Home > Commentary, Human Rights in the News > Developments on the Magdalen Laundries Front

Developments on the Magdalen Laundries Front

The campaign for redress and reparations for residents of the Magadalen laundies appears to be gathering momentum. Sunday saw former residents of Magdalen Laundries and their supporters hold a march, calling for compensation from the Government and religious institutions for the abuse they suffered.

Todays Irish Times reports that Minister for Education Batt O’Keeffe has apologised for using the word “employees” to describe women who had been resident in Magdalen laundries throughout Ireland up to the mid-1990s.

In a letter to Dublin South TD Tom Kitt he expressed deep regret for “any offence caused by my use of the term ‘employees’ when referring to these women”. He added: “I fully acknowledge that the word ‘workers’ would have been more appropriate.”

Leaving aside the question of whether ‘workers’ is, in fact, an appropriate term for the residents of the laundries, the Minister has not, apparently changed his views expressed in his previous letter to TD Kitt. These include the assertion that the former residents of the laundries were not eligible for compensation from the Residential Institutions Redress Board as the “[t]he Magdalen laundries were privately-owned and operated establishments which did not come within the responsibility of the State.” Nor did he refute his previous comment that “[t]he State did not refer individuals to the Magdalen laundries nor was it complicit in referring individuals to them.”

This news follows on from yesterday’s report in the same paper that Justice for Magdalenes wrote to Taoiseach Brian Cowen last week demanding that the State introduce legislation for a distinct redress scheme for survivors.

The author of the letter, Dr. James Smith said that the group recognised “that the nature of the State’s relationship to the laundries was different from its relationship with residential institutions.” He noted that “the only Magdalene survivors covered by the Redress Act are those young girls transferred from a residential institution (eg industrial or reformatory school) while still in State care”.

The letter goes on to discuss the constitutional obligations of the state to all children:

‘Many other Irish children, however, were abandoned to the Magdalene laundries, many of them abandoned by their families. We assert that the State did have an obligation to provide for and protect these children from institutional child abuse. They were always Irish citizens. They were forcibly engaged in unpaid child labor. The Constitution governed the State’s obligation to ensure that they receive a “certain minimum education” (Art. 42, sec. 3, sub. 2). It also asserts the State’s right to “supply the place of the parents” in cases where parents “fail in their duty towards their children” (Art. 42, sec. 5). The means by which a child ended up in a laundry— whether she was abandoned by a family member or transferred from an industrial school—is immaterial as this did not obviate the State’s constitutional obligation to protect her. That surely is what is meant by “cherishing all of the children of the nation equally.” We ask that you bring
this matter to the attention of the Minister for Children and request clarification as to the State’s obligation toward these children.’

The letter also argues powerfully that the State did refer individuals to Magdalene laundries and that it was complicit in referring individuals to them. Key points include:

  • The State’s judicial system routinely referred women to the Magdalene laundries.
  • The full awareness of the Department of Justice of the practice.
  • The fact that the Criminal Justice Act, 1960 provided for the use of this particular Magdalene laundry as a remand home for young women (sec. 9, sub 1). 
  • The same Act empowered the Minister for Finance to pay a capitation grant for women so-referred (sec. 14).

With a growing evidence base and survivors and their supporters becoming ever-more vocal and assertive, the case against the State is strengthening. It is to be hoped (though seems hardly to be expected) that the State will respond in an appropriate, victim-centric way.

This note follows on from a previous post on this issue.

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  1. October 9, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    Thank you for posting this. We urge all global citizens concerned with human rights to continue to put pressure on Minister O’Keeffe and other member of the Irish government and Church. They must recognize that they were complicit in remanding women to Laundries and at minimum, that they should’ve been responsible to insure their rights as children and even adults were not abrogated. Many thanks for keeping this in the public eye.

  1. December 16, 2009 at 10:58 am
  2. February 3, 2010 at 7:43 am

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