee is investigating the State’s involvement in the Magdalene Laundries.
Mr Irwin had written to Mr Shatter echoing calls by Minister Arlene Foster from the Northern Executive for the former Dublin-based home to be included in the committee’s remit.
The two dozen or so former residents are confident such a move would lead to the State compensating them for neglect.
Mr Shatter assured Mr Irwin that he is carefully considering the appropriateness and practicality of addressing the issues surrounding the home in a satisfactory manner.
The Minister has already rejected suggestions that the State’s current position is motivated by religious discrimination.
The system that produced the Magdalene Laundries is part of our psyche
Emer O'Kelly– 24 February 2013
'Sacred heart o' Jesus, take away our hearts o' stone an' give us hearts o' flesh." In 1924, Sean O'Casey put that passionate prayer into the mouth of Mrs Tancred, standing on the stairs of a Dublin tenement. Nobody listened then to his cry for the voiceless; we remained deaf for generations.
But last Tuesday a group of women sat in the visitors' gallery of our national parliament, moved to tears and cheers as a Taoiseach who had listened broke down on the floor of the house. The women had spoken often of a "stigma". The only stigma is that they had to wait until most of them were old before the moment came.
The women incarcerated in the Magdalene Laundries were there against their will. According to several of the women's representatives, the report delivered by former Senator Martin McAleese fell short in many ways; one of the most glaring was to write of "self-referral".
Was a destitute woman thrown on the street by her parents "willing" when her choice was between selling herself or a hell-hole of slave labour?
Was a motherless child "willing" when a Catholic priest took her from the care of her widowed father because to have her free in society left her open to "moral hazard"?
More importantly, if every woman still alive who was ever locked in one of those dark, fearful places was a prostitute; if every woman there had given birth to children "out of wedlock", there should still be no "stigma". They were human, that's all: human like the rest of us. And they were ignorant of the world and its ways, the ignorance as enforced as was their incarceration.
The stigma is ours, and ours alone, to be shared by all of us except the women victimised and brutalised by Irish society as a whole. That the women could have perceived themselves as bearing a stigma for their incarceration reflects on us, not on them.
We have heard from people who remember what it was like in our closed Irish society of generations past: an engineered regimentation of the population that described ignorance as innocence, and equated deprivation with purity and nobility of soul: the essence of fascism.
Many of the people who lived in those times have been protesting that their lives too were hard: that conditions within the laundries were not much inferior to those on the outside.
Yes, in our authoritarian, right-wing society, parents felt free to beat their children unmercifully: they were encouraged to do so by the all-powerful Catholic Church if the children displayed a less than conformist spirit.
Times were hard: hunger was endemic. Times were joyless: a Jansenist mind-set frowned on beauty, in people or their surroundings. Ugliness and bitterness were the marks of rectitude.
It was the way of the Irish world. But only the women in the laundries had their identities denied: given new names, or merely numbers, never to be addressed as they had been in the world.
Only the women were forbidden to speak while at work; and work lasted from the early morning Mass ending of "Ite, missa est" (Go, the Mass is ended) until they retired, exhausted, malnourished and blue with cold.
Only the Magdalene women's parents were promised by the forked tongues of priests and nuns that their children would be educated, however inadequately, only to have even that hope for the future denied them. The sodden heaps of laundry became their text-books, the damp dark halls of the laundry- room their classroom.
Like their sisters and brothers in the industrial schools, the women lived under lock and key, convicted of no crime, not even charged with one other than the "danger" of moral turpitude if they remained outside.
They paid for their "refuge" with their freedom. In turn, their slave labour contributed to the coffers of Church and State. And they suffered incessant humiliation and punishment for their very existence.
Until recently, official Ireland denied that they were punished inhumanely for infringement of the dreadful rules under which they lived: no corporal punishment was used, it was claimed.
But women had their hair hacked off in a hideous symbolic piece of sadism that denied their womanhood; women who dared speak in whispers during the night to prove their humanity in their hellish world were placed in "holes", punishment cells without light or heat where they were denied food and became disoriented.
When that is done to prisoners in wartime the perpetrators are called torturers and
are put on trial for crimes against humanity.
The catalogue of miseries Ireland has inflicted on the helpless and hopeless over the generations since independence is as long as it is sickening. With each new revelation, each parading of repressed grief and hurt, each dreadful witness to our inhumanity, we have squirmed and exempted ourselves from blame.
We have done it with cowardice, meanmindedness and defensiveness. Because as each terrible fact and case comes to light, we allocate blame everywhere except to ourselves: it was the fault of the State; it was the fault of the Church, it was the fault of dysfunctional families. It was "nobody's fault".
We fail to get down on our collective knees and say to those we have hurt and betrayed that every element of Irish society is almost equally guilty: none of us has a right to wash our hands of our history.
We were proud of the system that produced the Magdalene Laundries. It is part of our psyche: a cruelty of vision, of unbridled power, of a terrible coldness in our hearts towards those whose weakness threatens our smug security as the children of "god".
Unfortunately the "god" that we claim to serve is indeed a lesser one when we see what we, all of us, did in his name. That is why the religious orders are, in my opinion, far more blameworthy than the State itself, or even the families who committed their sisters and daughters, or allowed the church to do so on their behalf.
The religious orders claimed (and claim to this day) to represent and speak for a merciful god: they claim the moral high ground, answerable to a greater power than State or human brotherhood. They were all-powerful in Irish society, because they controlled (and still control) the formation of the Irish character. They may have been "doing their best" as is being claimed by their apologists; if that was "best" there is no just god.
The religious formed the minds of those who drafted the Constitution, of those who made (and make) the laws. They gave them the "moral formation" that made them cruelly complacent in the face of misery. Further, they profited financially from the bleak hopelessness they imposed in the name of their "merciful" god.
Theirs is the moral turpitude. And as in the case of restitution for the thousands who suffered in the industrial schools, they must, in decency, be made to pay for the manner in which they warped our society.
They cannot be allowed to plead poverty, or be allowed an indemnity against payment. Nor must they be allowed to put their vast property beyond the reach of the State.
We, the people, who are the State, must ensure reparation is made by those responsible for what our society became: the weapon of malignant oppression of the women for whom the Taoiseach wept last Tuesday.
Fears over costs leave Protestants without redress
24 February 2013
Abuse victims in "Protestant Magdalene Laundries" with links to the State were not included in the redress scheme for fear of the financial cost, contrary to the official policy that money would not be a factor, official documents suggest.
Church of Ireland survivors are also convinced that they have to date been excluded from any redress scheme because they were not Catholics, but are demanding justice and are preparing a legal case against the State if not included.
Following the State apology to the Magdalene survivors, the Government is under mounting pressure from within its own ranks and from the opposition to include Protestant victims, such as survivors from Bethany Homes, in a compensation scheme, currently being extended to Catholic survivors in the Magdalene Laundries.
There are less than 20 survivors left who went through Bethany Homes, and they have argued that their inclusion in the Quirke scheme would result in a very small additional cost to the State.
A number of Bethany Homes survivors are to address a gathering of TDs next Thursday, in order to highlight their case. The gathering is being organised by Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald who has said that the State owes the Bethany victims a "full apology" for the "disgraceful abuse" they suffered.
However, the Department of Justice is excluding the Bethany Homes survivors from the list of institutions under consideration by Mr Justice John Quirke, for fear of the precedent it would set.
Documents obtained by the Sunday Independent under Freedom of Information show that between 2003 and 2005, senior officials across several government departments were "reluctant" to include such homes on the list for fear of further cost exposure, which abuse victims say is contrary to the stated policy of the redress scheme.
Discussions between officials about the Protestant Mrs Smyly's Homes for Necessitous Children reveal that consideration of it was done on financial grounds.
Analysis Pages 27, 28, 30
"The Tanaiste would be unlikely to include the Smyly Homes on the redress list, as we are reluctant to agree to a further indemnity," one senior adviser said to another in May 2005 by email. Another email between officials, sent during the drafting of Parliamentary Questions, reveals that because of an inability to get a clear estimate of how much the institution was willing to contribute to the scheme, it was being left out.
"Regarding the Mrs Smyly's Homes, we have been unable to get any 'beyond doubt' information on their assets. It now looks as though we have to go ahead now without them," one official sent to another in May 2004.
Separate documents released show how officials decided to include a number of Protestant homes because they knew there would be no claims from centres which "operated in the 1800s".
According to documents released, officials included the homes on the grounds there would be no claims from those institutions. One official wrote to his colleague: "I would be inclined to include them in the schedule as they were used as residential centres for children. I think it is safe to assume that there will be no applications for those centres which operated in the 1800s!"
According to Derek Linster, chairman of the Bethany Homes survivors' group, the documents confirm his suspicions that he and his fellow survivors were excluded on religious and cost grounds.
"All we want is the same treatment. We are Irish citizens too. It is simple justice we want," he told the Sunday Independent.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn, having previously said there was no reason to include the Bethany Homes survivors, said on Tuesday that he hoped they now would be part of the redress scheme.
Sir, – There seems to be much confusion over whether the McAleese report was an “inquiry” into what happened in Magdalene laundries, or an “inquiry” into whether State agencies were involved in the incarceration of girls and women in these institutions. For clarification it was the latter.
This being so, Martin McAleese has somewhat mudied the waters in approaching issues that were not part of his remit. He endeavoured to report on additional aspects of women experiences, in doing so he minimised those experiences.
The report’s view that “many” girls/women entered voluntarily (sic), that “many” were “short stays” (therefore implying not so egregious) and that there was no sexual abuse reported by victims who gave information to the McAleese team simply adds fodder to those who wish to deny what actually happened therein. Furthermore, the statistically low numbers of women who told of their experiences to the McAleese team does not prove that the above “findings” are true or indeed valid.
We now need a statutory inquiry into the experiences of women in these institutions with a wider numerical basis to enable a proper analysis of those women’s experiences. – Yours, etc,
Dr MARGARET KENNEDY,
Greystones, Co Wicklow.
Sir, – While welcoming Enda Kenny’s apology, I am disappointed that the thread of his speech was to cast blame on society. The God fearing Irish people were downtrodden by the ruling classes operating through the State and the supreme rulers the Catholic Church.
We have come accustomed to politicians referring to the “public”, now we hear “society” used as a faceless form to deflect responsibility away from State.
The State humiliated, degraded and inflicted cruelty on the Magdalene girls and women and for this the State should be truly sorry. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – How foolish and gullible were all these religious in years gone by to be used by governments and families – carrying the can – looking after abandoned women and orphans.
They should have thrown it all up – sent the women back to their uncaring families and said to the government: “We are getting out – this problem is your problem”, but they listened instead to St Paul “we are fools for Christ’s sake”. – Yours, etc,
The Catholic Church, aka the western church of the Latin rite, trades on tradition. That is what so fascinates many people: the lure of its continuity, the certainty, the serene provision of answers.
As anyone mildly acquainted with its history will know, this is a series of illusions. Christian history, like all history, is a delicious Smorgasbord of unintended consequences, paradoxes, misunderstandings, sudden veerings in new directions.
If you like to call that the work of the Holy Spirit, then fine, but do note that the Holy Spirit delights in confounding human expectations and going its own way.
The church of Rome, having been around from near the start of the story, illustrates this general truth particularly well. Its prestige derives from possessing the tomb of the Apostle Peter, who probably never visited the city.
This Palestinian fisherman, who would have spoken a version of Aramaic, plus enough street-Greek to make himself understood in the forum, may have been illiterate in either language, but he is represented among the books of the Bible by two elegantly-penned Greek letters written by two different authors – he himself was neither of them.
The current position of the Roman Catholic Church as the largest section of world Christianity depends on a variety of later accidents. One of these – the French Revolution of 1789 – produced the modern papacy. Until then, the pope was one Italian prince among several others.
Certainly he was equipped with a dozen centuries and more of ideological baggage, bulging with his aspirations to be something universal.
But he shared his power in the church inescapably with European Catholic monarchs, prince-bishops of the Holy Roman Empire and a host of other fiercely independent local jurisdictions in cathedrals and the like, all of which were themselves the products of the happenstance of history.
The revolution dealt them a devastating blow. As its consequences unfolded, it swept nearly all away, and the first World War delivered the coup de grace.
To begin with, it looked as if the revolutionaries would do for the pope as well. Poor Pius VI died in a revolutionary prison in France, his death in 1799 being recorded by the local mayor (with chilling Jacobin wit) as that of “Jean Ange Braschi, exercising the profession of pontiff”. But the papacy drew on its historical resources and on revulsion in much of Europe against revolutionary brutality and destructiveness.
It very successfully played the tradition card to create something brand new: a monarchy for the whole western church, which increasingly eliminated competition from rival jurisdictions. The 19th century revival of Catholicism laid the foundations of the rock-star papacy of John Paul II, kissing airport tarmac and thrilling crowds with the force of his exceptional personality.
While popular participation in secular politics has grown throughout Europe and America over two centuries, precisely the reverse has happened in the church of Rome: it has eliminated any wider participation, even that of kings.
The post-revolutionary Vatican remodelled the church across the world, to eliminate independence in church government, local initiative or scholarship.
In Ireland, the process took up the later 19th century, to produce the variety of Catholic Church still easily within the memories of many, embodied by such prelates as the late and widely unlamented John Charles McQuaid.
The reforming work of the second Vatican Council (1962-1965) looked for a moment as if it would roll back this 19th-century innovation, but the curia’s bureaucrats in the Vatican were left to implement council initiatives, and we all know the results of that in the two pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
Benedict, arch-traditionalist, expounding even this week a narrative of Vatican II in which nothing much happened at all to the church, has by his resignation set the church on yet another new path.
It is paradoxical but admirable that this sensitive and learned man has recognised the limits of his office. The all-powerful, all-providing papacy constructed after 1789 has simply been too much for any one man to embody, regardless of whether he is frail or old.
The cardinals whom John Paul and Benedict appointed to parrot the myth of enduring tradition will no doubt resist the implications, scrabbling around to find the most convincing representative of the post-French Revolution state of the hierarchy. But it is just possible that the Holy Spirit might seize them afresh.
Wouldn’t it be a wonderful surprise for the Christian world if they reached beyond the conclave and chose someone from beyond their ranks? That’s a big ask at the moment. But look back before the French Revolution, and we can find stories to help the church in framing a more workable version of its future than the present dysfunctional structure.
At the moment, the debate between Catholic “liberals” and “conservatives” is stuck around the second Vatican Council: what happened there? Not much? A lot? Even more than a lot, but frustrated by the Curia? Let’s recognise that the debate is much older than that.
A great many Catholics over the centuries have considered a monarchical papacy a very bad idea: particularly all those monarchs, prince-bishops, cathedral chapters. They constructed coherent theologies out of their convictions.
Historians use labels for these ways of thinking which have become merely pieces of historical jargon: Gallicanism; Cisalpinism; Conciliarism.
It’s a pity that these words now seem off-putting and archaic, because once they were living affirmations that the church’s future should be decided in broader arenas than a few chambers in the Vatican palace.
That future won’t resemble the past – it never does – so I’m not suggesting we restore the Holy Roman Empire, or the heirs of Louis XVI to the French throne. But history has rich resources to offer: showing how they did things in the past, so Catholics can find sensible solutions for what to do next.
In the middle of what any fool can see is a deep crisis in Catholic Church authority, let historians ride to the rescue.
* Diarmaid MacCulloch is fellow of St Cross College and professor of the history of the church, Oxford University. His book Silence: a Christian History (Penguin) will be published in April.
The Government is refusing to say what contributions it will seek from religious orders for a fund being established for victims of the Magdalene laundries.
Four religious orders involved in the running of the laundries are due to meet with Justice Minister Alan Shatter and junior minister Kathleen Lynch, who said they would “discuss in greater detail how we can manage this between us”.
Ms Lynch said the question of what would be considered a fair contribution was “debatable” and she did not want to go into it at this early stage.
“The mistake that was made with the industrial schools was that the deal was done in advance of knowing what the final cost would be,” she told RTÉ radio. “That was a major flaw in that process. And we don’t intend to make those same mistakes again.”
The compensation costs for the industrial school redress scheme ran to over €1bn, but the Magdalene survivors have proposed a scheme amounting to about €100m.
The Government has asked Mr Justice John Quirke to establish “how best to support” the survivors of the laundries. He will set up a scheme that will take into account work undertaken in the laundries without pay, and advise on the nature and amount of payments to be made out of the fund.
The four congregations which were referred to in the Magdalene Report by Martin McAleese are the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity; the Sisters of Charity, which had assets of €33m in 2009; the Sisters of Mercy, which has a portfolio of assets of €1.8bn; and the Good Shepherd Sisters which, in 2009, had €16.8m worth of financial assets.
Ms Lynch said the congregations would be contacted this week.
Asked if a cost would be put to them, she said: “I’m sure at some stage we will come to that point.”
However, she said the priority was to ensure their co-operation in providing access to records to Judge Quirke “for verification and to ensure that people who have applied in relation to the new scheme get what they are entitled to”. “We are going to meet the four congregations first and talk about what has happened up to this point, then discuss in greater detail how we can manage this between us.”
Filmmaker made an emotional connection, says Claire O’Sullivan
By Claire O’Sullivan
On Tuesday night, a long line of Irish women in their 50s, 60s, and 70s stood side by side on the plinth outside the Dáil.
Each woman held on tightly to the hand of another before they all raised their linked hands, cheering and smiling broadly at the scrum of cameras and journalists standing below them.
The wait had been long, their suffering great; but finally their day had come. The Taoiseach, on behalf of the State and its people, had apologised for all they had endured in the Magdalene Laundries, the hellholes where, in the name of religious redemption, they had been locked up and forced to work for nothing while being constantly derided by nuns.
In the midst of that group stood a young man.
From Millstreet in Co Cork, Steven O’Riordan isn’t the son of a Magdalene survivor. He isn’t a human rights activist. He is a 29-year-old who watched Peter Mullan’s film The Magdalene Sisters in 2006, having just graduated from a film studies degree. He was stunned to learn that the last Magdalene Laundry had closed just 10 years previously and realised that tracking down these women would make a great documentary.
“I went on the internet that summer looking to see if I could track these women down,” said Steven.
“I trawled everywhere, pretending to be a survivor, to see if I could get anyone in any of the groups or forums to talk to me. It was there that I found Maureen O’Sullivan. I asked could I talk to her on the phone and after our first conversation — it lasted three hours — I was shocked as she jumped all over the place telling me how she had been put in a laundry as a child, how she’d been hidden in a tunnel by the nuns, how she’d never been an unmarried mother.
“To be honest, I started just to see could I track these women down, thinking it would be great to do it. Then suddenly I was thrown into something much, much bigger as I tried to verify Maureen’s story. More survivors started to come forward and then Maureen and the other women started asking me to help them write letters, to get information for them. I felt compelled to do it really. I didn’t think any other way as they hadn’t been given the opportunities that I had.
“There’s no doubt this attitude came from Joanne. I understood absolutely what they had to put up with.”
Steven’s younger sister is Joanne O’Riordan. The 17-year-old, who was born with no limbs, has become a national symbol for how a disability does not mean you must sit in a corner, grateful for any bit of help.
“We fought so hard to get the women’s records,” said Steven. “We did whatever we could. We agreed that I would pretend to be their sons, as it was the only way I could get at information from the nuns. I found myself looking up acts, legislation, something I had no interest in before. At one point, a religious order called the guards on me, as they said I was trespassing their grounds. When the guards arrived, I said that I to wanted to make a complaint about the 30,000 women that had been imprisoned in Magdalene Laundries by the nuns. The women began to trust me.”
At the same time as he was researching The Forgotten Maggies, Steven was living in London, getting the odd acting role. This meant that he was up at 4am editing, researching, and doing voiceovers for The Forgotten Maggies.
Eventually, in 2009, The Forgotten Maggies, which was co-produced with Gerard Boland, was shown at the Galway Film Fleadh.
The women involved in the documentary decided they wanted to form a representative group and so Magdalene Survivors Together was born.
“Talking to me for the documentary became a form of self-counselling for them, I think,” said Steven.
“They also met people with similar experiences. Many of them had never spoken to another survivor before, so it was huge for them. I empowered the women and they empowered one another.”
The 37 members of Magdalene Survivors Together have become the public face of the Magdalene laundries. Somehow, these unique women found the self-esteem, courage, and determination to do media interviews and be photographed. Despite the put-downs, bullying, and mental torment that they suffered in the laundries, and the stigma and disregard they experienced outside, they refused to give up. However, by stepping into the glare of the public eye, they are in a minority.
The lion’s share of Magdalene survivors are not aligned to any organisation, whether it is Magdalene Survivors Together, Sally Mulready’s Irish Women Survivors’ Network, or Justice for Magdalenes. Their time in the Magdalenes is something that they do not want to revisit or make public, as Martin McAleese underlined in his report — fewer than 100 Magdalene survivors spoke to the McAleese committee, out of the estimated 800 he believes are still alive.
Justice for Magdalenes is the survivors’ advocacy group, and brought the issue of state involvement in the Magdalenes to the UN Commission for Torture, a move which forced the Government to establish the McAleese report. JFM’s work is research-driven, and the survivors attached to their group are the silent women, those who wanted to enter and exit via the back door of Government buildings on Tuesday for fear of recognition.
Nonetheless, the estimated 700 more who have hidden their Magdalene past and could not countenance attending the Dáil must have found new reserves of courage from Enda Kenny’s words and the sight of fellow survivors beaming on the Dáil plinth.
The events of that night must stirred something as, within 48 hours, 400 women had contacted the Department of Justice to register initial interest in the Magdalene redress scheme.
Picture: Steven O’Riordan: I posed as a survivor online to make contact with these women, then posed as their son to wrest information from the nuns. Picture: Dan Linehan
A former Christian Brother has been remanded in custody for sentence after he was convicted yesterday by a jury of indecently assaulting three boys at the North Monastery secondary school in Cork in the 1980s.
Edward Bryan (59), formerly Br Bryan, Martinvilla, Athboy Road, Trim, Co Meath, had denied 10 counts of indecently assaulting four boys at the North Monastery on dates between September 1st, 1984, and June 30th, 1990.
Yesterday, after deliberating for more than 12 hours over three days, the jury at Cork Circuit Criminal Court returned majority 10 to one verdicts of guilty on seven of the charges relating to three of the boys.
The jury was unable to agree verdicts on three charges relating to a fourth boy. Dermot Sheehan, prosecuting, said he would take instructions from the DPP in relation to those charges.
Bryan left the Christian Brothers in 1994 and later became deputy director of the National Centre for Young Offenders at Oberstown in Co Dublin.
Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin ordered victim impact statements be prepared in relation to the three boys that Bryan was found guilty of indecently assaulting while giving them one-on-one basketball coaching at the school where he was a metalwork teacher.
This was the third time Bryan had gone on trial on the charges, with the jury in the first trial convicting him on one count in June 2012 but failing to reach a verdict on a further 11 charges. A second trial collapsed in October 2012 when the jury had to be discharged.
The judge had put a ban at the time on reporting the conviction from the June 2012 trial, but yesterday, following the jury’s guilty verdicts on a further seven counts, he lifted that ban and Bryan will be sentenced on eight counts.
The judge refused a defence application to remand Bryan on bail, saying “his status has changed irredeemably and irrevocably” as a result of the jury verdicts. He remanded him in custody for sentence on all counts on March 1st.
There were emotional scenes in court as the verdicts were read out, with the three successful complainants, who are now in their late 30s and 40s, breaking down in tears as they were hugged and embraced by family members.
GRACE, generosity and unanimity are rarely seen all at once at Leinster House. So it's not really surprising that when they make a combined appearance it is all too fleeting.
Most unusually, there was no room for cynicism in the Dail on Tuesday night. Powered by the generosity and grace of the Magdalene Laundry women and enabled by a sparkling speech that was well delivered, Taoiseach Enda Kenny had a great triumph.
Yesterday, however, we could feel that warm glow ebb away – displaced not by cynicism but by important questions of practical detail.
Many will not be surprised that the role of the Grinch fell to Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams – though let it also be said that even he had the grace to acknowledge that Tuesday night's events had brought the Taoiseach's best occasion so far in Dail Eireann.
There followed some key questions which Mr Kenny managed relatively easily to park – for now. But it soon became clear that the shadow of the wig and gown wearers – also known as lawyers – hangs over this process.
There was a certain sinking, but familiar, feeling as the Taoiseach pledged that the Magdalene Laundry redress scheme would not become "a gravy train" for lawyers.
Mr Kenny insisted that the Magdalene women whom he had met over the past few weeks were determined that the Residential Institutions Redress Board experience would not be repeated.
