Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Report due on Magdalene laundries

A memorial plaque to victims of the Magdalene Laundries in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin

Survivors of Catholic-run workhouses in Ireland are awaiting an apology from state and church over their forced detention in the institutions.

A report being published on Tuesday is expected to formally reveal the extent of the Irish Government's knowledge, involvement and responsibility for what went on in Magdalene laundries. A committee, chaired by Senator Martin McAleese, who has since resigned from politics, spent 18 months establishing the role it played in the operation of the institutions between 1922 and 1996.

Over the 74 years, thousands of single mothers and other women were put to work in detention, mostly in industrial for-profit laundries run by nuns from four religious congregations. Each woman had her Christian name changed, her surname unused and most have since died.

Campaign group Justice for Magdalenes (JFM) has fought a 10-year campaign for an official apology from the Irish state and Catholic Church, and a distinct compensation scheme for all Magdalene survivors.

James Smith, associate professor at Boston College and member of the JFM advisory board, said: "I hope the Government listen. 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."

Survivors have called for a transparent and non-adversarial compensation process for all to be set up, with pensions, lost wages, health and housing services and redress all accounted for. Mr Smith added: "Magdalene survivors have waited too long for justice and this should not be now burdened with either a complicated legal process or a closed-door policy of compensation."

Religious orders the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity ran laundries at Drumcondra and Sean MacDermott Street in Dublin, the Sisters of Mercy in Galway and Dun Laoghaire, the Religious Sisters of Charity in Donnybrook, Dublin, and Cork, and the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in Limerick, Cork, Waterford and New Ross. The last laundry - Sean MacDermott Street in Dublin's north inner city - closed in 1996.

JFM is aware of at least 988 women buried in laundry plots in cemeteries across Ireland and therefore must have stayed for life. Mass graves have been identified in Mount St Lawrence Cemetery in Limerick, Glasnevin in Dublin, Sunday's Well in Cork and at sites in Galway.

While the report will set out state responsibility, the names and personal information of Magdalene residents and survivors will not be published. Sensitive data seen by the inquiry team will be destroyed or original copies sent back to congregations.

The inquiry into the Magdalene scandal was finally prompted by a report from the United Nations Committee Against Torture in June 2011. It called for prosecutions where necessary and compensation to surviving women.

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