He twice said that the women wanted a redress system which was "effective, clear, fair, non-adversarial and non-legalistic". It would be wonderful for all concerned if this could be delivered.
Last October, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn estimated that the taxpayer would pay up to €1.5bn in total under the Redress scheme.
In December, the board itself estimated legal costs to date at some €172m.
It is very early days to be putting figures on the Magdalene case. The numbers involved are put at about 1,000 women still living out of the estimated 10,000 or more who went through the system over the years between 1922 and 1996. That means they are a fraction of the Redress scheme numbers.
Compensation figures very informally cited so far include some €100,000 per person, or €20,000 per year spent in the institution, and a top-up sum for other losses, such as deprivation of education and subsequently damaged career chances.
Those vague, back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest figures in the tens of millions. Ultimately these are not amounts which will damage the Exchequer, even in these very straitened times.
The Taoiseach said yesterday that he would leave much of the operational detail from now to the man appointed to the task.
Mr Justice John Quirke has 12 weeks to frame an operational plan and estimate the funds required. He had 14 years of experience adjudicating personal injury cases in the High Court and a reputation of seeking a fair outcome for all.
Speed will be of the essence in measuring the success of his work. Most importantly, the women involved are no longer young and it is important that they get an outcome which could ease their circumstances as soon as possible.
BUT delay also opens up the risk of a loss of patience and faith among some of the women who suffered. That, of itself, would be a travesty.
It would also raise the risk of unhelpful tensions developing between the three groups who represent the women. It could, if pushed too long, open the door to more expensive and time-consuming litigation. In short, it could open the door to the lawyers.
Enda Kenny also knows that such scenarios would involve more than loss of the political kudos he has won this week. It would mean a considerable political reverse for him and his government colleagues.
For now, the politicians are hopeful, rather than confident, that expensive legal processes can be kept out of a well-intentioned redress scheme which could do much good. For now, there is an opportunity to do real good with all necessary speed.
But, like happy vibes at Leinster House, this opportunity will be short-lived and must be seized upon.
Cardinal Seán Brady is the latest in a line of cardinals across the world facing criticism from clerical sex abuse victims for being allowed to vote for the next Pope.
By Claire O'Sullivan
Irish Examiner Reporter
However, Cardinal Brady, who played a role in the cover up of abuse, is refusing to bow to his critics, and his office last night said he will attend and vote in the forthcoming conclave to elect the 266th pope.
Christine Buckley of the Aislinn Centre, a support and education group for survivors of industrial abuse, said she did not think the All-Ireland primate would “dare present himself” for the conclave.
“I think it’s appalling that he thinks it’s OK to go over there, somebody who forced young people to take of vow of silence and allowed a paedophile to continue in a community knowing what he had done,” she said.
Last night, a spokesperson re-iterated Cardinal Brady’s deep sorrow to those who were abused, and their families and to “all people who feel rightly outraged and let down by the Catholic Church’s failure of moral leadership and accountability”.
Meanwhile, in the US, pressure is mounting to keep California Cardinal Roger Mahony from the conclave because of his role in shielding sexually abusive priests.
A senior Vatican official called Cardinal Mahony’s participation in the selection of the next pope “troubling,” but said there was no formal procedure to stop the retired Los Angeles archbishop from attending the conclave next month.
Cardinal Mahony recently was rebuked by his successor, Archbishop Jose Gomez, for his handling of abuse cases, although Archbishop Gomez also has expressed support for Cardinal Mahony’s role in the papal conclave.
In an interview with the daily La Repubblica, Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, the former head of the Vatican’s Prefecture for Economic Affairs said “it will be up to [Mahony’s] conscience to decide whether to take part or not”.
A few weeks ago, the Arch-diocese of Los Angeles, under court order, released thousands of pages from the confidential personnel files of more than 120 accused clergy members. The files show Cardinal Mahony and other archdiocese officials shielded accused priests and did not alert parishioners of the potential risks to their children.
And, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan has been formally questioned about clergy sex abuse in his former Archdiocese of Milwaukee, just days ahead of his departure for Rome.
He answered questions about his decision to publicise names of clergy members who had been accused of molesting children in cases that are mostly decades old, church lawyer Frank LoCoco said.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said it would press to make the his testimony public.
Following the Taoiseach’s apology this week, the Government is to make €250,000 immediately available to UK-based survivors of Magdalene laundries and industrial schools.
By Claire O'Sullivan
Irish Examiner ReporterAccording to renowned emigrant advocate, Sally Mulready, whose Irish Women’s Support Network (IWSN) organisation has been granted the funding, two-thirds of survivors of industrial schools and laundries are based in Britain.
Up to 480 UK-based survivors of Irish orphanages, industrial and reform schools are aligned to the IWSN. Up to 37 of these women were in Magdalene laundries.
In a speech following the Taoiseach’s apology, Justice Minister Alan Shatter said the funding will be used to provide “a holistic and person-centred service that not only will offer accessible specialist advice and support to those affected, but also focus on ensuring their future health and well being”.
Last night, Ms Mulready said the IWSN had never had State funding before, with its only funding coming from the Ireland Fund of Great Britain Trust.
“These women fled Ireland because of what they went through. Ireland let them down and now they live a life of exile. We will put this money to the best possible use by offering housing support, support with income, and support on issues like relocating to Ireland,” she said.
Mr Shatter said the payment will be made as “soon as the legal technicalities have been clarified”.
Ms Mulready and Phyllis Morgan, vice-chairwoman of the IWSN, wrote a letter to the Martin McAleese committee which summarised the feelings of many IWSN survivors, many of whom spoke to Mr McAleese independently.
“The psychological and physical impact of their experience has been devastating and has stayed with them throughout their adult lives. Their suffering was greater still because they did not know why they were there, or who was responsible for placing them in these laundries. They had no idea when they would be released,” they wrote in the letter.
The women described the laundries as places of hard labour and “psychological cruelty and isolation”.
“We have been asked many times by those looking into this terrible part of Irish history, both privately to the women and in group meetings, about the role nuns played in any kind of physical punishment. Bearing in mind that we are talking here only about the experiences of women in the Laundries, it is our understanding that the severe physical brutality, including beatings and sexual assault which was common place in other institutions, did not take place in the Magdalene... Women have often described getting a ‘thump in the back’ or their hair pulled in retaliation for answering back or complaining but physical violence from the nuns does not seem to have gone beyond this in most cases. ”
The Magdalene Survivors Together group has warned that it will not take part in the Quirke redress scheme until their legal team is happy with the terms of reference drawn up by the Government this week.
The group, which is headed by Steven O’Riordan and now represents up to 50 survivors, has said that “the women won’t be signing up until they and their solicitor, Frank Buttimer, are entirely happy with the process and its terms of reference”.
Mr O’Riordan has expressed hope that St Mary’s Training School at Summerhill, Wexford, will also be included in the redress scheme. Stanhope St Training Centre was added to the eligible institutions on Tuesday night. A further 16 Houses of Mercy across the country may also now be added to the scheme. However, according to the Government, Bethany Homes will not be included as it is was a mother and baby home not a laundry.
MST met with Justice Minister Alan Shatter yesterday and said the meeting went “very well” with both sides agreeing that the process should be kept as “simple as possible”. MST are seeking €50,000 in compensation for trauma suffered for each woman and €20,000 for each year worked in the laundry.
They say the average time spent in the laundry, amongst their group, was four years.
— Claire O’Sullivan €250k available to UK-based laundry survivors
A State inquiry into historical institutional child abuse in Northern Ireland will initially investigate 35 residential facilities.
The locations comprise 15 state-run children’s homes, 13 institutions run by Catholic Church orders, four borstals or training schools, and three institutions run by Protestant denominations or voluntary sector organisations.
Chairman of the inquiry Anthony Hart revealed the number as he appealed for more abuse victims to come forward to tell their stories.
The statutory probe was set up by the Northern Ireland Executive to investigate institutions run by the State and church and also those owned by the private sector or voluntary bodies from 1922 to 1995.
More than 175 people have so far contacted the inquiry to outline their experiences in care, with around 90 interviewed to date. Allegations made so far have led to the light being shone on 35 facilities.
But if more victims come forward and make claims, more institutions could be examined.
To date the inquiry has identified more than 170 facilities which operated during the time-period, including children’s homes, orphanages, industrial schools, workhouses, borstals, hospital units and schools for children with disabilities.
Auxiliary Bishop of Dublin Eamonn Walsh said yesterday that helping women who had been in the Magdalene laundries was “a matter for all parties involved”.
He was responding to media queries as to whether the four religious congregations which ran the 10 laundries should help fund compensation and services for the women.
“Everybody who held responsibility [where the laundries were concerned] should step up to the line,” he said.
It was “up to everybody to be responsible”, he said, and that “the religious won’t be found wanting”.
It was learned last night that the Minister for Justice Alan Shatter is now contacting the religious orders that ran the laundries in connection with the funding of the redress scheme.
Earlier Mr Shatter and Minister of State for Equality Kathleen Lynch met Magdalene Survivors Together spokesman Steven O’Riordan in Government Buildings to discuss what some of the women were hoping to get.
“The women would be open to a cap being put on the amount an individual can claim, perhaps €200,000,” Mr O’Riordan said.
He said they were seeking about €20,000 per year they spent in the laundries as compensation for unpaid work, along with a lump sum fee of €50,000.
Mr O’Riordan said the women also hoped a concert could be staged featuring various artists who have supported their campaign over the years to which they could invite members of their extended families. A proposed title for the concert was A Song for the Magdalenes.
Other women supported by the Justice for Magdalenes group have proposed a €100,000 sum in addition to a package of services, including pensions and lost wages.
Meanwhile, there has been a call for compensation to be extended to children of deceased women who had been in the laundries.
Speaking to The Irish Times yesterday Mary Collins, whose mother died in 1988 at the Sisters of Charity laundry on Peacock Lane in Cork city, said her mother’s unpaid wages should be her’s and her sister’s inheritance.
Her mother had spent 27 years in the laundry and was buried in grave 73 at St Gabriel’s Cemetery nearby.
Mary’s older sister Bridget spent three years in the Good Shepherd laundry in Cork. She has since died by suicide. Her other sister Teresa was adopted and attended a school in Cork that had a choir which sang occasionally for the women in the Peacock Lane laundry.
It was many years later before Teresa realised that her own mother was among the women she had been singing for all those years beforehand.
The family originated at Caherciveen, Co Kerry, where their mother lived with her own sister and that sister’s husband.
He was Mary’s father and that of her two sisters.
As Mary recalled it her mother was sent to a psychiatric hospital in Midleton, Co Cork, but escaped from there and was caught by gardaí. They brought her to the Peacock Lane laundry, where she would spend the rest of her days.
It is good that Enda Kenny has made a full apology to the victims of the Magdalene Laundries, as well as financial compensation, and it is good that he took his time to do so and wasn't rushed into it by angry pundits. The reality is that such an apology can have legal implications for the Government and we would not be happy as citizens, and taxpayers, if the Taoiseach had given some blind apology last week that left the State wide open to all sorts of compensation and liability.
Let us have some perspective here. These were mainly religious, not state, institutions, and yet it is our broke State that has to pick up the tab – yet again. Only a quarter of the laundry survivors were in state care. Most of the laundry survivors were there for less than a year, and the McAleese report found no evidence of sexual or physical abuse. Financial compensation has yet to be decided, but some have been calling for payments of up to €100,000, at which rate the bill could run into hundreds of millions.
Of course there was hardship, but this was the atmosphere of the time, as the Taoiseach himself said. And it is simply ahistorical to condemn the standards of another time by the much improved standards of the present. We may as well condemn the families who put these people into these institutions. Or indeed the families who didn't – and whose children suffered more so as a consequence.
For, as the McAleese report makes clear, many of those who experienced the Magdalene Laundries actually had quite a positive experience. It was, as one said, 'our only refuge in times of great difficulty'. So we should acknowledge that fact, just as we should acknowledge that it was often only the Catholic Church that was feeding and clothing the poor.
But the cry for apology, and for compensation, represents two growing strands in our society. One is the need for redress or apology for aspects of the past (the Famine, discrimination etc) and the other is that the State should do the apologising, and it should be compensatory and financial. But the fact is that this State is broke at present. And the Magdalene compensation is only one of such actions coming down the track.
In fact, there is the prospect of the State being financially besieged by many different and growing claims – and this is without questioning their validity. We have the claim for the controversial symphysiotomy childbirth procedures. And Thalidomide victims are looking for more compensation, although they were given a settlement in 1975 and offered a one-off payment more recently.
Meanwhile, the Catholic Church is back in the firing line in terms of new claims on abuse – and possibly the State is as well.
A case currently before the Irish courts concerns an African man who claims he was abused by a Holy Ghost father in Sierra Leone in the late 1970s. This is the first time an African has had such abuse allegations heard in Ireland. If it succeeds, it could open up the floodgates in terms of financial compensation and the State could be dragged in here again.
It was after all a decision by FF's Michael Woods over a decade ago to let the then-prosperous State share the burden of compensation for clerical abuse. Unfortunately, it also encouraged the idea that the now-bankrupt State can shell out for everybody's sins.
Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor– 21 February 2013
JUSTICE Minister Alan Shatter is going to demand that four religious congregations which ran the Magdalene Laundries make a contribution to the compensation fund.
It came after Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore bluntly told the religious congregations that they would have to help the State pay for the compensation fund for the survivors. But the Government does not have any legal power to force the congregations to contribute funds.
The Irish Independent has learnt that the matter was discussed at Cabinet this week with ministers – and there was full agreement on a demand for a contribution from the religious orders.
A spokesman for Justice Minister Alan Shatter has confirmed that he is going to be writing to them to ask for a contribution to the compensation fund.
By lunchtime yesterday, around 200 potential Magdalene survivors had contacted his department to inquire about the compensation scheme.
The department has confirmed that compensation will only be available to Magdalene survivors –rather than relatives of those who died.
The four religious congregations involved in running the ten Magdalene Laundries between 1922 and 1996 have chosen not to comment so far on the new demand for payment. They are the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, Sisters of Mercy, Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refugeand the Religious Sisters of Charity.
Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte pointed out that the religious orders in general had still not paid the extra contribution they had promised four years ago.
"I remember pursuing it several times a week at Leaders' Questions with (former Taoiseach Bertie) Ahern, who scoffed at the notion that it would ever reach €1bn," he said.
The report into state involvement in the Magdalene Laundries found that the religious congregations made little or no profit from running them.
In the Dail yesterday, Taoiseach Enda Kenny pledged the compensation fund would not be a "gravy train" for lawyers. He said the Magdalene survivors he had spoken to had specifically asked for a process that was "non-legalistic" and "non-adversarial".
Mr Kenny said the cabinet would consider extending the compensation scheme to former residents of St Mary's Training Centre in Summerhill in Wexford. He also said Justice Minister Alan Shatter was considering the issue of the former Bethany Home for unmarried mothers in Dublin - which has been described as a Protestant version of the Magdalene Laundries. It has not been included in the compensation scheme.
Bethany Home Survivors chairperson Derek Leinster welcomed Education Minister Ruairi Quinn's comments that former residents should be included in the scheme.
TODAY is a very important day in the lives of the Magdalene women. The visitors' gallery in the Dail will be packed with survivors anxious to hear Enda Kenny's full public apology on behalf of the State to the thousands who lived through hell in the notorious Magdalene Laundries.
The Taoiseach came in for huge criticism from Magdalene support groups for stopping short of delivering a comprehensive apology after Martin McAleese's report into the laundries was published two weeks ago. But he has redeemed himself since, taking time to meet groups of survivors in Dublin and London, and to listen to their stories. By all accounts, his response to the women was very human and compassionate.
Mr Kenny and his advisers showed a lack of judgment in allowing the report to be published without having a proper response and details of redress ready. It was an avoidable 'own goal' and stirred a lot of anger and pain for Magdalene survivors, their families, and supporters.
The Government is right not to opt for a compensation tribunal for survivors. Solicitors are waiting in the wings and a number of women have received letters from law firms offering to represent them. A tribunal would create a 'gravy train' for lawyers whose pockets have been lined through tribunals on different matters over the past 15 or so years. The legal bill of the Residential Institutions Redress Board alone came to €140m, and the victims had to relive their ordeal by giving testimonies.
The Government is instead expected to opt for a non-adversarial process that doesn't benefit lawyers, with a package of measures including psychological supports and a financial component based on compassion.
This will not satisfy all of the women, many who feel a tribunal is the way to go. The Magdalene Laundry Survivors group is seeking a compensation fund that could cost the State between €65m and €100m. It wants a payment of €50,000 for all survivors and a second sum for unpaid wages based on length of stay. With the average length of stay being about seven months, this would mean each woman getting about €60,000.
An estimated 10,000 women were incarcerated in 10 laundries run by four religious congregations between 1922 and 1996 and the State was involved in the admittance of only one-quarter of the women. Mr Kenny cannot confine his apology to the women who were sent to the laundries by the State, but the full burden of compensation should not lie on the State's shoulders.
The four religious orders who ran these institutions must also step forward and take their fair share of responsibility. The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge, the Congregation of the Sisters of Mary, the Religious Sisters of Charity and the Sisters of the Good Shepherd were quick to issue statements of apology in the hours after the publication of the McAleese Report. This needs to be reflected in financial and emotional support for the women who suffered in their care.
What the Government needs to announce today is a fast, simple process that will be executed in a fair and just way. Many of the survivors are elderly and don't have time on their hands. After fighting and waiting for years to get to this stage, they deserve a speedy resolution. There is speculation that Mr Kenny will announce the appointment of a chairperson to head a group to examine a case for survivors' compensation. This will amount to a fudge and will simply drag on what has already been a tortuous and painful process.
We must remember that it is not all about the money. For many of the women it is about the State acknowledging great wrongs done.
We have heard harrowing stories from brave women and their families over the past few weeks that would break one's heart. One of the most poignant was the story of Samantha Long's mother, Margaret Bullen, who was placed in Gloucester Street (now Sean McDermott Street) Laundry around 1967. She died 35 years later, never having been released into society or her own home.
Margaret was assessed as having an IQ of 50 and became pregnant twice while under the care of the Gloucester Street sisters. She met her twin daughters, Samantha and Etta, for the first time in the Gresham Hotel in 1992 when she was 42. She was carrying a handbag but it was empty as she didn't own anything. It was her first time to taste coffee. She died in 2002 never having lived an independent life.
Those in the Magdalene Laundries were branded as "fallen women", and it is hugely important to the survivors that this terrible label is lifted.
One of their requests also is for the establishment of a national museum and state memorial on the site of the last laundry to close its doors on Sean McDermott Street in 1996.
Do we really need a memorial to a sad, dark and shameful chapter in our country's history? Do we need a reminder that thousands of women were rejected, isolated and hurt by a system which failed to respond with empathy to their various needs?
The Bethany Survivors' Group has said it hopes former residents can also get justice.
The Government is ruling out suggestions that the Magdalene redress scheme will be extended to cover former residents of the Bethany Home in Dublin, which closed in 1972.
Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, the group's secretary Niall Meehan said the State should take responsibility for the home and set up a redress scheme for the 20 or so Bethany survivors.
He also said the Church of Ireland should contribute to the redress.
Mr Meehan said survivors want to be included in society and have their rights vindicated.
There was evidence of ill-treatment and bad conditions at the home and 219 children were buried in unmarked graves in Mount Jerome Cemetery.
Mr Meehan said most of those children died after the State took on the responsibility of inspecting maternity homes where unmarried mothers were present.
Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Michael Jackson, has said there needs to be a conversation between the churches and the State about redress for the Bethany survivors.
Also speaking on RTÉ's Moring Ireland, Dr Jackson said he supports calls for redress to be extended to the Bethany survivors but declined to answer directly whether the Church of Ireland should contribute to any such scheme.
At no point was it exclusively a Church of Ireland home, he said, and it was not a home under Church of Ireland governance.
He said it was, in fact, a home where there was significant State involvement.
Dr Jackson said he had already encouraged members of his diocese to contribute to a fund for Bethany survivors.
The women of Dublin's Stanhope Street Training Centre will be entitled to apply for redress.
That institution was not included in the McAleese report but was included in the Taoiseach’s apology in the Dáil.
Stanhope was not recorded as a Magdalene Laundry even though many women spent many years there working under harsh conditions.
A campaigning lawyer has described part of the report into the Magdalene Laundries as a hotchpotch of guesses and omissions presented as scholarly work.
By Dan Buckley
Simon McGarr, a Dublin solicitor who previously led a campaign for the expulsion of the Papal Nuncio following the publication of the Murphy report, said the executive summary of the McAleese report offers unlikely explanations to serious issues.
“The executive summary is a shameful farrago of guesses, elisions and wilful ignorance,” said Mr McGarr on his website.
In particular, he took issue with the report’s failure to explain the absence of death certificates for many Magdalene women and the failure to report any woman’s death to a coroner.
“On balance, it is better to have the report than none at all, as it has put a large amount of information into the public domain,” said Mr McGarr yesterday.
“However, it is a very poor report. It is uncritical of official, institutional sources of information and, on balance, it gives privilege to written records over spoken testimony.”
According to the Justice for Magdalenes group, more than 800 pages of transcripts of first-hand oral evidence was offered to the McAleese inquiry but never used.
“It is unfortunate that Martin McAleese chose not to include anything more of the women’s accounts in this report,” said Mr McGarr.
He also criticised what he terms the Magdalene Report committee’s willingness to “build castles of excuses out of thin air” and contrasted that with its conclusion in relation to evidence of the women who witnessed and experienced these institutions.
“Although identifying common patterns in these stories, the committee did not make specific findings on this issue, in light of the small sample of women available,” the McAleese report states.
Mr McGarr describes as “revolting” the oppression, abuse of power, and arbitrary behaviour meted out to the women who were incarcerated through the criminal justice system, regardless of how they got there. “The McAleese report consistently seeks to explain away or excuse this behaviour,” said Mr McGarr. “When no other excuse can be found, or imagined, the authors fall back upon the excuse that the past is very different to now.”
He says that while the institutions involved were challenged to explain away their behaviour, “these explanations are presented, unchallenged, no matter how flimsy they are”.
Mr McGarr also cited the approach taken by the gardaí who facilitated the incarceration of women in the laundries. “Gardaí would arrest women who had escaped from the Magdalene institutions and return them to their clutches,” he said. “There was even a standing order in the Garda handbook.
“The handbook reads: ‘Persons in institution uniform — if persons are noticed to be wandering about in the uniform of institutions, e.g. workhouse inmates, they should be questioned and if they cannot give a satisfactory account of them- selves they should be arrested.’ ”
A memorial to the victims of institutional child abuse is still in the planning procesBy Niall Murray, Education Correspondent
The €500,000 project was recommended in the 2009 Ryan report into abuse at industrial schools and other institutions. A planning application was submitted to Dublin City Council in October for a site at the rear of the Garden of Remembrance, Parnell Square, Dublin.
A group representing Magdalene Laundries survivors has called for a memorial to the women.
The planned institutional child abuse memorial was picked from a public design competition, whose judges included survivor representatives. With an entrance from the other side of the square to the Garden of Remembrance, visitors would have sight and access to the back of the Children of Lir sculpture made famous when Queen Elizabeth II laid a wreath there during her visit in 2011.
The project, entitled Journey of Light, was designed by Studio Negri and Hennessy & Associates. It involves a covered walkway, seating, water features, feature lighting and sculptured elements.
Dublin City Council asked the Office of Public Works for further information on the design and other aspects of the project before Christmas, and a response is being prepared for planners by the design team.
In its 2011 submission to Justice Minister Alan Shatter on reparations for survivors, Justice For Magdalenes asked that the State fund an appropriate national memorial to commemorate the Laundries and the woman confined in them.
“In doing so, the State is committed to protect against the erasure of this chapter in the nation’s history,” it said.
It also called on the State to work with religious orders to erect suitable memorial stones and to ensure their complete accuracy.
Announcing the winning design for the institutional abuse memorial last summer, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn said it would act as a testimony to one of the darkest chapters in the State’s history and to what society allowed to happen to vulnerable children.
“I hope it will serve as a constant reminder that we must never let such horrendous crimes against children happen again and we must strive to protect all of our children,” he said.
Payment of compensation to survivors of the Magdalene Laundries will be made on a ex-gratia basis without establishing any liability on behalf of State bodies.
By Dan Buckley
Despite Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s Dáil apology to those who suffered hurt and abuse in the Laundries, the person appointed to recommend the best means of providing support and payments to survivors will be constrained by the Government’s decision to limit the State’s legal culpability in the matter.
The provision is identical to that which pertains to compensation awarded under the Residential Institutions Redress Board scheme to those who, as children, were abused while resident in industrial schools, reformatories and other institutions subject to state regulation or inspection.
A three-month review is to be carried out by Mr Justice John Quirke to recommend the best means of providing support and payments to the survivors of the Magdalene Laundries, who have been invited to contact the Department of Justice to register their intent to seek State support.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter said while a simple structure is being devised, people should register their intent by contacting the department.
The Justice for Magdalenes campaign has urged the Government to give statutory powers to Mr Justice Quirke.
Transport Minister Leo Varadkar said he believes the religious orders should make a contribution to the redress scheme for the Magdalene survivors, and should also offer an apology for their role.
Up to 200 women contacted the Department of Justice for information on the Magdalene redress scheme in the 24 hours after the Taoiseach made his groundbreaking apology to the women for the State’s role in their hurt.
By Claire O’Sullivan and Shaun Connolly
Meanwhile, the four religious orders who ran the Laundries have refused to comment on Enda Kenny’s apology, or on how they intend to engage with Mr Justice John Quirke’s redress scheme. It is not yet known how much, if anything, they intend to contribute to the fund being established by the State.
It has also emerged that the Taoiseach met with Magdalene survivors still in the care of the nuns but living in nursing homes in the past fortnight.
This means that Mr Kenny met with Magdalene Survivors Together and the London Irish Women Survivors Support Group, but not with Justice for Magdalenes, who successfully brought the case outlining state involvement in the laundries to the United Nations Committee on Torture two years ago.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn said he would like to see survivors of the Bethany Home being extended the same treatment from the State as that given to the Magdalene survivors.
However, last night the Department of Justice said the High Court had found “90% of [Bethany Home’s] work was maternity cases”.
“The arrangements being made in respect of girls and women who worked in Magdalen Laundries without pay simply cannot be applied to the completely different circumstances applied to the many maternity and infants homes in the State and those resident in them as compared to the Magdalen Laundries,” said a department spokesperson.
They said the issues as regards the Bethany Home relate “primarily to health care and children”.
“The Government is conscious of these issues and the Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, and the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Kathleen Lynch are looking at this matter,” said the spokesperson.
Former abuse victim and executive director of Amnesty International Ireland Colm O’Gorman warned the Quirke scheme must be “open and transparent” and that the religious orders must be held accountable for establishing and running the Laundries.
“This next step must be acknowledged as reparation for State failures that is these women’s right, and not as some act of benevolence by this Government,” said Mr O’Gorman. “The religious need to play a role and be held to account for the laundries. Details of the negotiations should be made public. The time for secret, background negotiations is over,” he said.
He said the State has a “pure justice role” to play in dealing with the issue.
“Those responsible for human rights violations must be brought to account at an institutional level,” he said. “And they must also contribute significantly to the redress and reparations.”
In the Dáil, Mr Kenny said great consideration was being given to the best way to deal with the women. He said his meetings with survivors had impressed upon him their desire for a full State apology, but also the need for a swift, non-adversarial compensation plan.
“Not being adversarial, not being a gravy train for those who might assume so from a legalistic point of view — that’s a very strong wish and a very strong desire expressed by the women who were in the Magdalene laundries, and that’s what we want to try to achieve here,” he said
Mr Kenny said setting up a three-month review by Judge Quirke, which will recommend how to provide support and payments to the survivors, was the best way forward. He included the survivors of Dublin’s Stanhope Street Training Centre in his apology in the Dáil on Tuesday night.
Doubts have emerged on whether Magdalene women who have previously received compensation because they resided in industrial schools or other institutions will qualify for further payment under the new scheme.
The president of the Law Reform Commission, Mr Justice John Quirke is to recommend criteria to be applied when assessing provision in terms of “payments” and supports such as medical cards and counselling services to the Magdalene women.
A Department of Justice spokeswoman said the issue of further compensation for women who were sent to the laundries from industrial schools – and were thus compensated by the State Redress Board – “will be considered by Judge Quirke”.
However, Minister of State for Trade Joe Costello said: “I think they should be dealt with in the context of the Magdalenes. They shouldn’t be excluded.”
Separately, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, Michael Jackson said he had written to the Minister for Justice Alan Shatter asking him to establish an inquiry into the Bethany Home, a Protestant-run home for unmarried mothers and their children.
However, the Government has ruled out the Magdalene redress scheme being extended to former residents of the home. Taoiseach Enda Kenny stressed it was not a laundry, “but dealt with the health and welfare of young women and their children”.
Mr Shatter and Minister of State for Equality Kathleen Lynch were aware of the issues involved and were “looking at this matter”, according to a Department of Justice spokeswoman.
Support groups for the Magdalene women said it would be difficult to quantify the number of women who received compensation through the Redress Board – but Claire McGettrick of Justice for Magdalenes said it would be “at least dozens”.
She said “without exception” every woman she had spoken to who had dealt with the Redress Board had been told “not to speak” about being compensated for time spent in laundries. “One woman told me that her solicitor just drew a red line through her time in the laundry.”
Steven O’Riordan of Magdalene Survivors Together also said women who went through the Redress Board were “consistently told” it was a “completely separate issue” – and that the laundries were “of no consequence in terms of what they would be paid by the Redress Board”.
He said it would be “bizarre” if women who went through the Redress Board were to be treated differently.All members of his organisation were to be represented by Frank Buttimer Solicitors – with whom they were to meet, together with Mr Shatter, today.
“We will be sitting down to go through the terms of reference and what’s being laid out. None of those in our group will be signing up to anything if the terms of reference don’t suit what we have laid out,” he said. “Our proposal is that the women get paid for loss of wages as well as a lump sum to cover the aggravation and emotional and physical neglect people suffered.”
President Michael D Higgins yesterday welcomed Mr Kenny’s apology to those who had spent time in the laundries, and his announcement of a fund to assist the women.
Mr Higgins described as “very generous” Mr Kenny’s address. “I know the emotional strength with which it was delivered and I’m even more pleased that those who were affected, the women, were very pleased with it,” he said.
There were scenes of joy and gratitude outside Leinster House last night as victims cheered and whooped following the Taoiseach’s apology for the State and the people of Ireland’s involvement in the Magdalene laundries.
By Claire O'Sullivan
Irish Examiner ReporterEnda Kenny described the laundries as “the nation’s shame” as he said the State accepted its role in the incarceration of over a quarter of the 10,000 women who worked without pay, often for years, in the laundries.
“I believe I speak for millions of Irish people all over the world when I say we put away these women because, for too many years, we put away our conscience,” he said.
Maureen Sullivan was aged 12 when she was sent to a Magdalene laundry in New Ross after her father died.
She said Mr Kenny had given survivors their lives back.
“He didn’t hold back on anything,” Ms Sullivan said.
“He really did us proud. Now we can go on with our lives and we know that we’ve got an apology, and he’s taken responsibility. It’s just fantastic.”
Another woman, Mary Smith, who was locked up in Sunday’s Well laundry in Cork, said: “To see the Taoiseach cry today. He believed us. Because nobody ever believed what we suffered”.
The women described the speech as a victory, shouting “we won” as they emerged from the Dáil.
“Our hearts were broken so many, many times but we tried and we tried and we tried and we go there,” said another woman, Kitty McManus.
Justice for the Magdalenes, who were the group that the brought the plight of the Magdalenes to the UN Committee on Torture forcing the Government’s hand on the issue, also welcomed the long-awaited apology.
“JFM now looks forward to the intent of the apology being made evident by the introduction of a system of redress that is prompt, open, fair, and transparent,” committee member Katherine O’Donnell said.
JFM is calling for Justice John Quirke’s review to be given statutory powers, include an independent appeals system and be properly resourced. “It must be non-adversarial and transparent. It can be private but not secret,” spokeswoman Ms O’Donnell added.
The Magdalene Survivors Together group has called for compensation in the form of a nominal payment of €50,000 for incarceration and an additional €20,000 for every year spent in detention to make up for lost wages.
Meanwhile, JFM is seeking a benchmark figure of €100,000 lump sum compensation for Magdalene survivors, in addition to a package of services including pensions and lost wages. They say the benchmark figure reflects that women are foregoing important legal rights to go before the courts.
According to the recommendation of the UN Committee Against Torture (UNCAT), survivors must “obtain” redress and “have an enforceable right to compensation.”
By Shaun Connolly, Political Correspondent
One elderly survivor, shaking with emotion in the Dáil’s public gallery, gripped the hand of the woman next to her as the State’s apology finally came, and the pair sobbed openly with many others as a pulse of relief surged through the chamber.
Once isolated in fear, the survivors were now united in vindication.
The applause that began on the floor for Enda Kenny’s speech soon spiralled out into something far more profound, as the Dáil stood in ovation and acknowledged the hardship and pain inflicted upon generations of women.
The women also stood and applauded — for the validation of their long, lonely struggle, and for the memory of the thousands upon thousands of their fellow victims who never lived to see this day.
Mr Kenny, humbled and embarrassed by his initial misjudgement over how to handle the McAleese report into the exploitation and degradation of the laundry women and girls, knew he could not afford to let them — or the nation — down again.
Rising to the occasion, Mr Kenny discarded the dry statistics and the dissociation that scarred his Dáil performances two weeks ago, and instead spoke from the heart.
“The Magdalene women might have been told that they were washing away a wrong, or a sin, but we know now — and to our shame — they were only ever scrubbing away our nation’s shadow,” he told an eerily quiet chamber as TDs and survivors alike strained in anticipation of the overdue apology, which finally came in the 13th minute of the speech.
“I, as Taoiseach, on behalf of the State, the Government, and our citizens, deeply regret and apologise unreservedly to all those women for the hurt that was done to them, and for any stigma they suffered, as a result of the time they spent in a Magdalene Laundry.”
Mr Kenny’s voice cracked as he remembered the moment a survivor had sung ‘Whispering Hope’ to him: “A line from that song stays in my mind — ‘when the dark midnight is over, watch for the breaking of day’. Let me hope that this day and this debate heralds a new dawn for all those who feared that the dark midnight might never end.”
Mr Kenny apologised a second time and the public gallery had now dissolved into a human wave of tears and hugs, as the decades of abuse were officially atoned for, as the wrongs they suffered were dragged into the light at last.
It was an extraordinary moment in Dáil history — one that befitted the presence of extraordinary women in the Dáil.
In 1862 the Westminster parliament established a committee to inquire into the prevalence of venereal disease in the British armed services and this resulted in the Contagious Diseases Act of 1864.
There was popular sympathy for the male members of the armed forces who contracted the disease for they were celibate, in the main, confined to fairly awful barrack conditions and, anyway, what was a man to do? The problem was the women prostitutes who infected them and there were tens of thousands of them around in Victorian Britain – according to some claims, hundreds of thousands.
The 1864 Act sought to deal with the problem by requiring these women to be subjected to compulsory examination and, when found to have venereal disease, forced incarceration in what was known as a “lock hospital” for up to three months and later for up to a year, or until “cured”.
In one of the first feminist campaigns in Britain, a movement known as the Ladies’ National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts (there were subsequent amendments to the 1864 Act), secured the repeal of the Acts in 1886.
There had been religious movements – Anglican and Catholic – concerned about “fallen women” from the previous century but they got a new energy in the Victorian era, where there was much moral agitation about the iniquity of women in prostitution but little about the male clients of these women and hardly any agitation at all about the social and economic conditions that drove so many women into prostitution.
‘Children’ and ‘mistresses’
The first Magdalene asylum was opened in Limerick in 1848, followed by houses in Waterford (1858), New Ross (1860), Belfast (1867) and Cork (1869). They catered, in the main, for women in prostitution, known as “children”, while the nuns were referred to as “mistresses”.
Central to the operation of these houses was the “rule of silence”, regarded as “a necessary condition for the surveillance of good order” to be respected with “scrupulous care”. Silence was enforced for most of the day and throughout the night and was found to be an effective control mechanism. In addition there were long hours of prayer and devotion.
The wearing of drab and shapeless uniforms was obligatory to discourage vanity and improper thoughts. In some of these houses women’s hair was cropped. This practice was carried out in the Limerick house up to the late 1950s. Visits from family or friends were discouraged and correspondence was restricted and then scrutinised. The women in the laundries got little or no education and many were unable to read or write.
One of the first studies of Magdalenes in Ireland, Do Penance or Perish: Magdalen Asylums in Ireland by Frances Finnegan, records: “Even more exposed to a lifetime of penance than those who had entered the asylums voluntarily, was that vast category of inmates (about 50 per cent of the total over the period analysed) who were neither ‘recommended’ nor entered the Good Shepherds ‘of their own accord’. These were ‘brought’ to the institutions by priests, relatives or friends, but how unwillingly and under what constraints they were kept in the homes will never be known.”
Frances Finnegan continues: “Many of these were undoubtedly ignorant of their legal status, with very young inmates and increasing numbers of ‘simple-minded’ women being especially vulnerable.” She records how many women “absconded”, “scaled the wall”, or “ran away”, evidence not only of their enforced confinement but their desperate state of mind.
She writes that such escapes “defining constant surveillance, locked doors and high boundary walls”, risked punishment if unsuccessful. “Ashamed and dispirited, they lacked the confidence, the education and support to make themselves heard. Even had they done so, it is doubtful if a public so indifferent, so prepared to tolerate a system in the first place, would have intervened on their behalf.”
Many of the women were denied or disowned by their families and to the outside world they almost ceased to exist.
It wasn’t as though the existence of these laundries was a secret. Advertisements for the laundries regularly appeared in the newspapers.
Class distinction followed the nuns and the “children” from the outside society into the asylum laundries. Frances Finnegan writes that many of the nuns were from privileged backgrounds and had been cared for by servants before entering the order. “They were not accustomed to rough labour, nor, in spite of their vow of poverty, was it something they were required to perform. There was little social equality in such convents; and, as in other orders, women of wealth and distinction had almost separate existence from the daughters of the poor.”
It is not just the State that owes thousands of women subjected to such cruelty, loneliness and neglect an apology. Irish society at large owes an apology but then it is not just to these women to whom Irish society owes apologies and it is not only for past injustices and humiliations.
Women who spent time in the residential laundry in Stanhope Street in Dublin will now be included in the fund established by the Government to assist the Magdalene women.
All survivors in the included laundries can contact the Department of Justice from today to register their interest in being considered for benefits or supports from the fund, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said.
“We are determined that the money in question will be solely for the benefit of the women, not for the legal profession or others.”
An initial €250,000 from the fund will be given to the Step by Step Centre for Irish Survivors of Industrial Schools and Laundries to be established in Britain. During the Dáil debate in which Taoiseach Enda Kenny, in an emotional address, apologised to the women who spent time in the laundries, the Minister outlined how the fund would operate.
Mr Shatter said the largest single group of women who had come forward were based in Britain and represented by the Irish Survivors’ Advice and Support Network, who worked with more than 2,000 women. This group would operate the Step by Step centre which would be a “holistic and person-centred service”.
He said the stories of certain women in the laundry in Stanhope Street, Dublin, reflected the stories of women in the Magdalene laundries, and these women would be included. He also said the women should “now consider the nature and location of a memorial they would deem suitable”.
The needs of individual women varied considerably and “the Government wishes to have a system in place that will be open and transparent and at the same time will avoid a complicated administrative system”.
Mr Justice John Quirke, president of the Law Reform Commission, would have three months to examine how best to provide supports to the women, the operation of the fund and the nature and amount of payments to be made from the fund.
In his address the Taoiseach described the treatment of women in the Magdalene laundries as “a national shame’. He said he was deeply sorry and offered his “full and heartfelt apologies’’ to the women.
He said the Magdalene laundries were reserved for “what was offensively and judgmentally called fallen women’’. The women, he said, were wholly blameless.
The women deserved more than a formal apology, said Mr Kenny as he announced the fund to be established and its operation determined by Mr Justice Quirke. He would assess the criteria for payments and supports including medical cards, psychological and counselling services and other welfare needs.
“I am confident that this process will enable us to provide speedy, fair and meaningful help to the women in a compassionate and non-adversarial way,’’ Mr Kenny added.
He received a sustained round of applause from TDs and a packed public gallery. Then TDs gave a standing ovation to the Magdalene survivors in the gallery.
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore joined the Taoiseach in offering “a heartfelt apology to the survivors of the Magdalene laundries”.
He said no apology, no matter how sincere, could erase what happened. “We cannot turn back the clock and undo what was done to so many.”
Girls abused in residential homes often returned to “slave labour” situations at religious institutions to avoid more exploitative lives on work placement.
By Conor Ryan, Investigative Correspondent
This was one of the findings of a report delivered to government 12 years before the recent and, less critical, examination of the Magdalene Laundries.
The 2001 report said a lack of aftercare meant girls left abusive establishments run by religious orders only to find themselves as victims of unscrupulous private employers. These teenagers were ill-equipped for life outside institutions and were pushed towards crime, emigration, homelessness, and substance abuse.
The report, presented by the then senior counsel Seán Ryan, had taken submissions from women who were shunned once they left the residential schools.
“While release was to be welcomed after many years of residency, the lack of preparation in basic life- skills rendered the young people vulnerable to perils which existed in the outside world,” it said.
The report’s assessment of this route to Magdalene Laundries reveals marked differences to the account presented in the report by Martin McAleese.
Mr Ryan, later a High Court judge, subsequently chaired the Commission of Inquiry into Child Abuse.
His report, from the 2001 Compensation Advisory Committee on Redress, said when their education finished at 16, girls from reformatories often had little experience of handling money, travelling on public transport, filling in forms, shopping, or cooking.
The committee was told the abuse they suffered as children was a major contributory factor to their lives falling apart as young adults.
“We received many reports of ‘slave labour’ situations, with little financial payment and no ability to escape. In spite of the reportedly harsh regimes of the [religious] institutions, some said that they returned seeking help because of the miserable existence to which they were exposed on placement,” it said.
In those cases, a return to religious-run institutions happened after the women suffered during organised work placements.
Dr McAleese’s report found significant links between the residential and industrial schools and the workhouses. It documented the experiences of some who left industrial schools only to return to laundries.
Like the original Ryan report, Dr McAleese’s work criticised the absence of state-sponsored aftercare for children released from industrial schools. It also discussed a “folk memory” of girls in reformatories who were transferred directly to laundries because they were considered “not fit for the world”.
However, Dr McAleese’s report suggested private employment offered an alternative.
“Records confirm that the majority of girls on expiry of their period of detention in an industrial school were either sent to employment, frequently as domestic servants or other live-in employment, or returned to their families,” it said.
*“It should be noted, however, that it was not the case that placement in a Magdalene Laundry was the only option for girls or young women retained or following the expiry of the period of their detention in industrial schools.
“Records confirm that the majority of girls on expiry of their period of detention in an industrial school were either sent to employment, frequently as domestic servants or other live-in employment, or returned to their families.”
McAleese report, 2013
*“We received many reports of ‘slave labour’ situations, with little financial payment and no ability to escape. In spite of the reportedly harsh regimes of the [religious] institutions, some said they returned seeking help because of the miserable existence to which they were exposed.
“Several found little sympathy, some told of being punished and returned to the placement without any further investigation of its suitability.”
Taoiseach Enda Kenny is expected to make a full state apology to survivors of the Magdalene laundries today.
Twenty women who were incarcerated in the Catholic workhouses will attend a parliamentary debate to witness first hand the anticipated apology.
The group - Magdalene Survivors Together - is also hoping to hear details of a compensation scheme.
Spokesman Steven O’Riordan said the survivors were also optimistic Mr Kenny would acknowledge women detained in other institutions similar to the laundries that were classed as training units.
“Magdalene Survivors Together are extremely confident that the Taoiseach will in some way extend the apology to include St Mary’s Training School, Stanhope Street, Dublin, and St Mary’s Training Centre, Summerhill, Wexford,” Mr O’Riordan said.
Meanwhile, the survivor group has called for compensation in the form of a nominal payment of €50,000 for their incarceration and an additional €20,000 for every year spent in detention to make up for lost wages.
The Government has not confirmed to the women or their representatives whether they will be compensated.
But Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has insisted a comprehensive package of measures was being produced to meet the women’s needs.
This follows the recent publication of a report from former senator Martin McAleese, which revealed that the state was responsible for 24 per cent of all admissions to the laundries - where girls as young as 11 were forced to work unpaid.
The Magdalene inquiry also found that 10,000 women were incarcerated in the workhouses, run by religious orders, for a myriad of reasons - from petty crime, fleeing the institutes, foster families no longer receiving state allowances and others who were orphaned, abused, mentally or physically disabled, homeless or poor.
The last laundry closed in 1996, at Sean MacDermott Street in Dublin’s north inner city.
Elsewhere, advocacy group Justice for Magdalenes has insisted that any compensation package unveiled following the debate in the Dáil today should include pensions, healthcare and counselling, as well as housing services and advice.
It called for a benchmark €100,000 lump sum as compensation for survivors - on top of a pension package and money for lost earnings.
Last week, Mr Kenny met a number of survivors to personally hear their stories.
The women said he was visibly moved by their accounts and that they appreciated him giving his time.
Redress is next issue in lengthy fight for justice
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Conall Ó Fátharta asks if we can expect more than just ‘sorry’
By Conall Ó Fátharta
Irish Examiner ReporterWhile a long-overdue State apology to survivors of the Magdalene Laundries is expected to be issued today, the question of what form the redress scheme to be offered takes is now the key issue.
If the weekend reports are to be believed, what the 1,000 or so elderly and vulnerable survivors are to be offered is a far cry from what the UN Committee on Torture recommended in 2011, let alone what Magdalene survivors and support groups have long campaigned for.
The committee said that the State should ensure that all victims have a right to redress and have an enforceable right to seek compensation, while advocacy groups sought similar measures.
It now appears the Government will offer some form of compensation on an individual, case-by-case basis as a compassionate gesture to the women. It will also offer to meet healthcare and counselling costs.
However, the reality is that once you get past the political soundbites about “compassion”, the key concern for Government is money, and setting a precedent which might open the floodgates to more compensation schemes arising from other human rights abuses in Mother and Baby Homes and psychiatric institutions.
The decision by Taoiseach Enda Kenny to speak to some of the Magdalene support groups, but not all, has also been interesting.
Mr Kenny, Justice Minister Alan Shatter, and Kathleen Lynch, the junior health minister, have spoken to two groups of Magdalene Laundry survivors in London and in Dublin — the Irish Women’s Survivors’ Support Network and Magdalene Survivors Together.
However, the Justice for Magdalenes group, which submitted some 800 pages of exhaustive academic research and survivor testimony to Martin McAleese’s committee have been entirely absent from these meetings.
Contrary to some reports, the group did not refuse to meet the Taoiseach but instead asked for clarification in writing as to why the meetings were being sought, what was to be discussed, and who would be present.
The Taoiseach’s department never responded and so JFM was left out in the cold.
It is noteworthy that this group has been very vocal in its criticism of the McAleese report in a number of areas — namely in terms of its narrative of conditions in the laundries and also of how Dr McAleese recalled some of the survivors to query aspects of testimony they had given earlier.
Interestingly, not a single line of the hundreds of pages of survivor testimony JFM submitted to the committee appears in Dr McAleese’s consideration of living and working conditions in the laundries.
JFM has also been very vocal in calling for a non-adversarial and fully transparent justice and reparations scheme for survivors.
In consultation with the Irish Women Survivors Support Network and Magdalene survivors in Ireland, Britain, and the US, the reparations scheme is a comprehen-sive document.
Prepared in Oct 2011, in tandem with an apology, it calls for a dedicated unit within the Department of Justice to facilitate access to redress and services for survivors, a commission for financial reparation, and a preservation of the historical record.
The group proposed a benchmark figure of €100,000 in a lump sum compensation for survivors, along with a package of services including pensions and lost wages.
Magdalene Survivors Together also presented a compensation package which involved a lump sum of around €50,000 as well as provisions for lost wages.
Today will reveal whether the Government has the courage to offer these women anything like the redress they deserve.
Independent.ie ›Opinion ›Analysis ›
18 February 2013
THE burden of historical truth, in respect of the Magdalene Laundries, is huge. It also was in respect of the industrial schools. It has not been fully confronted in regard to either of these monstrous blemishes on the State. The grim reality of this faces Enda Kenny as he tackles a history of events made more confused by the report presented to the Government by Martin McAleese. History cannot be confined to the period since 1922. What the State took over from the British and how it then changed it has also to be part of the picture.
If we go back well before the State's foundation, to the census of 1901, the material that bears on the present question of the Magdalene Laundries emerges more clearly in historical terms and, though painful, sets the context of how the system worked then and later under state control.
The Dublin Sisters of Charity had 16 convents run by 341 nuns. Their most notable property was St Vincent's Hospital, then in St Stephen's Green, "a most remunerative institution, judging by the vast sums of money it received, and by its continuous absorption of expensive private houses to accommodate the ever-increasing number of paying patients".
Least-known was the Donnybrook Magdalene Penitentiary, in the charge of 19 nuns who directed the "free" labour of 100 penitents. "The bedroom doors are locked at night and they are bound to stay in that penitentiary at the hard work of laundry for the best years of their lives; and should they ever leave it, they find themselves in a world in which they are more helpless than they were on the day of their birth."
An outside observer wrote of the Magdalenes in chapel: "They were dressed as outcasts, and they looked outcasts. And a more melancholy existence I could not imagine than theirs; changing from the soap suds in the steam laundry to the confession box, or the chapel, the only recreation they get. Far indeed would it seem to have been from the thoughts of Our Saviour to have condemned the original Magdalene to such a life as the poor galley slaves in these penitentiaries lead."
Rudimentary clothing, indifferent food, no freedom, no money, no education, no future – that was their life-long fate. This record, 20 years before the foundation of the State, has been airbrushed out of existence, as have many other historical circumstances.
There were 93 Dublin convents run by different orders, enjoying government endowments, deathbed legacies, charity sermon subscriptions, alms and earnings from laundries. The congregations were spread across the city, a collective community of 1,649 professed nuns who, together with novices, postulants and the like came to 3,000 souls.
These nuns dominated the world of "care" for penitential girls and miscreant boys and girls, in a large agglomeration of laundries and industrial schools, the true history of which has yet to be confronted.
Escape clauses aligned the State with the religious, denying the rights of those interned. The truth has never been properly addressed. It is too shameful. Governments have covered up, and we are in danger of further deliberate obfuscation over the State's responsibilities in order to make Mr Kenny's apology "safe".
In clearing up the embarrassment of the industrial schools, the State eliminated all those who failed to sign the waiver and the oath of secrecy, reducing the abused to 15,000. The legal side cost us a fortune, while the recompense to victims was more modest. Those outside the fence, who even the Christian Brothers thought should receive payments, have been excluded by the State and erased from history.
The McAleese Report, discussing available records, encounters (or fails to encounter because they are not there) 27,000 personal files "missing" from Department of Education archives. They are said to have been "thrown out in a 'general clear out'". What an absurd piece of nonsense! These are legal documents, seen by others, not by inmates who are still living.
The Magdalene Laundries girls were different. They did not generally merit personal files. They did not merit their own names and identities.
It is a historical truism that official reports, media coverage and government statements can create the impression we have all relevant evidence. This view then enters the history books as established historical fact.
The McAleese Report plays down the question of beatings in the laundries, contradicting what the former inmates say. This flies in the face of the curatorial reality in such institutions which were excessively punitive physically, as in the industrial schools.
An Artane inmate, complaining of violence and interviewed in the presence of his assailants by a bishop, recanted his complaint. As soon as the bishop had left the premises, the assailants took their revenge on the wretched complainant.
If the Taoiseach seeks the whole truth, he must start from a platform of great scepticism.
Campaigner Patricia McDonnell’s interest in the Magdalene issue is personal
Patricia McDonnell’s Magdalene advocacy committee is probably the oldest such group.
She set up the Magdalene Memorial Committee after reading a 1993 report about the exhumation of women buried near the High Park laundry in Drumcondra. The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity were selling land to a developer and wanted the 133 remains removed to Glasnevin cemetery.
During the exhumation process 22 more unidentified remains were found.
The committee arranged for a seat to be placed in Dublin’s St Stephen’s Green in memory of women who had been in the laundries. In 1996 then president Mary Robinson unveiled the seat, erected on a site arranged by then minister for arts and culture Michael D Higgins.
McDonnell has a personal reason for becoming involved in the Magdalene issue. Her sister-in-law “Mary” spent 20 years at the Sisters of Mercy Magdalene laundry in Dún Laoghaire. Mary is 89 and in a west of Ireland nursing home.
Mary came from a well-off farming background in Galway.In the late 1930s her parents died. Two of her brothers, who were 19 and 17 at the time, took over the farm, while she looked after the house. The smaller children were sent to relatives.
The local priest told Mary’s brothers he felt she was in moral danger. He knew a nice family in Dublin where she would be safer. Mary’s brothers were not convinced but the priest and his housekeeper persuaded them.
The priest drove Mary to the Dún Laoghaire laundry and asked her brothers not to contact her, to allow her to settle in. Every time Mary’s brothers inquired, the priest warned them off contacting her. Over time they stopped asking.
When Mary’s younger brother – McDonnell’s husband – reached 17, he went in search of her.
He found Mary in the laundry in Dún Laoghaire. The first time he saw her, “beside a robust nun, she looked like someone from Belsen”. He threatened the nuns with legal action if Mary was not released. A time and date were set. When he arrived to pick up Mary, she was on her knees scrubbing a floor.
He asked a nun why this was the case. She replied: “Do you want us to have a riot? No one has ever left this place.”
In time Mary adjusted to life outside, her only query ever being how she could have been detained at the laundry at all.
In the late 1990s, McDonnell and her husband decided to inquire about Mary’s time at Dún Laoghaire. They contacted the Sisters of Mercy. “They denied the laundry existed,” McDonnell says, “even though it was there in Thom’s directory”.
She rang Joe Duffy and Liveline was inundated with calls from people confirming the laundry’s existence.
Contacted again, the Sisters of Mercy said they had no records from the laundry. More recently, they supplied the McDonnells with a copy of an electoral register which proved Mary had been in the laundry between 1951 and 1959.
The Sisters of Mercy were unable to provide the McAleese committee with records for either of their two laundries, in Galway and Dún Laoghaire.
In 2002 and 2003, McDonnell sent letters to then minister for education Noel Dempsey asking how Mary could have been detained, and for so long. He assured her the laundry was a privately run institution over which the State had neither a supervisory nor regulatory role.
This, the McAleese report made clear, was untrue.
Where Mary is concerned, “compensation would mean nothing”, McDonnell says. “She just wants to know why they detained her.”
Compensation amounts for Magdalene laundry survivors may be awarded on a case-by-case basis, it has emerged.
Minister of State Kathleen Lynch yesterday said the Government would appoint someone with whom victims could interact and who would assess survivors’ needs on an individual basis.
“What we have decided is that the person who would have both the competence and the compassion and the expertise will be asked to deal with the issue,” the Minister said.
“That person will be asked to put in place a framework where women can interact with that person and their team and we will then look at what needs to be put in place.”
The approach appears at odds with submissions from two survivors groups which seek minimum settlements for survivors.
Under proposals from advocacy group Justice for Magdalenes (JFM), any woman who spent time in a laundry would automatically pass a minimum threshold of demonstrated abuse, entitling her to a sum of €100,000. The group is also seeking a pension scheme for survivors.
Spokeswoman Katherine O’Donnell said the figure, first submitted to Government in October 2011, took into account that participating women would effectively be ceding any right to pursue their claim through the courts.
She said applicants demonstrating additional suffering such as neglect or physical, emotional or sexual abuse should be entitled to apply for more.
JFM is also seeking a separate payment of unpaid wages, commensurate with the time spent working.
She said between 800 and 1,000 survivors could be recipients under the scheme.
Additional State funding for a Names Project and a Magdalene Archival and Oral History project is also sought, along with a national memorial.
Magdalene Survivors Together spokesman Steven O’Riordan said his group, which represents 34 survivors, had also submitted a compensation proposal comprising both a lump sum and lost wages.
“One would be a minimum of about €50,000 and that would take into account being incarcerated and psychological, physical and emotional damage,” he said.
Payment of wages
Regarding payment of wages he said: “If you were there for three months you would be given €5,000 and if you were there for year, it would be €20,000.” He said the proposal was first submitted in March 2011 and reiterated in meetings with Senator Martin McAleese.
Mr O’Riordan the entire package put forward by his group would total “about €200 million”.
Catholic Church orders have surrendered ownership of 41 properties with a total value of €41m to the State as part of the redress scheme, new figures obtained reveal
School buildings, convents, vestries, playing fields and associated lands across Ireland are included in the list.
The highest value single property was religious grounds in Merrion, south Dublin, which was valued at €8.9m.
Documents sent by Sean O Foghlu, secretary general of the Department of Education, to the Public Accounts Committee, show that the properties were handed over "under the terms of the 2002 Indemnity Agreement".
However, according to his letter, significant issues remain outstanding in relation to the "legal requirements" of the agreement and the Chief State's Solicitor's Office is currently continuing to "pursue" the matter.
"The physical transfers of the properties have taken place and all of the properties are in use or available for use by the intended recipients.
"While they have transferred physically, the Chief State Solicitor's Office continues to pursue the legal requirements under the indemnity agreement," he wrote.
Mr O Foghlu said "the department agreed in principle" with the religious orders that in total 64 properties would be accepted "subject to good and marketable title and agreed valuations".
He went on to say that the number was reduced to 61 properties, after the department accepted "a cash sum in lieu of three properties where the marketable title could not be established".
According to the documents, apart from the significant site at Merrion, eight other properties worth more than €1m were surrendered.
They include a Terenure Secondary School, which was valued at €4.5m; St Teresa's convent at Temple Hill in Blackrock, which was valued at €3.1m and a Traveller site also in Blackrock which was valued at €3.1m. Other significant properties handed over included two separate properties in Tuam, Galway, valued at €3,020,000; St Anne's Secondary School, which was valued at €2,600,000; Holy Cross Gardens, Killarney (€1,270,000); 23 Parnell Square, Dublin (€1,270,000); and Goldenbridge Group Homes, which was valued at €1,269,700.
The documents also show that the remaining 20 properties have not yet been handed over because they are still "subject to good and marketable title being furnished".
The total cost of offering redress to the victims of abuse has soared to almost €1.4bn.
Under a controversial 2002 indemnity agreement, 18 religious orders who ran care institutions pledged to contribute €128m in cash, property and counselling services towards redress costs for abuse survivors.
Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has said the Government will make very specific announcements in the Dáil on Tuesday to address the issues raised in the Magdalene Laundries report.
Speaking on RTÉ’s This Week, Mr Shatter said the Government was working on producing a comprehensive package of measures on the issue.
The Dáil will debate the report next week.
The report found there was significant State involvement in the Magdalene Laundries, which were run by Catholic nuns.
Minister of State Kathleen Lynch has said the type of package that will be provided to the Magdalene Laundry survivors will have to be done on an individualised basis.
She said some women will not need any help in relation to housing, others have health needs, others psychological needs, others financial needs.
The minister was reluctant to reveal what is in the package but said each woman has to be dealt with on an individual basis.
She said: “The Government has decided that a person with competence and compassion, and the expertise in this area will be asked to deal with this issue.
“That person will be asked to put together a framework where women can interact with that person and their team, and we will then look at what needs to be put in place.”
She said the religious orders will have to be part of the process, and they will be contacted on this issue in the very near future.
The minister said the Taoiseach was moved by the stories he heard in London yesterday. She said the women themselves have said that he is a compassionate and kind man.
“The Taoiseach, Alan Shatter and myself did not say very much, we simply listened to what the women have to say. That in itself, I think was quite good for them. But it was good for the Taoiseach to put a face to the story to a great extent.” she said.
NEGOTIATIONS between the State and religious orders on the multi-million euro compensation owed for institutional child abuse are at a stalemate.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn is now preparing to bring the matter to Cabinet for a decision on the next step.
It will then be up to the Government to decide whether to continue to pursue the religious orders for a full and final settlement, and if so, how it should be done.
The Government wants the 18 religious congregations involved to pay a combined €735m – half the estimated €1.47bn final bill for compensating victims.
But, to date, the congregations have offered €480m, in a combination of cash and property.
The €480m figure has not improved since 2009 when the congregations upped their original offer following the publication of the Ryan Report, which detailed the extent of institutional child abuse.
The congregations are offering €255m less than what the State is seeking and when the falling property values are taken into account, the shortfall is even larger – last year it was estimated at €380m.
Mr Quinn has sought to finalise a deal, splitting the €1.47bn evenly between the taxpayer and those responsible for managing the institutions where child abuse took place.
But he has met resistance from the 18 orders who never accepted, in principle, that they were liable for half of the final bill and, in an event, say they neither have the cash nor assets to do a 50-50 deal.
When they topped up their original 2002 offer following the Ryan Report, they said they were doing so on a voluntary basis.
There are ongoing contact between the Department of Education and the religious congregations, but there has been no progress.
Mr Quinn is expected to present his memo to Cabinet over the next few months. His spokes- person would not speculate on what options the minister would present to his colleagues.
The minister has consistently expressed his disappointment at the level of contributions offered by the congregations.
He accepts that the fall in the value of cash and property assets since the economic crash has had an impact on their finances and insists he does not want to bankrupt the congregations.
As an alternative to handing over more cash or property, last year the minister suggested that the congregations transfer the ownership of educational and medical facilities to the State.
He told them that they could continue to control the facilities for as long as they desired, but that the State would take on the role of landlord and, so ultimately, be the beneficial owner.
But, the congregations say that many such facilities are beyond their reach because the ownership has been transferred to trusts, complex legal entities over which they have no control
The €1.47bn bill has arisen from the work of the Residential Institutions Redress Scheme, which was set up in 2002.
The scheme, which has now closed, received 16,081 applications, of which 15,397 have been processed to finality with 14,379 awards.
IT is almost impossible for Irish people, whether Catholic or not, to look at the church, the 'institutional church' at any rate, without first thinking of the child abuse scandals. Therefore Pope Benedict XVI will be assessed in part by how well, or badly, he dealt with those scandals.
The crisis facing the church here in Ireland occupied a considerable amount of the Pope's time during his eight years of office, especially following the publication of the Ryan Report and the Dublin Report in 2009 and the Cloyne Report in 2011.
Following the publication of the Ryan Report into abuse in mainly Catholic-run industrial schools, he had special meetings with Cardinal Sean Brady and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin.
In February 2010, he met with all the bishops together to discuss the Dublin Report and how best Rome could help the church in Ireland restore its badly-battered image.
The following month, Pope Benedict issued a Pastoral Letter to 'the Catholics of Ireland' dealing with the scandals.
In that letter, he outlined what he believed were some of the causes of the scandals, including clericalism, a concern with the reputation of the church and the avoidance of scandal, failure to apply canon law (something that was pointed out in the Dublin report), poor formation of candidates for the priesthood, and so on.
At the time, the Pope was criticised for not blaming the Vatican itself as well and there is no doubt that the Vatican was also guilty of clericalism and for thinking first and foremost about the reputation of the church, rather than the victims.
However, out of all Vatican officials, the Pope did more than any other to ensure that Rome put in place proper procedures for dealing with the scandals.
For example, in 2001, when still head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), he issued an instruction that henceforth every diocese was to report every child sex abuse allegation it received against a priest and the congregation would apply canon law against that priest.
Contrary to popular belief, bishops around the world reported very few cases to the Vatican before that.
Since 2001, hundreds, if not thousands, of priests have been 'defrocked' or 'laicised' as a result of their crimes. This has operated in tandem with civil law. For example, the Diocese of Ferns, at the last count, had referred 10 priests to the civil authorities and the same 10 to the Vatican.
The Pope's next step was to order an Apostolic Visitation to Ireland (an inspection) headed by four senior churchmen. Following that, in January of last year, the Pope, in effect, hand-picked his ambassador, or nuncio to Ireland, Archbishop Charles Brown, who worked with him in CDF for 15 years.
Archbishop Brown has now chosen his first three bishops – or more accurately had them approved by Rome – namely William Crean who has taken over in Cloyne, Brendan Leahy who is going to Limerick, and, most importantly of all, Eamon Martin, who will succeed Cardinal Sean Brady in Armagh.
These three, in particular the last, represent a fresh start for the church in Ireland and more appointments will follow soon.
But the retirement of Pope Benedict also gives an opportunity for a fresh start. His successor is extremely unlikely to be in any way associated with the past handling of the sex abuse scandals. This is crucial.
There will be other opportunities to assess the legacy of Pope Benedict XVI between now and his retirement at the end of the month. But to sum him up, if for Pope John Paul II all the world was a stage, for Benedict the world was a classroom.
Benedict was above all a teacher. That is what he loved to do best, to teach and to write. This probably meant that even if he was in the best of health, he was never going to be a good governor of the church and therefore the bureaucracy of the Vatican was never going to get the leadership it needed. He did, however, offer clear doctrinal leadership, to the chagrin of some and the delight of others.
It's a pity he never made it to Ireland. When he visited Britain in September 2010, many Irish people got to see him properly for the first time on their TV screens. What we saw entirely belied his stern and authoritarian image.
Had he come here, I am convinced that no matter how much controversy there might have been in the lead-up to his visit, he would have won most of us over once he arrived, as he did when he visited Britain.
I hope between now and the end of the month, we will get a more rounded idea of who this man really is and will be able to look past the caricature. As the Pope himself admits, he had his flaws and he made mistakes, but he was, and is, undoubtedly a holy man. He should be remembered above all for that.
A significant number of people went in to Magdalene laundries of their own volition, presumably because they felt life would be better for them there, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has said.
There were dangers in judging the behaviour of predecessors by today’s standards but “I think we are still entitled to be shocked that some foster parents left children in the laundries when their foster payments stopped” and that a substantial number went in voluntarily.
He was speaking during a debate on a Fianna Fáil motion calling for an immediate and unqualified apology and a dedicated unit to address a redress scheme for the women.
The Government defeated the Fianna Fáil motion by 84 votes to 46.
Anne Ferris (Labour) said a meaningful apology was owed to the women by the congregations and the State. They had spent part or most of their lives caught in the atmosphere of a laundry described as “cold, with a rigid and uncompromising regime of physically demanding work and prayer, with many instances of verbal censure, scolding or even humiliating put-downs’’.
Clare Daly (Ind) said the women involved were ostracised, taken from society and arbitrarily detained and treated as outcasts.
Catherine Murphy (Ind) said she could not believe there was no physical abuse. A woman who worked in the laundry as a paid hand had witnessed the physical abuse, the uncalled-for beatings.
Finian McGrath (Ind) said there could be no excuse that it was a different era. “It was wrong and an injustice when it happens can never be stood over.’’
Michelle Mulherin (FG) said the failure to face up to and deal with dark issues and episodes could not be levelled at the Government. “Government action on the Cloyne report represents a milestone in our history, marking a departure from the State covering up or making excuses for institutions which abused their positions of trust and authority towards protection for the vulnerable and restitution for those abused.’’
Arthur Spring (Lab) said the report would lead to justice for people who were underprivileged and put into pigeon holes in society because of their circumstances.
Charlie McConalogue (FF) said he believed the testimony of the women. The response from the Government to the report was “not the Taoiseach’s finest moment’’.
Minister Quinn nominates Chairperson of the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Board
The Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairí Quinn T.D., has nominated Sylda Langford to become Chairperson of the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Board. In accordance with Government procedures, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection will meet with Ms Langford next week to discuss the approach she will take as Chairperson and her views about the future contribution of the new organisation. Following that discussion, a final decision will be taken by the Minister in relation to the confirmation of Ms Langford as Chairperson.
Minister Quinn also intends to establish the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Board and to announce the membership of the full Board as soon as possible.
The Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Board is a new body which will be established shortly under the provisions of the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Act 2012. The Board will oversee the use of the cash contributions of up to €110 million pledged by the 18 religious congregations to support the needs of some 15,000 survivors of residential institutional child abuse.
This support will involve the provision of a range of approved services, including health and personal social services, education and housing services. To date €40m in cash contributions has been received and a further €27m is expected on the establishment of the Fund. The 15,000 survivors are those who have received awards from the Residential Institutions Redress Board or equivalent court awards. On the establishment of the new Board the existing Education Finance Board will be dissolved and its functions in relation to its remaining funds will be performed by the new Board.
The new Board will consist of the Chairperson and eight members, four of whom must be former residents of the 139 scheduled institutions to the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002.
Note for Editors:
Sylda Langford is the former Director General of the Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs in the previous Department of Health and Children. Previously she was an Assistant Secretary General in the Department of Justice and Law Reform for nine years. She has had extensive experience in policy and legislative work across a broad range of government areas. She is Chair of the Citizen's Information Board and has a professional background in social policy and social work.
THE Martin McAleese Report on the Magdalene Laundries is a flawed document. It is not based on the best evidence. Its focus is inappropriately narrow. Its research, despite claims of prodigious hunting through the enormous ocean of state records, missed obvious and important information about the laundries.
Its terms of reference were wrong and have been dishonestly represented to the Irish people. The Government issued what can only be described as 'a mandate both broad and narrow'. The narrow bit was "to establish the facts of state involvement with the Magdalene Laundries". This was primitive and clumsy. Its objective seems to have been to find out where the State was at risk from legal pursuit.
The committee broadened this into 'a Narrative Report' on the laundries, into which they threw every possible document, many of which were absurd for the task at hand. For example, what are Tomas Derrig's 'Rules for the Industrial Schools' doing as a grubby photocopy appendix version for St George's Industrial School in Limerick, signed but not dated by the minister?
Industrial school rules had nothing to do with the laundry girls. They were lucky to get a faint whiff of education as they lifted their heads from the steaming cauldrons of filthy clothing that dominated their lives.
These and many other questions should have been faced and answered by the man responsible for the report, Senator McAleese. Yet he faced no questions at all and left for Rome immediately after publication.
The report is jaundiced by a creaking, sanctimonious tone, unctuous towards the congregations, whose evidence is treated with a humble respect I find laughable. Can anyone in their right mind believe that, for 50 years, these congregations did their baleful work among the huge baskets of dirty linen in order to break even?
The report had a counter-productive effect when published. Its supposedly wholesome achievement was acclaimed. All eyes turned to Enda Kenny demanding an apology.
Had we learnt nothing from Bertie Ahern's infamous apology?
Wisely, since he had not read it – nor, I suspect had more than a couple of government members (Joan Burton being one of them) dipped into it – Mr Kenny declined. The raging media descended on him instead of on Mr McAleese. Mr Kenny, in a classic example of his commendable sang-froid, ignored the issue.
The report is a totally inappropriate occasion for apology to Magdalene Laundry victims.
Mr McAleese and his committee were there to 'establish the facts of state involvement', which would ultimately assist in determining the State's legal exposure and allow steps to be taken to protect state interests.
ONE specific and telling example of statistical shortcomings concerns two large Magdalene Laundry establishments, in Galway and Dun Laoghaire, Dublin, through the 'unexplained exclusion of the two Magdalene Laundries operated by the Sisters of Mercy'. It seems the Sisters could not find the books.
The census would have listed all the inmates at 10-year and later at five-year intervals. The report, therefore, admits to giving wrong figures. Overall, the census would have covered the full period covered by the report, giving control to the committee and not the congregations. What a wonderful source the census would have been. Pity it was totally ignored. After 15 years of writing on this subject, I have learnt to distrust religious organisations involved in the care of children or of girls and women. I have repeatedly proposed church organisations be confronted by the challenge of truth and by forensic interrogation. Neither is to be found in the report.
Mr Kenny is a wise man. He has a remarkable ability to hold his fire and dig his heels in when, as on this occasion, he is put under enormous pressure by the media.
I recommend that the Taoiseach extend his pause about the apology and look again at Mr McAleese's manufactured narrative and at his bevy of obliging state assistants, who have failed to establish the full facts but have produced an intriguing new version of the carefully monitored lives of the laundry women.
However, if you were to take a poll among our parents and grandparents, 50 or 60 years ago, say, you would probably find that most Irish people approved of the Magdalene Laundries, and imagined that they were doing a fine job.
A schoolfriend of mine whose parents had a hotel recalled that the main reaction to the Magdalene laundry service was that the linen came back so immaculately clean, efficiently washed and ironed, and on time. A wonderful service!
Nuns were often praised for their efficiency and reliability in running anything: hospitals run by nuns had the reputation of being free from infection, and spotlessly clean.
I have come across allusions to the Magdalene Laundries in the Irish media of the 1940s and 50s, and the tone was one of approval and admiration. The devotional media thought it a blessing that young girls who had been "in trouble" could redeem their lives through work and discipline.
It is said now that the women subjected to the harsh regime of the Magdalene Laundries – even though the median stay was just seven months – had their human rights breached. Indeed they did, except that the legal concepts of "human rights" simply hadn't entered the lexicon 60 years ago. It was in the UN declaration of 1948, but it did not have a legal application in most jurisdictions until much later.
If Enda Kenny should apologise for the wrongs inflicted on the Magdalene women, so should 90pc of Irish people apologise. The Taoiseach is no more guilty, personally, of these injustices than any of the rest of us, whose mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandparents, aunts, cousins and wider kinfolk endorsed the values that made the laundries possible.
There is anger out there about the mistreatment of the Magdalenes, but there is also a great deal of what psychologists call "projection".
The "projection" looks for a "them" to blame. It was the State; it was the church; it was the religious orders; it was even certain gardai, psychiatric hospitals, the NSPCC and family members who consigned these young women to the laundries. Apologise!
A religious order which listed four Magdalene women as being buried in two different locations has amended the headstone.
Last week, the Irish Examiner reported that the Good Shepherd Order refused to offer any explanation as to why the names were duplicated at two locations in Cork.
Another woman with a distinctive first name is listed twice on the same headstone at another site, but with different dates of death two months apart. The women died on dates ranging from as far back as 1882 right up until 1983.
It has since emerged that one of the headstones at St Joseph’s Cemetery has been amended. Three of the names now have asterisks attached with a footnote stating: “Interred in Residents Plot Sunday’s Well”.
However, no explanation is offered for the woman listed twice on the headstone with two different dates of death. The Sunday’s Well grave has been vandalised and is inaccessible to the public.
The change to the headstone was spotted by a group of people who attended a flower laying ceremony at the grave last Saturday afternoon.
Magdalene Laundry survivors and advocacy groups say they were not informed of the changes made to the headstone.
The Irish Examiner asked the order a series of questions on the changes, including if relatives of those buried at the graves were informed. It declined to issue a response.
Claire McGettrick of the Justice for Magdalenes advocacy group said the manner in which the women’s grave was amended highlighted the lack of dignity afforded the women even in death.
“These women were afforded little dignity in life and such discrepancies offer them no dignity in death. It is insensitive too to the families of these women who may have been visiting the wrong grave for years, only to discover their relative is actually buried in a different graveyard, which is now inaccessible,” she said.
One of the graves in St Joseph’s Cemetery was only found last summer by Justice For Magdalenes. It also located a fourth grave at Kilcully Cemetery which appears to be later burials from the Good Shepherd and Peacock Lane laundries.
In total, 188 women were buried at the four sites between 1875 and 2011. It is unclear whether death certificates exist for all of the women buried in the plots.
JFM also raised concerns about the large gap in years, roughly between the early 1890s and early 1920s during which no names are recorded at any of the grave sites.
The Vatican has confirmed that Pope Benedict XVI will step down on 28 February for health reasons.
The 85-year-old pontiff said he is stepping down because he does not have the strength to continue in office due to his advanced age.
"For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter," he said according to a statement from the Vatican.
The Vatican said the papacy will be vacant until a successor is chosen.
An official said the Vatican expects the period between 28 February and the election of a successor to be "as brief as possible".
Pope Benedict is the first pontiff to resign in nearly 600 years.
He made the announcement in Latin at a canonisation ceremony in the Consistory Hall this morning.
The German government said it was "moved and touched" by the announcement.
"As a Christian and as a Catholic, one can't help but be moved and touched by this," government spokesman Steffen Seibert said.
"The German government has the highest respect for the Holy Father, for what he has done, for his contributions over the course of his life to the Catholic church. He has been at the head of the Catholic Church for nearly eight years.
"He has left a very personal signature as a thinker at the head of the Church, and also as a shepherd. Whatever the reasons for this decision, they must be respected," Mr Seibert added.
By Evelyn Ring
Irish Examiner ReporterThe meeting, expected to last at least two hours, was requested by Magdalene Survivors Together in advance of next week’s Dáil debate on the McAleese Report into the laundries.
Steven O’Riordan, spok-esman for Magdalene Survivors Together said he hoped Mr Kenny would fully understand the importance of issuing a state apology after meeting with the women.
Mr O’Riordan said the group had produced 15 survivor testimonies for the report, which was published last Tuesday.
“In the past week, we have been fielding calls from his [Mr Kenny’s] office trying to map out the best approach to the meeting. So far everything has been carefully looked at and all the concerns the women have been taken into account.”
He said that while other groups might not want such a meeting, the survivors he represented were in no doubt they wanted to meet Mr Kenny.
“Nobody has been bullied or rushed into this. In fact, the survivors believe it’s fundamental in achieving their ultimate goal for a state apology.”
In all, five women from the Magdalene Survivors Together group will meet Mr Kenny.
Maureen O’Sullivan, a survivor of the laundries and member of Magdalene Survivors Together, said she never thought the day would come that she would be invited to meet the leader of the country.
“Clearly, this man wants to know what he can do for us, and it is my intention to make it clear to him what we want. It’s a state apology,” she said.
Mr Kenny was criticised for not making a full apology in the Dáil when the report was published.
“We are going to do the right thing,” Mr Gilmore said on RTÉ on Friday, when he indicated that arrangements for Mr Kenny to meet the women were being finalised.
Asked why there was no apology from the Government, Mr Gilmore said a decision had been taken to publish the report immediately and there was no time to consider an appropriate response.
Mr O’Riordan said the women agreed to meet Mr Kenny to allow him an opportunity to understand why he needs to make an unreserved state apology.
However, Justice for the Magdalenes said they wanted survivors attending the meeting to know how it would be managed in advance of it taking place.
JFM spokeswoman Claire McGettrick said her group would not attend the meeting unless a number of issues raised by JFM in relation to it were clarified in writing by the Taoiseach’s office.
JFM wants to know the purpose, format, and agenda for the meeting, who will attend, and what guarantees can be given that the survivors will be protected from the media.
Culprits are always other people, because Irish society never shares the blame for blots on the national reputation. Failures always happened without our knowledge or approval. And so, true to form, the default position is to round up the usual suspects following the Magdalene Laundries report.
You know the drill: the blame for the brutality of those workhouses can be laid entirely at the door of the Catholic Church, which moulded Ireland into a repressive place. The laundries are another example of the crushing hand of authoritarianism on the shoulders of women deemed dangerous, deviant or just plain inconvenient.
The Magdalene Laundries did, indeed, operate amid a narrow, self-reinforcing society: their harsh regime was indefensible during previous eras and remains indefensible today.
But they existed because citizens allowed it to be so. Their walls were high, but people entered laundries on business and closed their eyes to what they saw. The Catholic Church calls them fallen women? Then keep them apart before they pollute the community.
What happened behind laundry doors was known about, and acceded to. Society allowed girls and young women to be denied their freedom and used as forced labour: we collaborated in their dehumanisation.
Society played pass-the-parcel with their lives, shunting their care to religious congregations. Yet now we have the hypocrisy to cry: "Not in my name!" But it was done in our name: we knew it and kept silent. At least let's acknowledge our actions.
In Ireland today, the religious orders have become expedient scapegoats. Their reputations are at a historic low, with people willing to believe anything of them. But we are slow to examine our own consciences.
Where doubts prick, we point to servile politicians kissing bishops' rings and pandering to Rome Rule. The State collaborated in this human rights abuse, not us, we say. But we were part of the State. We re-elected those politicians.
WHAT kind of apology should Enda Kenny have issued last Tuesday?
What kind of apology did Mary Lou McDonald want him to issue?
Is it all about tokenism and point-scoring, rather than attempting to make amends to women who have endured too much for too long?
The furore over the failure of Kenny to issue an apology to survivors of the Magdalene laundries says plenty about the body politic and wider society in this country. Knee-jerk is the default reaction to everything, from guaranteeing banks to studying a detailed report on human suffering.
There is no doubt but that an apology is due to the survivors, particularly the minority that were in those institutions for long terms. That could have been issued at any time over the last decade or so. Instead, it was assumed that immediately on publication of Martin McAleese’s report into the laundries an apology would be issued by the Taoiseach on behalf of the State.
What was the rush?
The report is 1,000 pages long, and requires a certain amount of digestion.
The Dáil is due to debate the report in a fortnight. By then, anybody with any interest would have familiarised themselves with the contents of the document. Surely for an apology to mean anything to the survivors, and to register properly with all others, that would have been a more appropriate time.
Kenny did tell the Dáil: “Far from jumping to conclusions, everybody should read this report carefully and reflect on it deeply.”
Instead, we had the knee-jerk reaction that informs much of public life in this country.
McDonald’s attack on Kenny was the most vocal, and conveyed the most passion, not to mention anger. “I’m disappointed for the women, for the survivors that you cannot stand and say ‘the State was culpable, the State was negligent, you told the truth, we believe your stories and for that we collectively say sorry’.”
She went on: “What went on in the Magdalene laundries was a very Irish form of slavery.”
She may well be correct in that assessment, but it’s not a detail she garnered from the report.
She hadn’t read the report at the time. Was it that she felt the report was irrelevant to any apology, and one should be just issued as a token? Her response was replicated across politics and the media. The driving motivation, apart from political opportunism, is to be seen to be feeling survivors’ pain. In such a milieu, the room for proper reflection is totally wiped out.
The denizens of the Labour party have upped the ante, responding to political and media noise, and it is now likely that Kenny will issue an apology sometime soon, well ahead of the debate. What force can such an apology have? He will be saying sorry because he was forced politically to do so. It will, in effect, be a “gritted teeth” apology, which will do no justice to him as the leader of the State, or the survivors.
Kenny’s contribution on the day was cack-handed. He should have addressed the survivors, and explained that the debate would highlight the wrongs that they suffered and action would be forthcoming. There may well be a case to be made that he should have been thoroughly briefed about the report in advance and have all his ducks lined up.
But, to be fair to him, the contents of the report surprised many. For instance, the detail that more than a third of the 11,500 women “stayed” – were incarcerated might be a more accurate description of it – in the laundries for less than three months. Six out of every 10 women were there for less than a year.
There are survivors who were kept in the laundries for long years, and their testimony, as it has appeared in the media, is heartbreaking. The report establishes that their experience wasn’t widespread, but it is no less relevant for that.
The conditions as reported were atrocious. In particular, the fact that many did not know when they would be released reflects on a callous regime and a State that had entirely forsaken these citizens.
“I thought I’d be there for life and die in there. I was frightened,” one survivor told McAleese’s committee.
The report should also be seen in the context of the times. The survivors suffered horrendously, but women in general, and particularly the majority who lived in poverty, endured harsh conditions. In a country with a moribund economy and socially in rapture to a power-obsessed Church, it was women who bore the greatest brunt.
The demand for an immediate — and what couldn’t but be tokenistic — apology goes further than the body politic. In wider society, there is a great urge to bury the past and what it said about the country. Yes, there is acknowledgement of, and sympathy for, the survivors of all forms of institutional abuse from the black and white Ireland of newsreels. But there is also a wish to get it done and dusted, and let’s not dwell on a national psyche that allowed this stuff to go on. It’s all very well to blame de Valera’s Ireland, and even the Church, but there seems to be little stomach to look beyond the usual culprits, and examine wider society’s national DNA.
The rush to apologise also fails to take note of what has unfolded in this area in the past. Compensation must be paid to those who suffered at the hands of the State, but experience shows that lawyers and doctors are fast out of the blocks to hop on any governmental scheme.
Back in the late 90s, at the height of the Hep C scandal, it emerged that lawyers involved in the Brigid McCole case received a total of £1.35 million, while the subject of the case, Mrs McCole, was awarded just £175,000.
The residential redress board has cost more than €1 billion, of which at least €157 million — and counting — has gone to lawyers. Doctors have got in on both those schemes as well. In fact, if one were to look at setting up schemes on the hoof, there is no better example than the free medical card for over-70s. With the Government over a barrel, the GPs managed to get a contract that paid four times what they received for “ordinary” medical cards.
Incidentally, the average award at the redress board was around €67,000, and most of those in attendance would have suffered sexual abuse, or extreme physical abuse.
At that rate, survivors from the Magdalene laundries might expect something in the region of €20,000 to €50,000, figures that the Government could well afford even in today’s climate. Nevertheless, care needs to be taken that a scheme doesn’t become another trough for lawyers or doctors.
So cut Kenny some slack on this occasion. His address on the publication of the report was cack-handed, but he may well have had a point in suggesting that the report be read, and reflected on, with an apology forthcoming when everybody is aware what exactly the apology is for.
Excavation of the past has been painful for society as a whole, but at least those who were subjected to cruelty have, over the last decade or so, seen the truth brought out into the light. Taking time to consider that truth is no bad thing.
A GROUP representing women detained in Magdalene laundries have said they are confident of a state apology as the Taoiseach and Tanaiste offered to meet survivors.
Steven O'Riordan, head of Magdalene Survivors Together, said the women he has worked with are happy to meet Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore "any time, anywhere".
"The women believe it's significantly important that they meet directly with the Taoiseach. They feel that by relaying their stories personally he will recognise the importance of giving a full apology," he said.
"I am optimistic a state apology will come in two weeks. I think he will do the right thing."
Survivors of the laundries have criticised the Government's response after a report showed a quarter of the 10,000-plus women detained in the slave-like regime were sent by state authorities.
The group requested a meeting with the Taoiseach after the report was published on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, advocacy group Justice For Magdalenes, which has been fighting for a state apology, has warned the Government that many survivors will only meet the Taoiseach and Tanaiste if they are assured of confidentiality.
The advocacy group said talks would be a huge step forward but only if privacy was a guarantee.
Katherine O'Donnell, University College Dublin researcher and member of the Justice For Magdalenes group, said many women would only agree to the meeting if they could be assured of privacy.
"The women we are in touch with, none of them would want to be publicly identified. Maybe that would change if they were told what happened to them was wrong," she said.
"We won't be bringing any women to a publicly known meeting. There are women who are brave and able to be publicly identified with their Magdalene past and we applaud their bravery.
"If a meeting does take place with them, that would be wonderful but it would only be a tiny step forward."
Mr Kenny was accused of a "cop-out" following the report's publication when he said he was sorry for the stigma attached to the women, but stopped short of issuing a full apology on behalf of the state.
He has appealed for time to consider the report in full.
Ms O'Donnell is running a UCD project in the women's studies centre in the School of Social Justice to record oral accounts of Magdalene survivors, relatives, members of the religious orders and anyone
Mary Raftery was the most important journalist of the past 30 years. The work of the late documentary-maker changed Ireland, significantly and for the better, as explained in this introduction to a new ‘Irish Times’ collection of her columns, two of which appear below
Mary Raftery, who died far too young in 2012, was unquestionably the most important Irish journalist of the past 30 years. The best journalists hope they might manage to reflect with reasonable accuracy the society they inhabit. Mary Raftery didn’t just reflect society; she changed Ireland, significantly and for the better.
The paradox of her work is that she made the place more decent and civilised largely by showing it the indecent and uncivilised sides of itself. She was an old-fashioned optimist who believed that the truth, however frightful, makes us free.
Mary Raftery was born in Dublin in 1957, spent part of her childhood abroad (her father was a diplomat), excelled in maths, physics and music and went to University College Dublin in 1975 to study the then almost exclusively male subject of engineering.
She first appeared in The Irish Times in 1977, when its education correspondent Christina Murphy interviewed her because she had been elected as the first female full-time officer of the students’ union: “Mary Raftery is 19 years old, she looks about 14 and she goes about her job in a manner which makes you think she might be 25.”
She never went back to finish her degree and instead began to work as a freelance journalist, first for In Dublin magazine and later for Magill.
In 1984 she went to work as a television producer for RTÉ, where she made investigative programmes for Today Tonight (later Prime Time) and the pioneering health series Check Up. It was typical of her tenacity and courage that, at Today Tonight, she produced the first documentary evidence of a truth that every Irish journalist knew but none could prove: that Charles Haughey was on the take. She found, in a receiver’s report on Patrick Gallagher’s failed property and banking empire, reference to a payment Gallagher made to Haughey.
Not for the first or last time, she had to battle through legal obstacles to tell the public what she had discovered: RTÉ “ruled that we should exclude all reference to money handed out to Haughey by Gallagher from our programme exposing the latter’s fraudulent activities”.
From early on, Mary Raftery’s career was the embodiment of Lord Northcliffe’s famous definition: “News is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising.”
The stories of appalling abuse of children in industrial schools that became the explosive States of Fear series were not the classic stuff of investigative journalism, in that they were not secret. The institutions in which the abuse occurred were not hidden: they loomed over many Irish towns. About 170,000 children had been through those institutions, and almost all of them had experienced or witnessed systematic cruelty.
So much has gone wrong at RTÉ and the BBC in trying to tell stories of child abuse that States of Fear and Cardinal Secrets, the two key documentaries on abuse and cover-up within the Irish Catholic Church, now seem even more remarkable in their clarity, precision and unimpeachable accuracy.
What is more remarkable still is that this exemplary professionalism was at the service of the simple, instinctive emotions of compassion for people.
These were personal, not just professional, qualities. Mary Raftery was a very private person, but she spoke once about her memory of being a very little girl, jumping off the stairs at home into her father’s arms. She would go up another step higher and jump again, completely sure that he would be there to catch her. It was an image of what every child should have: the confidence that comes from unquestioning trust.
One might speculate that this memory drove her on, that because she had emerged from her own childhood armoured with this confidence and comfort, she could not abide the thought of such trust being abused and betrayed.
What made this impulse so potent was Mary Raftery’s unique mix of steeliness and tact. She was uncompromising in her attitude to those who had abused power but extremely sensitive to the dignity of those who had been abused.
That kindness is everywhere in a new collection of columns, written for The Irish Times between 2003 and 2007. Almost of all of them are about matters of public policy – official decisions or systems or sometimes simply official ignorance and neglect – or of corporate or institutional irresponsibility.
What makes the columns so compelling, long after the original occasion for their publication has passed, is that their touchstones are not statistics or abstractions but deep human emotions and impulses: sadness, grief, memory, oblivion, justice.
The standard by which everything is measured in Mary Raftery’s columns is the way it affects so-called ordinary lives, especially those at the bottom of the heap: the disabled man in the sheltered workshop, the prisoner in vile conditions, the child at the mercy of a chaotic care system, the person with a mental illness stuck in a Dickensian hospital.
The columns cast an acutely sceptical eye on the values of the time, not least as expressed in The Irish Times itself (and reprinted on this page, right): “In a fashion article in this newspaper a few weeks ago featuring charity ball organisers, one said that her ideal charity event is Elton John’s, with its concept of wearing as many diamonds as possible. Another spoke of the downside of € 2,000 designer gowns – once you wear them to a ball, it’s very hard to wear them again to another event. She assured us, however, that she does get two to three years out of an Armani outfit.”
These vignettes have a certain rueful humour now, but they remind us that there are many different ways in which a society can lie to itself.
Dangerous ignorance can be created by overly mighty churches or overly greedy secular elites. It can manifest itself in unspeakable darkness or in crass glamour. But, whatever form it takes, it has seldom had a more potent enemy than Mary Raftery.
Dancing night away for charity December 8th, 2005
Who are these people who attend charity balls? They must be peculiar creatures indeed, who squeeze themselves with nary a squirm of embarrassment into their obscenely expensive designer gowns and tuxedos, as they parade down the red carpets to do their bit for the less fortunate. What, if anything, goes through their minds as they sip champagne and nibble canapes in aid of the dying, the abused and the maimed, secure in the knowledge that these latter know their place and will never intrude to spoil the fun?
The charity balls are usually the major events in the social calendars of the great, the good and the rich of Irish society. They get to dress up, show off their wealth, and rub shoulders with their own kind, all in a good cause, of course. Newspapers and celebrity magazines feed off the events with lavish displays of photographs. A line of text is usually appended giving the amount raised for charity. A warm glow pervades the air at the gorgeous goodness of it all.
In a fashion article in this newspaper a few weeks ago featuring charity ball organisers, one said that her ideal charity event is Elton John’s, with its concept of wearing as many diamonds as possible. Another spoke of the downside of €2,000 designer gowns: once you wear them to a ball, it’s very hard to wear them again to another event. She assured us, however, that she does get two to three years out of an Armani outfit. A third tells us that she keeps the clothes she likes, but the rest she gives away to one of her “cleaning ladies” (note the plural).
These women are a step up on the ladies who lunch, soldiering socially as they do for charity. And it is certainly true that their efforts raise very substantial sums of money for organisations which might otherwise either not survive or have to curtail the services they provide. The charities concerned are rightly grateful for their efforts, as indeed no doubt are the direct beneficiaries of their bounty.
Looking at the area as a whole, though, a few salient features emerge. In general, the charities which benefit from the balls tend to be the less controversial, those which devote themselves to healthcare or medical research, rather than any which seek to effect fundamental change within society. Giving money to a hospital or a hospice through a charity ball does not threaten the status quo. It does not challenge the fairness of a society where some people get to shop for designer gear in New York and Paris while others die homeless on Dublin’s streets, outside the glitz and the glamour. Nor does it in any way tackle the fact that hospitals and hospices are in desperate need of this charity as a direct result of the disgraceful underfunding by the State.
Such challenges to the way we order this society, entailing as they would the espousal, for instance, of increasing taxes on the wealthy, would most likely be anathema to the charity ball constituency.
They are the contents of company boardrooms and their spouses, the shareholders of Ireland, and those much-caressed creatures the entrepreneurs. They are the kind of people who approve, for instance, of the Irish Ferries approach towards maximising profit. They might decry the boot-boy tactics, but you certainly won’t find many of them protesting against that company’s actions on the streets of Dublin tomorrow. Organising a charity do, to help the victims of the untrammelled pursuit of wealth, would be more their style.
Charity is, and has always been, the easy outlet for the beneficiaries of our inequitable society, who may from time to time feel sorry for the less fortunate. Vehicles for the distribution of largesse were in the past very much the territory of the churches and served to keep the poor in their place by instilling feelings of both gratitude and insecurity.
The emphasis was on charity and generosity rather than on the rights of people to services. The charity ball is the shiny, modern, secular replacement, complete with its fringe benefits of networking and securing business contacts. One sales recruitment firm has even singled out the charity ball (together with the golf club) as a most profitable arena in which to do business.
But, like their church-bound predecessors, today’s charity fundraisers are also predicated on the principle that the poor and the downtrodden will always be with us.
Nothing about them has the slightest intention of shaking the comfortable notion that there will forever be an unlimited supply of those in need of our generosity, which in turn allows us to surround ourselves with an aura of virtue as we dance the night away.
Restoring dignity to Magdalenes August 21st, 2003
Exactly 10 years ago, a firm of Dublin undertakers began a mass exhumation in Drumcondra. As far as they were concerned, the papers were all in order: 133 bodies were to be dug up and ferried to Glasnevin Cemetery, where they would be cremated. It was a small burial plot, with the graves unmarked except for a few plain black crosses. Not exactly a run-of-the-mill job for the undertakers, but not that unusual either. It was only when they discovered 22 additional bodies that alarm bells began ringing. This was a burial site for Magdalenes, women who had effectively been locked up for most of their lives, working for no wages in High Park convent, one of the largest and oldest Magdalene laundries in the country.
By the early 1990s, the laundry had closed and the nuns – the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge – were selling their land to housing developers. The nuns had gambled and lost on the stock exchange and needed cash. The snag was the graveyard for the Magdalene women who had died in their service was on the land they had sold. So the good sisters did a deal with the developers that each would pay half the cost to clear the land of the remains. To exhume a grave, you need an exhumation licence from the Department of the Environment. The nuns were granted such a licence for 133 bodies buried at the High Park plot. The list of names they provided to the department makes for interesting reading.
Twenty-three of the women are listed under the heading “quasi-religious name” – the nuns admitted that they did not know their real names. They called them Magdalene of St Cecilia, Magdalene of Lourdes, Magdalene of St Teresa and so on. Another woman had only a first name.The nuns told the department that as they had no names, death certificates for these 24 women could not be produced. The department raised no objection, despite the fact that some of the women had died as recently as the late 1960s. The nuns also said that there were no death certs for a further 34 women. These women at least had names. But the cause and date of death for most of them are listed as “not known”. Some of these women died as recently as the mid-1970s.
It is a criminal offence to fail to register a death that occurs on your premises. This is normally done by a relative. In the case of the Magdalene women, it was the legal duty of the nuns to register their deaths. It would appear that for at least 58 of these women, the nuns failed to do so. And then there were the additional 22 bodies discovered by the undertakers. All work on the graves had to cease immediately, as these remains were not covered by the exhumation licence. What the Department of the Environment then did beggars belief.
Rather than halting proceedings to investigate, they simply put through an additional licence to allow the nuns to remove all bodies from the graveyard. They didn’t even ask if anyone knew the identities of the extra 22. All but one of the bodies were cremated, destroying any possibility of future identifications. The nuns had been informed that the cost of reburying the remains intact would be considerable, and so they went for the cheaper option.
Until 20 years ago, cremation was forbidden by Catholic Church canon law. Even today it is frowned on as undesirable. Canon 1176 now “earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burial be retained”.
None of this cut much ice with the High Park nuns. Cremation proceeded smoothly, despite the fact that the State was fully aware that more than half the deaths of those exhumed had never been certified. The ashes were interred in a plot in Glasnevin. A headstone with a list of names now marks the grave. However, a comparison of the names and dates on that headstone and the list supplied by the nuns to the Department of the Environment is startling. Only 27 of the names and dates coincide.
So either the list of names given to the department to obtain the exhumation licence was substantially false, or the names on the Glasnevin gravestone bear little relation to the identities of those actually buried there.
Last Easter, I asked the nuns at High Park to explain all of this. They chose not to respond to any of the 19 detailed questions I put to them.
Instead, earlier this week, they issued a statement claiming that the exhumation was carried out in order to provide the women with a permanent resting place. Their concern to respect the dead Magdalene women is no doubt touching. But might perhaps the Minister for Justice be concerned enough to investigate so many unexplained and unregistered deaths? And who will care enough to restore to these women the dignity of their real names – something the nuns stripped ruthlessly from them in life?
It is surely the duty of the State to return some respect to these, its citizens, whom it deserted so comprehensively both in life and in death.
Do They Think We’re Eejits?: A Selection of The Irish Times Columns of 2003-2009, by Mary Raftery, is launched on February 22nd, and priced at €13.99
‘There is no single or simple story of the Magdalene laundries.” By the time you finish ploughing through it, it becomes more and more clear that the opening sentence of Martin McAleese’s report is an understatement.
Was there any section of Irish society that did not have some involvement in the Magdalene laundries? There were the religious orders that ran them; but family members, priests, the Legion of Mary, the NSPCC, the courts, gardaí, industrial schools, mother-and-baby homes, psychiatric hospitals – they all sent women there. Even the Old IRA took 17 women to the laundries during the 1920s.
Some 16 per cent of the total were “self-referrals”. Think of the situations these girls and women must have faced that made the Magdalene laundry seem like the least bad option.
Why were the rest there? Poverty, intellectual disability, epilepsy, petty crime, psychiatric illness, sexual and physical abuse in the home – all of these were deemed sufficient reason, as was being “taken advantage of”, or even being in danger of being taken advantage of. Just being disobedient at home, or staying out late at night, were sometimes reason enough.
Among the litany of tragic cases, some still stand out. One 1940s case concerned two girls aged 12 years 9 months and 13 years 5 months, who were found guilty of “loitering and importuning for the purposes of prostitution”. Six men were subsequently charged in relation to having paid for sex with them. These two girls, who today would be in first or second year in second-level schools, were exploited as prostitutes. One would have thought that the fact they were victims of sexual abuse at such a young age would have inspired compassion, but no.
They were deemed to be so steeped in immorality that they were a threat to the other girls in Limerick Reformatory who were mostly there for petty crime, and were therefore transferred to laundries.
It all seems so horrific, and so long ago, until you recall that Ireland still has a disgraceful record on prostitution.
In 2010, Irish man Thomas J Carroll was jailed in Cardiff for seven years for running, from a house in Wales, more than 35 brothels around Ireland. Among his victims were six girls trafficked from Nigeria, the youngest of whom was 15. They were subjected to debt bondage, voodoo rituals and threats of violence.
According to the Guardian, “all came from poor family backgrounds, having lost one or both parents, and were promised a better life away from their remote, rural villages”. Women worked 12 to 15 hours a day, and were absolutely terrified and browbeaten.
Carroll made so much money he received an additional fine of £2 million. The only reason he could make that money was because of men willing to pay for exploitation.
And the only reason that there were 10 Magdalene laundries in Ireland was because there was no safety net for women who were poor, or abandoned, or who had intellectual disabilities, or were victims of abuse. They were cold, punitive, rigid places of hard labour without payment. Yet in one out of 10 cases, their families took them there. In some cases they returned to take them home. In others, they never made contact again.
Irish society had a massive blind spot about how awful this “solution” was. We have plenty of other blind spots. A shocking report was published last September that described small babies without adequate food, and children being at risk of abuse due to overcrowded accommodation, which included sharing toilet facilities with numerous strangers.
The Irish Refugee Council report State-Sanctioned Child Poverty and Exclusion concerns children in the State’s “direct provision” asylum accommodation centres. There was no public outrage, no demand for State apologies.
In January, the Irish Primary Principals Network said that as a consequence of food poverty, schools are seeing far more children arriving hungry and therefore unable to learn properly.
None of this is to detract from, or minimise, the suffering experienced by women in the Magdalene laundries. They are a small group of women, many of them now elderly. They deserve recognition, apology and recompense.
The Taoiseach has been widely condemned for his failure to apologise, and it is difficult not to believe that his reticence resulted from the financial implications of an apology being parsed and analysed by the gimlet eye of a lawyer.
No one wants a rerun of the Residential Institutions Redress Board, which by December last had seen €172 million in fees paid to lawyers alone. But there are probably only 800 to 1,000 women still alive who were in the laundries, and some of them do not even feel free to admit their past to their families, much less look for financial redress.
If we cannot ensure care and compensation for these women, we are poor indeed. Some part of me feels that aside from official acknowledgment, a fund to which individuals and institutions could contribute should be established as an act of social solidarity; not to let the State or anyone else off the hook, but to acknowledge that these were sisters, daughters, cousins, aunts, nieces and mothers, and every section of Irish society let them down.
Few can have missed the dramatic contrast between the Taoiseach’s weak response to the McAleese report in the Dáil last Tuesday and his momentous attack on the Vatican in July 2011.
On that previous occasion, he colourfully accused the Vatican of “elitism, dysfunction, disconnection and narcissism” and alleged that the rape and torture of children had been “downplayed or managed” by the Catholic Church, to uphold “the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and reputation”.
He also, interestingly, said that the historic relationship between church and State in Ireland could never be the same again, the revelations in the Cloyne report having brought the government, Irish Catholics and the Vatican to “an unprecedented juncture”.
It is tempting to reprise that speech in its entirety today, with ironies highlighted to draw attention to certain evasions and anomalies in the Taoiseach’s rather less confident performance last Tuesday. But there is a more glaring aspect.
“After the Ryan and Murphy reports”, said the Taoiseach in one passage of his 2011 speech, “Ireland is, perhaps, unshockable when it comes to the abuse of children. But Cloyne has proved to be of a different order. Because for the first time in Ireland, a report into child sexual abuse exposes an attempt by the Holy See to frustrate an inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic …”
Did you see what he did there? By lumping Ryan, Murphy and Cloyne together, the Taoiseach insinuated that the matters described in those reports reflected poorly on the church alone. But whereas the other two reports looked at the horrific legacy of clerical sex abuse in, respectively, Cloyne and Dublin, the Ryan report of 2009 falls into a different category, being concerned with abuse within church institutions which the State availed of as part of its system for dealing with troublesome children.
Delayed and frustrated
The first chairwoman of the investigating committee into the running of orphanages and reformatories, Judge Mary Laffoy, appeared to set about her work with considerable zeal.
But, from the moment that investigation began in 2001, the Department of Education did everything in its power to delay and frustrate matters, leading eventually to Judge Laffoy withdrawing from her own investigation.
Her successor, Judge Seán Ryan, appeared to interpret his brief rather more narrowly. Bruce Arnold, author of The Irish Gulag, wrote in an online commentary on the published Ryan report that it had let the State off the hook: “The real culprit was and is the State, which is still floundering over child protection. The State approved, backed and used, intemperately and without consideration of the lives of victims, our legal system to incarcerate vast numbers of children.
“It was done for largely trivial, superficial and unresearched reasons and on the entirely meretricious excuse that it was for the good of the children.”
But the public discussion that followed focused almost exclusively on the church. The issue of how children came to be committed to the institutions under examination had been excluded from the remit of the Ryan investigation, on rather dubious “constitutional” grounds.
Hence, although we heard much about the deeds of priests and nuns, we heard almost nothing about the roles of civil servants, judges, social workers, probation officers and gardaí who were responsible for delivering children to their fates.
Failures of politicians
There was minimal scrutiny of the failures of politicians, even though, over the previous 75 years, several key opportunities to bring the nature of these institutions into the light had been elided by those with political responsibility at those times.
The Ryan report amounted, in effect, to a controlled explosion of the truth, drawing scrutiny towards the church and its personnel while carefully directing the public’s eyeline away from the State’s role in the same evils.
The brief of the McAleese group specifically related to State involvement in the Magdalene laundries, and its report provides a subtle and clear indictment of the State’s culpability, demonstrating that church and State were, in effect, the same. But the overall tenor is such as to suggest a rather less stark picture than we had been conditioned to expect. So, once again perhaps, the public’s attention has been briefly directed towards our historically dysfunctional state, and then, persuaded that things in the Magdalenes were not as bad as they might have been, directed away.
Power becomes accountable only when it’s waning. Did the ventilation of the abuses in various institutions dealing with children and women became a possibility only when public hostility towards Catholicism rendered the church a legitimate target for politicians, including “conservative” ones like Enda Kenny? Has growing public disfavour towards the Catholic Church been used to provide a shield for the State to deflect responsibility from itself for involvement in some of the most glaring outrages and abuses witnessed since Irish independence?
And if so – if our outrage at past wrongs is predicated on placing blame only selectively – can it be a genuine and useful outrage at all?
The Taoiseach and Tánaiste will meet the survivors of the Magdalene laundries next week, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore has said.
Mr Gilmore was responding to criticism of the Government’s response to the report by Dr Martin McAleese into the laundries, which was published earlier this week.
One of the survivors of the laundries, Maureen Sullivan, had said no Government politician had come to her or the other women with an apology.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland today, Mr Gilmore said he and the Taoiseach intended to meet the survivors next week.
"We intend to have a direct discussion with them about what their needs are, about how government should respond to this report," he said.
"These women have suffered. What they endured was wrong. What happened in this country over those decades was appalling and this Government has heard these women and we have taken what they have to say seriously."
Asked whether it had not been possible for someone to stand up in the Dáil and "clearly apologise" to the women, Mr Gilmore said with such reports it sometimes took time for the Government to read them and consider them and to consider the response.
"On this occasion we decided we would publish the report immediately. The problem with that is that the time that you need to consider a response isn't there to do that," he said.
"In the first instance what we are doing is meeting with the survivors. We are going to have that discussion with them - both the Taoiseach and I will do that next week."
He would "absolutely" make sure someone contacted the women.
"These women, particularly given what they have suffered, are entitled to be listened to at the highest level of government. We are going to do that. We are going to talk with them about what their needs are and when the Taoiseach and I have had that discussion with them we will go back to our colleagues in government and we will make a response.
"We are not going to let these women down. We are going to do the right thing and we are going to have that direct discussion with them."
Mr Gilmore said the women were "owed that".
"They are entitled to that respect. I've been through this report."
Asked why the Government had not apologised, Mr Gilmore said the Taoiseach had said he was sorry for what happened to the women already.
The Taoiseach was a man "of compassion, a man of care".
"I know how he feels about this. I have discussed it with him."
The Government had been the first to put a process in place to examine the Magdalene laundries, he said. The plight of the women in the laundries had been "neglected down the decades" and there was "shocking content" in the report, he said.
"We are going to talk directly with the women both the Taoiseach and I and we will go back to our colleagues in Government when we have had that discussion."
• Another lump of cancer has been extracted from the body of Eire. How she must weep.
Acknowledgement that the State colluded in the abuse of women but no apology for the Magdalene ladies is par for the course.
How could the Taoiseach apologise? If he did then he would be acknowledging his predecessors were the overseers of this calumny. This nation's birth was far more painful than we ever imagined. A group of men, some revolutionaries, most opportunists, were totally incapable of running a modern State.
Health, education and welfare services were handed over to religious and like-minded laity because those sons of the soil hadn't a clue how to run a nation.
In 1912 the Christian Brothers wished to open a "school" in Letterfrack. They were prevented from doing this by parliament in Britain, which cited its total remoteness and those that would run it as being unsuitable for teaching children. The brothers didn't have to wait long to enter the wilderness previously denied them.
The Magdalene ladies are no mystery. They were the product of a patriarchal male-dominated society, men who possessed no skills of nurture.
In absolving themselves of responsibility in the area of education and health, the State's founding fathers empowered some good men and women, but many, many zealots to unleash their vision of what the morals of this nation should be.
In tandem with this power, many lace curtain villagers and townspeople colluded and indeed agreed with the status quo.
So whilst Mary went to the Magdalene convent for the "sin" of being pregnant or destitute, Sean the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker funnily enough didn't arrive at a similar rail-head.
No, Sean continued to live his "normal" life even though it was his own need for gratification that sent Mary to the Magdalene Laundry in the first place.
Perhaps the State might simply say out loud: "Sorry people, but we seem to have made a haimes of things for the first 50 years of freedom." Saying it to the Magdalene ladies would be a start.
THE findings by Senator Martin McAleese are a welcome, if predictable, outcome to an impressively swift and efficient investigation of material that has become well known to all of us over the past decade. And no one could take issue with his wish that the report will bring "healing and peace of mind" to those women whose lives were mostly wrecked by their incarceration in one or other of these hideously cruel and vicious places.
That being said, it must also be recognised that the putting right of these innumerable wrongs comes too late for a vast number of the victims who endured the Magdalene Laundries. The system was worse than the industrial schools, where the inmates, who were prisoners, were subject to the law. The young people sent to them served their time and were released at the end of their term imposed by the courts.
Those at the Magdalene Laundries had no end date to their "sentences" and many spent their lives in slavery. Often they were beaten, starved, had their heads shaved as punishment, their identity stripped from them, their names changed, and were kept in captivity for years longer than the industrial school victims.
The tragedy lies in the fact that the Magdalene Laundry system was fully known about from the birth of the State. Its operation has been acknowledged in various ways covered by Mr McAleese's report.
Beyond his findings, however, was a foolproof state system contained in the country's census of population. This recorded all the inmates of Magdalene Laundries throughout the country, as it did with industrial school inmates.
The first 1911 census was pre-independence but is now of the utmost importance since it has been published and can be consulted online. It is the first census to be published. It will be fifteen years before the next census (for 1926, the State's first) is published.
The 1911 census lists, for example, all the inmates of the High Park Magdalene Laundry, 166 women whose ages vary from 15 to 70, and whose untold misery is masked by details of whether they were single, married or widowed, whether they had children and whether the children were alive or dead. Their place of birth is listed. They come from all over Ireland, though more are from Dublin. They are, without exception, described as "Dom," for their occupation as a "domestic servant", concealing the primitive washing of soldiers' underwear and hospital linen.
Similar listings for similar institutions occur throughout Ireland, and the first national census was taken in 1926 when the laundry service was at full steam. The holding of the national census followed again in 1936, 1946, 1951, 1956, 1961, 1966, 1971, 1979 (the census due in 1976 was cancelled as an economy measure), 1981, 1986, 1991, 1996, 2002 and 2006.
Until the system was amended in 1993, control of the census was exercised by the Minister for Industry and Commerce, and he had wide powers over the records collected. Did he wonder why High Park in Drumcondra needed 166 domestics, and how much they were paid? Or did he know, along with most adults in the country, that it and similar places were commercial enterprises paying no taxes on their profit and giving over no income to their "employees"?
Of course he did. And he did nothing. Just as successive Ministers for Education did nothing about the industrial schools for which they were responsible, though they had full records.
Not until 2027 will we have knowledge of the Magdalene Laundries in 1926, when the next census was taken, by which time they had evolved in size and profitability.
But those who ran the country knew it all, and did nothing.
The most lamentable period of all, for the suffering victims of the laundry system, was the period between 1999, when Bertie Ahern made his speech of so-called 'apology' to the victims of the industrial school system, and today, when a very belated measure of closure has come as a result of Mr McAleese's report.
And what should we make of Sean Aylward, the former Secretary General of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, telling the UN Committee Against Torture that, so far as the Government was aware, the women "volunteered" to give up their freedom and wash dirty clothes for all their lives under the harsh rule of nuns devoted to laundry work?
Patricia Burke Brogan joined the Sisters of Mercy to help the poor, but after working briefly in Galway’s Magdalene laundry she decided to leave the order and write about what she had witnessed.
In doing so she became one of the first writers to tackle the subject, with a short story and then in the 1980s with a play. At the time most theatres rejected it as too controversial. “One theatre director wrote back and said: ‘Do you know what you’re saying?’,” she said.
She encountered the laundry on Forster Street as a 21-year-old novitiate doing substitute work. She remembers on her first day being “brought down this long, brown corridor and every time we went through doors they were locked behind”.
“I was brought into this huge space with these machines – the noise of the machines, the deafening noise – and then out of the haze I saw these women, young women, old women, and they looked at me like I was another of the people who’d locked them up . . . it was like I was in Dante’s inferno.”
She questioned why the women were incarcerated in the laundry but was also focused on “trying to be a good novice” and prepare for her vows.
“I was given the key, so that transferred the authority to me, and I wondered if I should just open the place and let them out. But most of them had no place to go . . . when I asked the superior why they weren’t let out, she said ‘Oh, if you let them out they’d be back here in no time, pregnant again’.”
She can still remember faces: one particular woman bent scrubbing over a sink trying to get the grease out of men’s collars, others taking sheets out of the machines and rolling them. “I felt that the walls were even sweating with them,” she said.
“It’s all about the stigma, really: that’s why it was covered up, that’s why nobody talked about it.”
On leaving the order, Burke Brogan wrote Sunflowers, which met with modest success, winning a competition in the Connacht Tribune. But it was years before her play, Eclipsed, reached the stage.
When a local Galway company eventually produced it in 1992, protests were threatened outside and she received hate mail. But people “were coming in buses from all over the west of Ireland to see it . . . I got the people into this dark place.”
After that first night she recalls Michael D Higgins approaching her in the car park and saying, “If you never did anything else with your life, you did that.”
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,
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.
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,
Church Road, Killiney,
Where was their Lincoln? Where is he or she now? - Yours, etc,
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,
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,
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,
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,
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,
Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin.
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,
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,
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,
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,
Celbridge, Co Kildare.
St Laurence's Road,
Chapelizod, Dublin 20.
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,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.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.Sir, - Despite the absolute responsibility on An Taoiseach Enda Kenny 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".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.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.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.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.Sir, - Enda Kenny has been rightly criticised both inside and outside the Dáil for his embarrassingly insensitive response to the Magdalene report on Tuesday.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.Sir, - Women held in the Magdalene laundries deserved respect and human rights, not imprisonment and inhumane working conditions.Sir, - The shameful and backward response from the Governmentis as shameful and backward as the institutions were themselves. Heartless. - Yours, etc,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.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.
NOW we know the State’s share of the blame for the slavery of our women in the Magdalene laundries.
We know more than a quarter of the women were sent there by agents of the State. We know agents of the State, including the President, ate their dinners off tablecloths had washed by Magdalenes and dried their mouths with napkins they had starched.
Of course the Taoiseach should admit as much and say “sorry”. But when eventually that full apology and compensation come we will still be left with a huge feeling of disquiet. Because the truth is — as Martin McAleese’s report makes clear — it was our society which confined those women in those laundries.
And it is clear that some of the women could have been better off in those appalling conditions than they would have been outside them. There were no women’s refuges then, few social services, no lone parents’ benefit. Some of the homes the women came from were cruel and dangerous. “We were robbed of our childhood, but then I had a mother who beat the crap out of me,” one woman told Mc Aleese’s committee. Another told them she had ended up in the laundry as a safety measure because her father “interfered with the bigger girls”. You wouldn’t want to get “big” in the family, would you?
After this report, we may finally move away now from our habit of blaming the Catholic Church for everything we have done wrong as a society. The first Catholic Magdalene Asylum opened in Peacock Lane, Cork, in 1809, a full half-century after the first Protestant one, which opened in Leeson Street, Dublin, in 1765.
The Leeson Street home’s successor was the Bethany Home which was established in Rathgar in 1922. Boston-based academic James Smith has found four cases of Protestant women being sent there by the courts. Bethany didn’t run a laundry – there were no nuns to manage one — but it farmed out to work in slave-like conditions and some of these women are still with us, looking in vain for recognition and redress.
The reason it is important to recognise the mirror image of the Protestant response to the issue of “troubling” women is because it makes clear that this was the response of the whole society, not of one religion.
Our society produced the religious organisations. There’s a very telling moment in McAleese’s report when a nun says, “We were institutionalised too, of course.” The nuns were Irishwomen from Irish homes. Most of them probably better off than the women they called “penitents”. But some may have been escaping their own horrors and their opportunities outside their orders were limited.
And the “auxiliaries” who opted to stay in the laundries for life to “help” run the laundries? They are the scariest figures in the whole report. One woman was beaten up by two of them on her first day, and she noticed the other girls who entered that day had the same bruises.
Who were these women, whose opportunities for love and family and career were so limited that they opted to stay in the laundry? What kind of society created that vacuum?
In Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries and the Nation’s Architecture of Containment, James Smith argues that we did it because we had just been through a period of Civil War and wanted to present an image of Irishness which was both “pure” and uncomplicated: comely maidens and athletic youths.
I think that’s a man’s reading of it. As a woman who has gone through pregnancy and childbirth in Ireland, I think it all goes much deeper. We incarcerated women because we were terrified of female sexuality. We incarcerated pretty girls, girls who had babies out of wedlock, girls who had been abused by their relations.
What’s more, McAleese’s report gives the lie to the idea that women did not send women to the laundries. There are terrible stories here of mothers. One responded to her daughter’s plea for freedom with the request that she be kept in for another 20 years.
These were women who, on some level, hated women. They must have hated themselves. Perhaps their daughter’s dawning sexuality reminded them of what their sexuality had cost them: unwanted sex, unwanted pregnancy or even rape or abuse.
Perhaps they saw in their daughter’s bright eyes the hope which had been dimmed in theirs. So they put it out of sight. Most of all, surely, they feared their daughters’ wombs which could so easily bring shame on the family. And surely that fear went back to a chronic fear of having another mouth to feed which went back to the Famine.
While descriptions of the Irish before the Famine give the impression of a free and easy people noted for their fertility, in the middle years of the last century the Irish came as close as they could to stopping having babies. They were described as “The Vanishing Irish” by John O’Brien in a famous pamphlet in 1952.
Well, we’ve certainly moved on from there. Yet again last year we had the highest fertility in Europe, a trend which began when our economy started to take off.
BUT someone like me, born in the 1960s, who always had contraception and equal pay, experienced the fear of female sexuality like a vice-grip. I received the message that having a baby would end my life. That what mattered was to do brilliantly in the Leaving Certificate and then thunder through my career.
If I had to have a baby I was to breastfeed for as little time as possible. I was to beat down that overwhelming need to be with my baby and get the hell back to work where I was to act as if my baby had never been born. When I came back after my second pregnancy, one dear colleague said: “You’re doing a brilliant job. It’s just as if you never had the twins.”
No one could pretend that my situation bore any comparison to that of a girl packed off to a laundry after her baby was put up for adoption. But I do believe there is a relic of the fear which made us incarcerate troubling women in the way we deal, even today, with mothers.
Thankfully we now pay single mothers benefit. But how often do you hear anyone saying how hard it is to raise a child on your own and how important that work is? No, all we hear about is how to cut the benefit of “freeloaders”.
And those 4,000-plus Irish women who go to the UK every year for abortions. How many of them would make that choice if they lived in a society which genuinely welcomed and supported new mothers, whatever their circumstances?
Apologising to the Magdalene survivors on the part of the State will require an embarrassing U-turn. But saying sorry as a society will be much harder. We will have to show we feel it. And that will mean learning to love women’s sexuality, including the motherhood that for most women is part of it.
Victims groups have accused the McAleese committee of not being “transparent” by springing interviews on survivors without prior knowledge and weakening the inquiry by not issuing a public call for victims to come forward.
By Claire O'Sullivan
Irish Examiner ReporterPrior to the Ryan Report into child abuse, the then taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, apologised to the residents of the industrial schools and then issued a public call for survivors to come forward. According to the victims groups, this led to a sharp increase in numbers coming forward.
Just over 118 survivors spoke to the committee, and 57 were still under the charge of the religious orders in nursing homes or sheltered housing.
Justice for Magdalenes (JFM) and Magdalene Survivors Together also both strongly refuted the report’s assertion there was no physical abuse in the laundries.
The report stated there was a marked difference between the regime in industrial schools and the laundries and that physical abuse did not take place in the laundries: “A large majority of the women who shared their stories with the committee said that they had neither experienced nor seen other girls or women suffer physical abuse in the Magdalene Laundries.”
It is understood that the committee discounted initial testimony of physical abuse from some of the women, as they said that under closer questioning it emerged that the women were “confusing” their time in the industrial schools with time at the laundries.
Claire McGettrick of JFM said: “Initially, the committee didn’t even want to speak to women in person, but we fought for that. The women gave their testimony verbally and then we were given very little notice of a second meeting where we were to look at the format of the initial testimony. Instead, the women were brought in one by one for a meeting with the commission where they asked repeated questions.
“Their overall impression was that they were being checked to ensure that their memories were correct. The women came out of those meetings very quiet and subdued. None of them, none of us, had been expecting for them to be questioned like that.”
According to the report: “Subsequent meetings afforded the committee an opportunity to seek clarifications on areas of particular interest… Information provided by many of the women through this process included a clear distinction between some of the practices in industrial and reformatory schools and the Magdalene Laundries, in particular in relation to practices of physical punishment and abuse.”
Fifty-three women representing different survivors groups were interviewed by the committee. As well as the women living in nursing homes or sheltered accommodation and still under the legal care of the orders, another 10 women who spent time at St Mary’s Laundry, Stanhope St, Dublin, also spoke to the team.
Maureen Sullivan, a member of Magdalene Survivors Together, who was placed in a laundry in New Ross at the age of 12, during a news conference by the group in Dublin yesterday. Photograph: Cathal McNaughton/Reuters
A political row has erupted over the refusal of Taoiseach Enda Kenny to issue a full apology to the women who spent time in the Magdalene laundries, despite the fact that more than a quarter were sent there by the State.
The official report published yesterday of an interdepartmental committee chaired by Martin McAleese found the women were from many backgrounds. Some were referred by courts, others released on licence from industrial schools before they reached 16 years of age, while some were young women over 16 years of age who had been orphaned or were in abusive or neglectful homes.
The report, which investigated 10 Magdalene laundries run by four congregations found that:
* The number of women who spent time in laundries since 1922 was 10,012;
* Some 2,124 referrals were made or facilitated by the State - 26.5 per cent of the total;
* The average age at the time of entry was 23.8 years;
* The age of the youngest known entrant was nine and the oldest 89;
* More than a third of the women stayed for less than three months while 61 per cent stayed for less than a year;
* More than 7 per cent stayed for longer than 10 years.
The report found little evidence of sexual or physical abuse and no evidence of profiteering by the nuns who ran the laundries.
In his introduction to the report, Mr McAleese said: “The women who were admitted to and worked in the Magdalene laundries, whether for short or long periods of time since the foundation of the State, have for too long felt the social stigma of what was sometimes cruelly called the ‘fallen woman’.
“This is a wholly inaccurate characterisation, hurtful to them and their families, that is not borne out by the facts,” Mr McAleese added.
The total cost of the inquiry, which involved the production of a 1,000 page report, was just €11,000. The four congregations who operated the Magdalene laundries welcomed the report and expressed regret for the suffering of the women who stayed there. In the Dáil, Enda Kenny said he was sorry the stigma faced by laundry “penitents” had not been removed before now.
“To those residents who went into the Magdalene laundries from a variety of ways, 26 per cent from State involvement, I’m sorry for those people that they lived in that kind of environment,” he told the Dáil.
He said survivors would receive support from the State.
“I want to see that those women who are still with us, anywhere between 800 and 1,000 at max, that we should see that the State provides for them with the very best of facilities and supports that they need in their lives.” The Dáil would debate the report in two weeks, he said.
Justice for Magdalenes the survivor advocacy group said the Taoiseach’s statement fell “far short of the full and sincere apology deserved by the women who were incarcerated against their will in Ireland’s Magdalene laundries”.
Mr Kenny’s remarks were attacked by the main Opposition parties and by survivor groups who demanded a formal State apology.
Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said she was deeply disappointed by the Government’s response.
“What went on in the Magdalene laundries was a very Irish form of slavery,” she said.
Women who had their childhoods ‘stolen away’, locked up in Catholic-run workhouses received a qualified apology from the Irish government yesterday.
Over a period of 70 years, an estimated 10,000 were sent to the ‘Magdalene laundries’ to carry out unpaid manual labour under the supervision of nuns.
Some were sent because they were the children of unmarried mothers, others for crimes as minor as not paying a train ticket.
Slaved: An estimated 10,000 were sent to work for no remuneration in 'Magdalene laundries' over a period of 70 years
Anger: Magdalene survivors Marina Gambold, left, and Mary Smyth, were sent to the laundries where they were were forced to work without pay. At a press conference in the Handel Hotel, Dublin, they rejected the Irish government's apology
Demands: Survivors of the Catholic-run institutions have asked for a fuller and more frank admission from government and the religious orders involved
Incredibly the last of the ten laundries, which washed clothes and linen for major hotel groups, the Irish armed forces and even the brewer Guinness, was in operation until 1996. They were established in 1922.
Irish prime minister Enda Kenny apologised for the stigma and conditions saying they were a product of a‘harsh and uncompromising Ireland’.
The taoiseach expressed his sympathies with survivors and the families of those who died but stopped short of a formal apology.
His words drew scorn from victims’ groups, who insisted the institutions were worse than prison and demanded a much stronger statement.
The move follows an 18-month inquiry chaired by senator Martin McAleese which found one in four of the women sent to the laundries had been sent by the state.
Mr Kenny said: ‘To those residents who went into the Magdalene laundries from a variety of ways, 26 per cent from state involvement, I’m sorry for those people that they lived in that kind of environment.’
Pain: Mary Smyth (left) and Maureen Sullivan (right) are overcome during the press conference held by Magdalene Survivors Together
Mary Smyth, Steven O'Riordan, and Maureen Sullivan were among the members of the group who rejected an apology from Taoiseach Enda Kenny
(L-R) Marina Gambold, Mary Smyth, Steven O'Riordan, Maureen Sullivan and Diane Croghan of Magdalene Survivors Together hold copies of the Government report
But he added the report found no evidence of sexual abuse in the laundries, that 10 per cent of inmates were sent by their families, and that 19 per cent entered of their own volition.
Survivors quickly rejected his apology, and demanded a fuller and more frank admission from government and the religious orders involved.
Maureen Sullivan, 60, of Magdalene Survivors Together, and the youngest known victim, said: ‘He is the taoiseach of the Irish people, and that is not a proper apology.’
She was 12 when taken from her school and put in the Good Shepherd Magdalene Laundry in New Ross, County Wexford, because her father had died and mother remarried.
Miss Sullivan said she was told it would further her education, but she never saw her schoolbooks again.
A Council worker shines a torch over debris on the floor of the corridor in the now derelict Sisters of Our Lady of Charity Magdalene Laundry in Dublin
Chilling: The interior of the now derelict Sisters of Our Lady of Charity Magdalene Laundry on Sean McDermott St in Dublin's north inner city
Probe: An inquiry found 2,124 of those detained in institutions suych as the now derelict Sisters of Our Lady of Charity Magdalene Laundry in Dublin (pictured) were sent by the authorities
For 48 years she says she has been haunted by memories of a lost childhood and slave labour and is demanding a full apology from the government and religious orders for stealing her education, name, identity and life.
‘I feel that they are still in denial, but other parts of this report clearly state that we were telling the truth,’ she said.
By day she worked in the laundry, was fed bread and dripping, and then made sweaters or rosary beads before bedtime. ‘It was long, hard tedious work,’ she said.
‘I remember being hidden in a tunnel when the school inspectors came. I can only assume this was because I should not have been working in the laundry.’
An estimated 10,000 young Irish girls were sent to the laundries where they were were forced to work without pay and were subjected to a strict regime at the hands of the nuns who ran the institutions
At the weekends, she was forced to clean the floors of the local church instead of having time off to play.
‘How come all this was taken from me?’she said. ‘The nuns have destroyed my life and they never allowed me to develop as a young girl.’
'PRISONS FOR THE DISAPPEARED'
Set up in the 19th century as refuges for prostitutes, the Magdalene Laundries became prisons for the 'disappeared'.
Orphans with nowhere else to go, single girls who found themselves pregnant and hence abandoned in a morally repressive state, children whose parents could no longer afford to keep them and those judged by priests or the religious to be in 'moral danger' because they were too pretty or flirtatious.
Women were forced into Magdalene laundries for a crime as minor as not paying for a train ticket, the report found.
The majority of those incarcerated were there for minor offences such as theft and vagrancy as opposed to murder and infanticide.
Another survivor, Mary Smyth, also 60, said she was forced to follow in the steps of her mother who had also been one of the Magdalene women when she became pregnant.
She said she was treated like a slave and had her dignity, identity and life taken from her.
‘My name was changed, my hair was chopped off, all my possessions were taken from me,’ she said. ‘I didn’t eat for three weeks. I wanted to die.’
Miss Smyth has described her time in the Good Shepherd Convent in Sunday’s Well, Cork, as Hell and revealed she was afraid to have children as an adult in case she was locked up.
‘It was horrendous and inhumane. It was worse than any prison,’ she added. ‘It was soul destroying, it will never ever leave me,’ she said.
Senator McAleese’s inquiry found women were forced into Magdalene laundries for minor offences such as theft and vagrancy as opposed to major crimes such as infanticide.
Despite the stigma of being known as Maggies – a slang term for a prostitute – only a small number of the women were sent to them for prostitution.
In 2011, the UN Committee Against Torture called on the Irish government to set up an inquiry into the treatment of women in the laundries.
The McAleese inquiry spoke to more than 100 women and 40 per cent spent more than a year incarcerated.
In 2002, a film titled The Magdalene Sisters, written and directed by Peter Mullan, was released telling the story of three girls who were sent to 'Magdalene laundries'.
The film's director initially said that he had been inspired to undertake the project as the victims had never been given closure.
A plaque dedicated to Magdalane Laundry survivors in St Stephens Green in Dublin. Between 1922 and 1996 an estimated 10,000 young Irish girls were sent to the laundries where they were were forced to work without pay
Plight: The Magdalene Sisters starring Dorothy Duffy (second front), Nora-Jane Noone (second back) and Anne-Marie Duff (back) told the harrowing story of three girls placed in one of the laundries
A scene from The Magdalene Sisters in which one of the girls is humiliated in front of a nun
The film's director initially said that he had been inspired to undertake the project as the victims had never been given closure
A DAY IN THE LIFE:LAUNDRY SURVIVOR RECALLS THE TOUGH REGIME
In a 2011 interview for the Irish Mail, Sarah Williams who spent two years working in two different Magdalene Laundries gave a harrowing account of life in the institutions:
Rising at 6am the girls, heads shrouded in black veils, were marched to Mass in the cold convent.
Breakfast of cold watery porridge with tea and bread followed at 7am before returning to the chapel for a second Mass.
Then it was off to the laundry to wash, boil, mangle, dry, iron and fold. They were allowed one break for soup before 6pm.
At 7.30pm the girls, now locked into their tiny cells furnished with only a bucket and an iron bed, would be handed another mug of soup, frequently so cold that they'd try to heat it on the pipes in their rooms.
Recreation was a half hour listening to the radio after work. Work was conducted either in total silence or while singing hymns or reciting decades of the rosary.
At nights, the miserable girls cried themselves to sleep.
Simple offences like neglecting to wear the institutional hat or laughing would result in a belting on the head with a bunch of heavy keys by an irate nun.
'Every night I cried and cried,' recalls Sarah. 'I could hear the traffic on the road outside and sometimes I'd climb up at the iron barred window to see if I could see anything of the street.
'Our only exercise was half an hour walking in twos outside in the yard.' The nuns' authority was absolute, the girls had to ask permission even to go to the bathroom and if a girl stepped out of line, she was locked in her room on a diet of bread and water for days on end.
'We didn't work on Sundays so we were allowed to write letters which were then read by the nuns. I frequently wrote to my aunt begging her to come and get me but I don't think she ever got my letters.
Any letters we got were read out in public by the nuns. We never got them into our own hands.
'Once a month we were allowed visitors but my only visitors were the women from the Legion of Mary who'd remark that I was being looked after very well.'
The report of the committee investigating State involvement with the Magdalene Laundries between 1922 and 1996 is to be published this afternoon.
It is expected to respond to allegations by former residents that the State colluded with the Catholic Church to illegally incarcerate thousands of women and girls and to make them do unpaid work.
The report is the fruit of an 18-month inquiry by a committee representing six Government departments and independently chaired by Doctor Martin McAleese.
The report runs to over 1,000 pages.
An estimated 30,000 single mothers and other women were detained or resident in ten laundries.
The Government established the probe as a partial response to the UN Committee Against Torture's call for a prompt, independent, statutory investigation into allegations by former residents of Magdalene Laundries.
They told Dr McAleese the Gardaí knew the nuns running the laundries were holding them involuntarily.
They also said they worked on State contracts while the nuns broke the law by failing to pay their social insurance contributions.
Dr McAleese has praised the assistance he has received from the four religious congregations concerned and from the State.
It remains to be seen if the evidence collected supports the State's contention to date that it bears very little responsibility for wrongs done.
The Committee has no power to issue or recommend apologies.
One advocate for the women has expressed concern that no Government minister will launch the report in person.
There is no official helpline for women who suffered in the Magdalene Laundries.
The HSE suggests contacting Samaritans on 1850 60 90 90.
The Catholic Church in Germany is considering approving some morning-after pills for rape victims after a leading cardinal said the pills did not induce abortions and could be used in Catholic hospitals.
By Tom Heneghan
Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Cologne, an ally of Pope Benedict, changed his policy after two Catholic hospitals in Cologne refused to treat a rape victim as they would not prescribe the pill, which is taken after sex to avoid pregnancy.
The Catholic Church firmly opposes abortion and artificial birth control. Many Catholics see all emergency contraceptives as abortion-inducing drugs banned by this policy, but Cardinal Meisner said some prevent fertilisation and could be used in cases of rape.
“The German Bishops’ Conference is holding a regular meeting in two weeks and the issue will be on the agenda,” said Cologne archdiocese spokeswoman Nele Harbeke.
“The bishops’ conference must, in principle, agree on a common line,” she said.
Cardinal Meisner, 79, had rejected emergency contraceptives as producing a “just-in-case abortion”. The Cologne incident sparked uproar in Germany last month and the cardinal apologised publicly, saying it “shames us deeply because it contradicts our Christian mission and our purpose”.
Cardinal Meisner’s change of mind made headlines because he is outspoken in relation to his conservative views. The surprise was compounded when another conservative, Berlin Archbishop Rainer Woelki, urged the Church to debate the issue.
Cardinal Meisner said he changed his view after learning from scientists that some newer pills did not abort fertilised eggs but instead prevented fertilisation altogether. “If a medication that hinders conception is used after a rape with the purpose of avoiding fertilisation then this is acceptable.”
His office said the exception was valid only in rape cases and not within Catholic marriage, where the Church teaches that artificial contraception is banned. It also said there was no change to the ban on the so-called abortion pill, based on the drug mifepristone or RU-486, marketed as Mifegyne or Mifeprex.
The cardinal consulted the Vatican as well as a 2009 directive for Catholic hospitals in the US that says a rape victim “may be treated with medications that would prevent ovulation, sperm capacitation or fertilisation”.
Meanwhile, a Catholic hospital in Colorado acknowledged it was “morally wrong” to argue in court that a foetus is not a human being under Colorado law.
Lawyers representing St Thomas More Hospital took that position in papers filed to fend off a wrongful death lawsuit brought after unborn twins died in its emergency room.
KEY files on the Magdalene laundries have gone missing, former senator Martin McAleese will reveal in a long-awaited report today.
An estimated 30,000 single mothers and other women were detained over a period of more than seven decades in the laundries operated by four religious orders.
However, it is understood that Dr McAleese's report into the State's involvement in the laundries won't accuse any order of deliberately destroying or withholding files.
It appears that the records were untraceable despite concerted efforts to find them.
A source said the level of co-operation from the four religious organisations that ran the laundries had been good.
The appointment of Dr McAleese as the independent chair of the Magdalene laundries group two years ago was seen as a key factor in persuading the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy, the Religious Sisters of Charity and the Sisters of the Good Shepherd to turn over their sensitive records.
Dr McAleese resigned his €65,000-per year position as a senator yesterday, having spent 18 months working on the report.
He is going to spend more time with his wife, former President Mary McAleese, who is studying canon law in Rome.
The report will not call for compensation or a government apology to be delivered because Dr McAleese was prevented from doing this by his terms of reference.
The women in the Magdalene laundries had to work six days a week without pay, were subjected to physical punishment and had doors locked to prevent their escape.
It is believed over 2,000 children were 'exported' from the laundries to new homes, mainly to wealthy families in the US, usually for a payment from the families.
The Justice for Magdalenes campaign group has fought a 10-year campaign for an official apology from the Irish State and Catholic Church, and a distinct compensation scheme for all survivors.
Its advisory board member James Smith, who is an associate professor at Boston College, said he hoped the Government was listening.
"The women can no longer be held hostage to a political system.
"Time is of the essence, it is the one commodity many of these woman can ill afford," he said.
Most of the women who were held in the Magdalene laundries have died, with fewer than 1,000 still alive.
The last such laundry, at Sean MacDermott Street in Dublin, closed in 1996.
There were 10 laundries in total – in Dublin, Galway, Cork, Limerick, Waterford and Wexford.
The National Women's Council of Ireland yesterday supported the call for an apology and compensation scheme for the ageing Magdalene survivors to "bring justice and a sense of peace".
They were not included in the previous compensation scheme for victims of abuse in industrial schools, which has cost over €1bn.
AN ELDERLY priest has admitted subjecting a teenage boy to eight years of sexual assaults.
Fr Vincent Mercer (66), right, pleaded guilty before Cork Circuit Criminal Court to 15 sample counts of sexual assault against the teenage boy between 1986 and 1994. Fr Mercer, of Black Abbey, Kilkenny, had faced a total of 39 counts of sexual assault.
The cleric was charged with assaulting the teen at various locations in Munster between January 1, 1986, and February 22, 1994 when the boy was aged between 11 and 17.
Fr Mercer is a serving member of the Dominican Order though he is not now in ministry.
Judge Sean O'Donnabhain heard that the State accepted the cleric's guilty plea to the 15 sample charges of sexual assault.
Defence counsel Tom Creed applied for sentencing to be adjourned until February 22.
Fr Mercer was remanded on bail on his own bond of €2,500. He must sign on twice weekly at Kilkenny garda station.
The cleric only spoke during the brief hearing to confirm his guilty pleas.
The interdepartmental committee report on State involvement with Magdalene laundries will be presented to women who were in the laundries and their advocacy groups in Dublin this morning.
It will also be presented to the Government at its weekly meeting today.
The report was prepared under the chairmanship of Senator Martin McAleese and the committee was set up in July 2011 “to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalene laundries, to clarify any State interaction, and to produce a narrative detailing such interaction”.
The report will be published this afternoon.
Steven O’Riordan of the Magdalene Survivors Together group said last night he would be “flabbergasted” if the report found there was no State involvement with the laundries.
He hoped that it would show the full extent of that involvement and lay the basis for an apology “without delay” by the Taoiseach on behalf of the State to the women involved.
He noted how on July 20th, 2011, in response to the Cloyne report, the Taoiseach had pointed out “this is not Rome. Nor is it industrial-school or Magdalene Ireland, where the swish of a soutane smothered conscience and humanity and the swing of a thurible ruled the Irish-Catholic world. This is the ‘Republic’ of Ireland 2011.”
Mr O’Riordan also hoped the report would lead to a scheme whereby the women would be paid for work done in the laundries and secure for them appropriate pensions.
Domination of laundries
The first Magdalene laundry in Ireland opened on Dublin’s Leeson Street in 1767. Four female religious congregations came to dominate the running of the laundries.
These were the Sisters of Mercy, Sisters of Charity, Sisters of our Lady of Charity of Refuge, and the Good Shepherd Sisters.
The latter congregation also operated a Magdalene laundry in Belfast until 1977.
There were 10 Magdalene laundries in the Republic following independence. These were at Waterford, New Ross, two in Cork, Limerick, Galway, and four in Dublin at Dún Laoghaire, Donnybrook, Drumcondra and Gloucester/ Seán MacDermott Street. This latter – and last – laundry closed in October 1996.
Since 1900, exact figures for women in the laundries have not been available from the congregations.
Opinion: She remains anonymous by choice. She values her privacy above all. She lives alone and never married. She attends daily Mass. She will never again live in Ireland. She celebrated her 78th birthday recently. She is a survivor of the Magdalene laundries.
Her mother died when she was seven. At 14, her father remarried but she and a younger sister were unwelcome in the new family household, the only home they ever knew. Poverty was her only crime.
She was taken to the Good Shepherd convent in New Ross, her younger sister sent by train to the congregation’s Limerick house. The Good Shepherds managed industrial schools for children at both locations and a reformatory school for girls in Limerick.
But the two sisters were put to work in the Magdalene laundry with its population of adult women workers. For the next five years she washed society’s dirty laundry and received no pay. When she refused to work the nuns cut her hair as punishment. The hair grew back but to this day the loss of her education angers her. To her, it was a prison in all but name. There was no inspector, no child welfare officer. She was abandoned and no one cared.
Sixty years later this woman lives with the stigma and shame attached to these institutions. These are the indelible stains on her life.
And, in her case and others, there are life-long material consequences to having spent time in the Magdalene laundry. Her application to the Residential Institutions Redress Board was rejected. The 10 laundries were not among the institutions covered, thus her application was deemed “ineligible”, and the review board refused her appeal.
Friends helped her apply for a statutory pension, but once again her years working in the Magdalene laundry did not count when calculating her entitlement. She was never paid so no stamps were submitted on her behalf. After endless bureaucratic delays and reams of paperwork, she receives a meagre $7.50 a week from the Irish State – that is, after an Irish bank deducts international wire transfer and currency conversion charges.
This is the plight of one Magdalene survivor: abused in the past, abandoned in the present.
This morning as she wakes in her rented apartment here in the US, the Cabinet will meet in Dublin to discuss the final report from the Inter-Departmental Committee Investigating State Involvement with the Magdalene Laundries. This afternoon the report is to be published. It remains to be seen how or whether the Government responds. In either case, today’s events will have an impact on the rest of her days.
She is not alone, nor is her experience exceptional. Survivors can be found all across Ireland, the UK, the US and beyond, each with her own story to tell, all of them anxiously awaiting news from Government Buildings this afternoon.
Some contributed to the work of the interdepartmental committee – they completed surveys, submitted testimony that was often difficult and painful to recall, and travelled to Dublin or London to meet the committee chairman, Senator Martin McAleese, in person.
In doing so, they showed admirable courage and resilience.
Others felt unable to participate. Their time in the Magdalene laundry remains a carefully guarded secret. They fear jeopardising established identities – husbands, children and grandchildren know little about this part of their past. Or they have a deep distrust that justice will be forthcoming. They have been disappointed before. For some, the risk is paralysing.
And still, the women’s testimony is compelling. It rebuts government claims that they entered these institutions “voluntarily”. It contradicts the religious orders’ assertion that women were free to come and go as they pleased. Some survivors describe their experience as tantamount to “slavery”, living behind locked doors and barred windows.
They insist, moreover, that members of An Garda Síochána routinely brought women to the laundries and/or returned women who escaped – regardless of whether the State was involved in committing them in the first place, and in the absence of any statutory basis for doing so.
The women’s testimony corroborates historical archives that disclose the transfer into the Magdalene laundries of children from State-funded residential institutions and unmarried mothers from State-licensed mother-and-baby homes.
There is no evidence to suggest the State made certain the release of these women and young girls. Some would remain to live and die behind convent walls.
Testimony substantiates historical Dáil debates that point to various State agencies contracting laundry work to the nuns’ commercial businesses, and doing so without a “fair wages clause” as stipulated for similar contracts with commercial laundries. Women describe laundry specific to the Army, State hospitals, prisons, agricultural laboratories etc.
It is to be hoped today’s report will answer many of the heretofore unanswered questions about these institutions, for example, how many women entered, why did they end up there, who brought them, how long did they stay, how many died, and where are they buried? It will, as such, help Irish society better understand this aspect of our nation’s past.
Ultimately, however, today will be remembered for how the Government responds to the conclusions about State involvement, the committee’s primary remit. The survivor community will judge the Government on whether Minister for Justice Alan Shatter announces measures that finally affords them justice.
These measures begin with an official State apology. Lost wages must be restored and pensions recalculated to reflect time spent in the laundries. These measures need to be implemented immediately. The Government should then establish a transparent and non-adversarial compensation scheme that is open to all survivors and puts their welfare at the forefront.
Time is of the essence. It is the one commodity many of these women can ill afford. They have waited for justice too long already. The wait must end today.
* James M Smith is an associate professor in the English department and Irish studies programme at Boston College. He is the author of Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries and the Nation’s Architecture of Containment (2008) and serves on the Justice for Magdalenes advisory committee.
A CURATE has quit his parish after claiming a number of incidents of 'bullying' in which he was verbally and physically abused.
Fr Bill McGeady, an uncle of Ireland footballer Aiden, said he had been harassed by a number of parishioners over a period of months.
In his letter to parishioners, he wrote: "When I came in September 2010, I was happy to be here. Have been a priest for a while, but I soon found out that a very small number of people wanted to tell me how I should run my parish.
"When I refused to listen to them, I was verbally and physically abused in the sacristy, church and in the street.
"Letters of complaint were sent to the bishop from those few."
He went on: "Sadly, they did not write to tell him of the abuse they gave me.
"The complaining has continued and sadly it has affected my mental and physical health.
"Apart from what I have written above, I tell you truthfully I have very much enjoyed my time here."
Fr McGeady went on to thank the church readers, clerks, choir and the congregation, noting that attendances at Mass in Glencolmcille, Co Donegal, had increased.
"The parish is not all about one priest or person in charge," he said in the resignation letter.
"It is about all in the parish doing their bit to serve God and each other.
"I will miss all the good, decent people of Glen, especially the housebound and sick."
He concluded: "Please God, I will return one day."
Parish priest Fr Francis McAteer, based in nearby Carrick, refused to comment last night.
Fr McGeady, a former Brother, became a Jesuit priest in 1997. The 74-year-old had been a curate in Glencolmcille since transferring there from Falkirk several years ago. He told parishioners at Mass yesterday that he could not go on in his ministry there because of opposition "from a small number of people". He said he had been intimidated and bullied by some people who opposed how he was running the parish.
"No one expected him to stand down," a close friend said.
"He is very popular here and it came as a bit of a shock."
Fr Flannery does his order or himself no service with his continued sniping and railing against the Church rules and dogma that he accepted when he joined the priesthood.
His public displays of disobedience are petulant and foolish, it only gives ammunition to newspaper media to exploit and create even more wedges and hammers to knock the Catholic Church with. He knows there are other ways.
Be intellectual if he wishes, but it is obvious that there are events of Catholic teaching which are no go areas, accept it, live with it, obey it as was one of his initial vows. If his conscience doesn’t allow him to do so, then he might find it easier to leave the comfort of his Redemptorist Order.
As for your editorial, it’s another attempt to portray the Catholic Church in a demeaning way. How sad.
Fr Flannery may have his principles but the Church has its rules, you wouldn’t think much of them if they didn’t adhere to them! You can’t have it every which way. The Church is dammed if it does, and dammed if it doesn’t!
Campaigners fear many of the survivors of the Magdalene laundries will be dead before the State compensates the estimated 1,000 women who were locked up by the nuns.
By Claire O’Sullivan, Conall Ó Fátharta and Sean McCarthaigh
With the Government commissioned report, due to be published tomorrow, expected to reveal the true extent of state collusion with the laundries, the survivors fear they may never get redress.
Under the terms of reference, Martin McAleese’s report was precluded from making recommendations, but was charged with establishing the facts of state involvement.
It is then up to Justice Minister Alan Shatter to make any further recommendations.
However, with the Government slow to make any formal apology, fearing it could open the floodgates to expensive compensation schemes, Justice for Magdalenes co-founder Claire McGettrick said the time for action is now.
“These women are ageing and elderly [and] have been held hostage to a political process for too long,” said Ms McGettrick. “The time for action is now. The Government may be worried that redress might open the floodgates to other human rights infringements in mother and baby homes and mental hospitals but frankly that’s just cynical.”
Steven O’Riordan of Magdalene Survivors Together, said he believes “the evidence of state complicity is too strong” and public opinion will force the Government’s hand.
“The Government can’t kick the can down the road again,” said Mr O’Riordan.
“The survivors in our group said they will chain themselves to the Dáil and go on hunger strike if that happens.”
While in opposition, Mr Shatter said there was irrefutable evidence that the State was “directly complicit” in sending women to Magdalene laundries.
Independent TD Maureen O’Sullivan, a campaigner for the Magdalene women, said Mr McAleese “did get a lot of co-operation from the Government departments and its agencies” and she believes “the report will be thorough”.
“What the ladies don’t want is yet another delaying game,” said Ms O’Sullivan.
“There is a huge urgency there. They are aged and urgently want an apology for what was allowed to happen to them. They also need pensions, medical cards, help with housing, and restorative justice.”
It is over two years since the Irish Human Rights Commission recommended that a statutory inquiry and redress be put in place for the estimated 1,000 living Magdalene survivors, and 18 months since the United Nations Committee Against Torture made a similar recommendation.
In his most recent report, Dr Geoffrey Shannon, special rapporteur on child protection, said the treatment of girls and women in laundries “constituted slavery”.
On Tuesday a report by Martin McAleese may finally help to write the story of State involvement in the Magdalen institutions, a shameful chapter in Ireland’s history
So much of the story about the Magdalen laundries centres on names; on identities lost, abandoned or forgotten. Thousands of girls and young women went through their doors during two centuries. Each had her Christian name changed by the nuns, her surname unused.
On her marriage to an English soldier after she had fled Ireland, Margaret McCarthy changed her surname to that of her husband, Frederick Permaul. By then she had already changed her Christian name to Marina.
“When I came over I wanted to wash Ireland clean away. It was like taking off dirty linen,” says the drily humorous 69-year-old, in the sitting room of her home in Cricklewood, north London, this week.
More than 50 years have passed, but the feelings of fear, entrapment and “that all hope was lost” are as vivid for Permaul as they were on the day she ended up in the Magdalen laundry run by the Sisters of Mercy at 47 Forster Street in Galway, near the city’s railway station.
Born in Ennis, Co Clare, to Martin and Margaret McCarthy, she, like her five siblings, had her life overturned after the death of her mother from TB and her father from “bronchial problems”.
Sent to live with an uncle, the six children soon ran wild. “We were found wandering the streets, not going to school. The gardaí took matters to court. Our uncle said he couldn’t keep us. The boys were taken to St Joseph’s in Salthill. My sister and I went to St Anne’s at Lenaboy in Galway.”
Permaul lived there, not unhappily, from the age of six until she was 13. “One Sunday morning I was going up to the church for Mass. After 12 o’clock Mass the nun asked me to change the flowers on the altar. As I changed them, Sr Bertmans came down from the side door. She told me to leave what I was doing. I got a strange feeling, a feeling of entrapment; I felt something was wrong. I went to run out.
“Another nun came. The nuns grabbed me, and they had a car waiting outside the chapel. The driver drove off. I was shouting. You don’t expect nuns to do this. I didn’t know what was happening. ‘Where are you taking me?’ I said. I started to cry,” says Permaul, her voice trembling.
They arrived at a side door to the laundrey. “I always remember the green door. I knew I was in a Magdalen. It was almost like a mental hospital, where only bad people went. It was a taboo subject. We grew up knowing this,” she says.
Like others, Permaul speaks of the hunger for escape. “I prayed every night to St Anthony, prayed that I would get out. I knew I was in there for life, because there was no one to get me out. A girl died. I knew I had to get out.”
Soon she began to plan for freedom, stealing a cardigan from a laundry bag. But before she could take her plans further, she was spotted by a nun from Lenaboy who had come to Forster Street for a Christmas choir. “A nun told me to clear out my locker. Miss Broderick, a lay teacher, brought me back. Nobody told me anything. You didn’t dare ask a question. I went back to Lenaboy. Nothing was said; that was the strange bit.”
The seven months inside the Magdalen have left the deepest of scars.
Thousands made the same journey. Some were unmarried mothers, deemed promiscuous by the authorities. More, perhaps most, were the daughters of such women, or “considered a burden” by their families or the State, had been sexually abused or had grown up in care.
Next Tuesday’s report by Senator Martin McAleese “should, for the first time, enable us to speak with some authority about the numbers of women who entered these institutions after 1900”, says Dr James Smith of Boston College, who has spent years researching the Magdalens.
“According to the 1911 census, there were 1,094 women recorded at the 10 Magdalen asylums that would continue to operate after Irish independence,” says Maeve O’Rourke, who prepared a submission on the Magdalens for the United Nations Commission on Torture in 2011.
“In 1956, the Irish Catholic Directory and Almanac reported a capacity for 945 women at these same institutions,” says O’Rourke, who is a trainee barrister in London. She has spent many hours interviewing former inmates who now live in London.
The Magdalens were excluded from the Residential Institutions Redress Board. The State argued that it had never inspected or regulated the laundries and therefore was not responsible for them.
Mary Currington experienced the care of the Good Shepherds nuns in Co Wexford. Born to Sarah O’Neill, an unmarried woman, she lived in the county home in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, until she was three and then, securely, with her aunt Anne in Monageer until she was five.
At that point she was made a ward of court and sent to the children’s home run by the Good Shepherds in New Ross. At the age of 16 she was sent to work for a sister of one of the nuns at Killavullen, in north Co Cork, where she served for nine months as a domestic.
Unhappy, she wrote seeking permission to go back to New Ross, which was “‘the only base I had”, says Currington, who now lives in Dunstable, in Bedfordshire. She returned in time for the visit of John F Kennedy in 1963 – “His stooped back, God help him.” Shortly afterwards, she met a friend with a child on the street. “I asked her where her husband was. She said, ‘I am not married.’ I told my friend that she was telling lies.
“Before I went to bed I met with one of the nuns. I told her that the girl was pretending that the baby was hers. I remember her saying, ‘We were wrong to leave you out of the school without telling you the facts of life.’ I said, ‘The facts of life? What are you talking about?’ ”
Two weeks later, Currington found herself standing in the parlour of the Good Shepherd convent at Sunday’s Well in Cork: “Four nuns stood around me, saying, ‘What shall we call her?’ I kept saying, ‘I’m Mary.’
“They weren’t listening. ‘Oh, we’ll call her Geraldine,’ they said. I wasn’t understanding at all; why are they changing my name? I was so confused,” she says, sitting in the home of a friend, her cup of tea growing cold on a table beside her.
The indignities began even before she saw the laundry. “My hair was waist length and it was chopped up to my ears. My clothes were taken off me and I was given rags, and I mean they were rags.” Soon she ran into trouble after she and a friend enjoyed themselves pushing each other in trolleys late one Friday evening, after finally finishing mountains of laundry sent by the hotels, army barracks and private homes of Cork city.
“Sr Mount Carmel was horrified. We were sent to the office, and she said that we had left the whole place down,” says Currington. She was sent to the sewing room against her wishes, but she developed a lifetime love of the craft.
“I knocked out beautiful work. We made all the vestments for the altar, all the altar linen, all the altar boys’ gear, the banners for the processions,” she says.
Four years on, when Currington was 22, she planned her escape, along with another woman, who was two years older. As in Permaul’s case, the first requirement was clothing.
“I told my friend to get a couple of dresses. We daren’t escape in our own clothes, because they would know straight away where we were from, and from our haircuts,” she says.
“The side door to the sewing room was left open, and there was a little alleyway, tree-lined. Every step we took going out of those convent grounds, I was looking back to see if anyone was watching us.” It was July 1967, “or perhaps August”.
Soon they were down in Cork city centre, outside Winthrop Arcade. Her friend went in to get money from the young men and boys playing the penny machines. “We had no money. We didn’t know what money was.”
While waiting, she was approached by a garda, “a big, tall guy. I was very shy. I gave a wrong name. He asked if I was on my own.” Minutes later, he had found her friend. “He told us we were going back to the place that ‘you escaped from’. I could not believe it. The nuns alerted the Garda any time people ran away.”
She spent two more years in Sunday’s Well. Freedom came in the form of a Vincentian priest, Fr Tom Bennett. “He didn’t like the nuns. He hated them for locking us up. He used to campaign for me to be left out. He’d barge into her office and leave the door open, so that I could hear. Sr Mount Carmel said, ‘Geraldine isn’t mature enough.’ ”
Currington’s release came quickly, without notice. “I got up at 6am. I had my towel, toothpaste and flannel. An auxiliary, Bernadette . . . told me to come and fix her zip. I laid my towel on my bed. Once the door closed, she told me I was leaving. I had such mixed emotions. What about all the people I had known for six whole years? Suddenly I was plucked out, put on a train and sent to Drogheda.”
She spent seven months working as a ward maid at St John of God at Courtney Hill in Newry. “I decided I would be free of the nuns if I went to England. I came to England on July 7th, 1969. My sister was waiting for me in Luton.”
For more than a decade, Sally Mulready and Phyllis Murphy, who were both reared in institutions but were not Magdalens, have worked with institutional survivors in Britain. More than 30 former Magdalens come to their London meetings.
The Magdalens they found form only a fraction of those living in Britain. The Irish Government ran advertisements in the Irish Post and the Irish World when it was promoting the Residential Institutions Redress Board.
“I said they should advertise in the breaks in Coronation Street. Some of our people won’t pay £1 for an Irish newspaper that talks only about all the happy things that are going on,” says Murphy.
Funding is tight for the London Irish Women’s Survivors Group. Money comes from the Ireland Fund of Great Britain and the St Stephen’s Green Trust, but nothing comes from the Irish State. “We had been running meetings on a monthly basis, but we had to cut back.”
Britain brought freedom, if not happiness, for many, says Murphy. “So many are too ashamed to come out. They would be ashamed for their families to know, especially if they are married to Irishmen. They would feel, What kind of woman did I marry? It didn’t really matter with British men, because they didn’t look down on you, myself included. I always found Irishmen reacted [in a way that implied],‘ I don’t want to know you.’ The look on their faces, as if you were a piece of dirt.”
Despite their difficulties, the women found are the lucky ones, says Maeve O’Rourke. “Sometimes I met women who reacted with surprise if they heard of others. ‘You mean there are others here?’ they’d say. They genuinely felt they were the only ones who had escaped.
“Their names were changed, they left without warning, or escaped. People lost their best friends, often their only friends. There is still a sense of longing for the people they had in there. And sometimes there is guilt for the people that they left behind.”
With days to go until McAleese’s report, the former Magdalen women wait expectantly. An apology is important to some, less so to others; all demand payment for years of unpaid labour, as well as pensions “even though the nuns never paid our stamps”.
“We’ll see what it brings. If it doesn’t, we’ll have to consider something else. If they come up with the right thing then it will end,” says a former inmate, who identifies herself by her Magdalen name of Brenda because she does not want to embarrass the family of her Irish husband.
But there is one demand: no repetition of the Residential Institutions Redress Board, says Mulready. “They don’t want to see lawyers being the beneficiaries. They feel that they have told their story over and over, and the nuns have records.
“They feel that the history is out there. I believe that a lot of them would not be able to withstand a rigorous system. It is up to the State to come up with a service that protects their rights. What they don’t have is time,” says Mulready.
After operating for 200 years, the last of the Magdalens closed in 1996. “A lot of people did not shout. A lot of people knew. They say that they didn’t want to get involved; they just thought they were ‘bad girls’.
“Young people should read the report and care about what happened to a whole generation of Irish women. Irish snobbery brought about a whole lot of discrimination, particularly against poor people. It was so endemic that nobody cared.”
Magdalen inquiry What is Tuesday’s report?
The report on the Magdalen laundries is expected to be published on Tuesday. It will be presented to the Cabinet that morning.
It has been prepared by a committee of officials from five Government departments, chaired by Senator Martin McAleese, assisted by another official from the Department of Foreign Affairs.
The laundries, where an estimated 30,000 single mothers and other women were detained between 1922 and 1996, were operated by four religious congregations. Most of the women have since died. The last one, at Seán MacDermott Street, in Dublin, closed in 1996.
On June 14th, 2011, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter announced the Government was to set up the committee to investigate the State’s role in the Magdalen laundries. The previous week the four religious congregations concerned agreed to co-operate with any such inquiry.
Shatter’s announcement followed a lengthy campaign by the Justice for Magdalenes group and a report from the United Nations Committee Against Torture.
The 10 laundries were operated by the Sisters of Mercy (Galway and Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin), the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity (Drumcondra and Seán MacDermott Street, Dublin), the Sisters of Charity (Cork and Donnybrook, Dublin 4) and the Good Shepherd Sisters (Limerick, Cork, Waterford and New Ross).
Legal proceedings have begun against an Irish missionary priest alleged to have abused an African student at a Spiritan-run school in Sierra Leone.
Elvis Kuteh alleges the priest abused him in the late 1970s when he was a pupil of a school run by the Holy Ghost Fathers, now the Spiritans.
Mr Kuteh, who is in his 40s, now lives in the UK. His solicitor, Michael E Hanahoe and Co, has 12 months in which to serve the summons on the defendant.
If the case proceeds, this will be the first time an African will have abuse allegations against an Irish missionary priest heard in Ireland.
Abuse campaigner Mark Vincent Healy, who is supporting Mr Kuteh’s case, said the case was being brought under the Brussels Convention.
“Where both the plaintiff and the defendant are resident within the EU, the action can be taken within the EU under the Brussels Convention, for actions that actually took place outside the EU,” he said.
Mr Healy, who was abused himself as a pupil at St Mary’s College, Rathmines, Dublin, by a Spiritans priest, said Mr Kuteh’s case could “open up a path to justice” for survivors abused by Irish priests in other jurisdictions.
He said that while in the past those abused in Africa had “no opportunity for either justice or redress”, the case “could open up redress against all missionaries worldwide”.
A Spiritans spokesman said they could not comment on specific legal proceedings.
Martin McAleese, husband of the former president, quit the Seanad yesterday, just days before he unveils the findings of a major investigation into the Magdalene laundries scandal.
By Shaun Connolly and Juno McEnroe
Mr McAleese was appointed to the upper house as one of Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s nominees in 2011, but kept a very low profile.
Mr McAleese, who rarely voted, did join other independents in voting against cuts to the respite care grant in last December’s budget.
Soon after being appointed to the upper house, Mr McAleese was asked to chair the committee investigating the Magdalene laundries.
That report is to be presented to Cabinet on Tuesday morning and made public the following day.
The former president is now living in Rome, where she is studying canon law.
Mr McAleese was active behind the scenes of the Northern Ireland peace process during his 14 years as presidential spouse between 1997 and 2011.
Colleagues in the Taoiseach-nominated senators group were understood to be annoyed that Mr McAleese did not contact them ahead of his decision to go. One member of the group said: “He never decompressed from the Áras, after 14 years being there.
“She [Mary] did; she went to Rome. He never has settled into the Seanad.
“When he did his speeches, he was always non-contentious.
“He’s a lot of diligence but he’s probably thinking to himself with the report coming out, why would you be a senator in the chamber?”
It is understood that Mr McAleese told Seanad colleagues that he was not planning to make any statement once the Magdalene laundries report is released next week.
Another senator added: “He could have told us [about leaving] in the group, given us some heads up. It’s unexpected, but not surprising. He found it quite difficult with Mary being based in Rome and him being home.
“The kids are around, but they’re older and in college.
“In the Seanad he was never comfortable; he was frustrated. There was always the scrutiny there of what you were doing or saying.”
Mr McAleese announced his plan to resign in a letter to Seanad cathaoirleach Paddy Burke, in which he said he hoped the Magdalene report would be a “public service”.
“During my time in the Seanad I dedicated myself to two main projects. The first, chairing the Inter-Departmental Committee’s investigation into State involvement with the Magdalene Laundries, and the second, continuing the work of bridge-building between North and South,” he wrote.
The Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, after years of legal battles, has released files on priests accused of molesting children.
Archbishop Jose Gomez said he had stripped his predecessor, retired Cardinal Roger Mahony, of all public and administrative duties.
He also removed a top clergyman who had been linked to efforts to conceal the abuse.
Cardinal Mahony's former top aide, Thomas Curry, stepped down as bishop of Santa Barbara.
"I find these files to be brutal and painful reading. The behaviour described in these files is terribly sad and evil," Archbishop Gomez said in a statement.
"There is no excuse, no explaining away what happened to these children. The priests involved had the duty to be their spiritual fathers and they failed," he said.
A spokesman for a victims' support group said that the removal of the former cardinal and bishop was long overdue and a small step after the church spent years fighting to protect them.
"Hand-slapping Mahony is a nearly meaningless gesture," said David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.
"When he had real power, and abused it horribly, he should have been demoted or disciplined by the church hierarchy, in Rome and in the US. But not a single Catholic cleric anywhere had the courage to even denounce him. Shame on them," he said.
The 12,000 pages of files have been made public more than a week after church records relating to 14 priests were unsealed as part of a separate civil suit, showing that church officials plotted to conceal the molestation from law enforcement as late as 1987.
Those documents showed that Cardinal Mahony, 76, and Bishop Curry, 70, his top adviser, both worked to send priests accused of abuse out of state to shield known molesters in the clergy from law enforcement scrutiny in the 1980s.
They also tried to keep priests sent away to a Church-run paedophile treatment centres from later revealing their misconduct to private therapists who would be obligated to report the crimes to police, the documents showed.
Among the documents released was the personnel file of Fr Jose Ugarte, which contains a 1993 letter to an archdiocese official from a man whose name was redacted and who wrote that Ugarte began sexually abusing him in 1983 when he was 17.
A document in the file says that in 1994, then-archbishop Mahony and Fr Ugarte reached an agreement requiring the Spanish priest to "leave the United States and take up permanent residence in Spain" and not to return without the express consent of the archbishop of Los Angeles for seven years.
The final outcome in that case was not immediately clear.
Patrick Wall, a former priest who is a consultant for plaintiffs and prosecutors in Catholic sex abuse cases, said the documents suggested that Mahony had been trying to avoid a public legal case against the priest.
"The important thing is those kinds of documents have never been produced before," Mr Wall said.
Los Angeles prosecutors have said they will review and evaluate the documents, this batch of which includes 124 personnel files, 82 of which have information on allegations of sexual abuse, according to the archdiocese.
The Los Angeles archdiocese, which serves 4m Catholics, reached a $660m civil settlement in 2007 with more than 500 victims of child molestation in the biggest such agreement of its kind in the nation, and Cardinal Mahony at the time called the abuse "a terrible sin and crime".
Victims' advocates have accused church leaders of continuing to obfuscate their role in the scandal, and cite the newly released confidential letters and memos as a "smoking gun" proving complicity by the Cardinal and others.
A former administrator of Newry Cathedral, the Rev Terence Rafferty, has been sentenced to 100 hours of community service after he pleaded guilty to indecently assaulting a teenage girl over 10 years ago.
Rafferty, Chestnut Grove, Newry, who pleaded guilty at Craigavon Crown Court to four counts of indecent assault when the girl was 16 and he was 38, was also given a three-year probation order. He was banned from working with children or vulnerable adults for 10 years.
After the judgment, Kate Walmsley, chairwoman of Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse, called for the Northern Executive to establish a public inquiry into all cases of clerical child abuse. The Executive's inquiry into institutional child abuse does not take in clerical child abuse.
"This is just the latest in a long line of cases of clerical abuse where victims have been let down by the authorities," Ms Walmsley said.
"Our abuse cases are not covered by the institutional abuse inquiry now under way, but we too deserve the truth. The Executive must hear our call for justice."
The report into the Magdalene laundries is expected to be published next Tuesday afternoon, February 5th. It will be presented to the Cabinet that morning.
The report has been prepared by a committee of officials from five Government departments and chaired by Senator Martin McAleese, assisted by another official from the Department of Foreign Affairs.
The laundries, where an estimated 30,000 single mothers and other women were detained between 1922 and 1996, were operated by four religious congregations. Most of the women have since died. The last such laundry, at Seán MacDermott Street in Dublin, closed in 1996.
On June 14th, 2011, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter announced that the Government was to set up the committee to investigate the State’s role in the Magdalene laundries. The previous week the four religious congregations concerned had agreed to co-operate with any such inquiry.
The Minister’s announcement followed a lengthy campaign by the Justice for Magdalenes group and a report from the United Nations Committee Against Torture, published on June 6th, 2011.
It urged the Government to set up a statutory inquiry into the Magdalene laundries, to bring prosecutions where necessary and provide compensation to surviving women.
It said it was gravely concerned by the failure of the State to “protect girls and women who were involuntarily confined between 1922 and 1996 in the Magdalene laundries”.
In November 2010, the Irish Human Rights Commission called on the Government to establish a statutory inquiry into the treatment of the Magdalene women, echoing similar demands from the Magdalene Survivors Together group.
The 10 laundries were operated by the Sisters of Mercy, the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, the Sisters of Charity and the Good Shepherd Sisters.
Those operated by the Sisters of Mercy were at Galway and Dún Laoghaire; by the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity at Drumcondra and Seán MacDermott Street in Dublin. The Sisters of Charity operated laundries at Donnybrook, Dublin, and Cork; and the Good Shepherd Sisters ran laundries at Limerick, Cork, Waterford and New Ross.