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Religious respond to report on Magdalene Laundries

By editor - 05 February, 2013

The Inter-Departmental Committee Investigating State Involvement with the Magdalene Laundries, with independent chair Senator Martin McAleese, published its report yesterday (5th February 2013). It was welcomed by Justice for Magdalenes which is comprised of survivors and their family members, and other concerned people.

“Justice for Magdalenes welcomes both Senator Martin McAleese’s central findings that the State was directly and fundamentally involved in the Magdalene Laundry Institutions and also his wish that his Report brings ‘healing and peace of mind to all concerned, most especially the women whose lived experience of the Magdalene Laundries had a profound and enduring negative effect on their lives’,” the organisation said in an initial statement. It called for apologies from the Government and the religious congregations involved. It also called for compensation including payment for work done and pensions.

Senator Martin McAleese’s 1,000-page report took 18 months to complete and looks at the State’s involvement with the institutions and the religious congregations that operated them. The committee was set up in June 2011 and the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, the Religious Sisters Charity, the Sisters of Mercy and the Good Shepherd Sisters participated in the inquiry.

CORI, which represents religious in Ireland, issued a statement based on a quick overview of the detailed report. The body stated it had not been directly involved in the Magdalene issue but added: (the report) provides us with a valuable insight into all aspects of this entire societal issue and should contribute to greater clarity and understanding. We sincerely hope that the publication of this report can lead to reconciliation and healing for all involved in this very complex matter.”

The statement noted that according to the report the Magdalene Homes issue was and is not just about religious, but also involved many other strands of Irish society. “It represents a sad, dark and complex story, especially for the women involved, many of whom were rejected, isolated and hurt by a system, which failed to respond with empathy to their various needs.”

They quote Dr McAleese’s statement about the Religious Congregations involved: “Their position is that they responded in practical ways as best they could, in keeping with the charism of their congregations, to the fraught situations of the sometimes marginalised girls and women sent to them, by providing them with shelter, board and work. They state clearly that they did not recruit women for these institutions. The committee found no evidence to contradict this position.” The report also states that, the laundries operated “for the most part on a subsistence or close to break even basis.”

The statement concludes: “It is important that we, as religious, acknowledge the part we played in the entire issue and it is also important that a system which had the support of many sectors of our society is not now presented as a matter only for religious – if the necessary healing and reconciliation is to be found”.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he was sorry that the stigma attached to the women in the laundries was not removed before now. He also apologised for the length of time it had taken for a government to carry out a report into the institutions and said he was sorry that the women lived “in that kind of environment”. He promised a full Dáil debate on the report in two weeks time.

Amnesty International Ireland called on the State to accept its role in the human rights abuses that occurred at the Magdalene Laundries and to give immediate apology to the victims and arrange for reparations to be paid.

The Religious Sisters of Charity welcomed the report and stated: “We apologise unreservedly to any woman who experienced hurt while in our care. In good faith we provided refuge for women at our Magdalene Homes in Donnybrook and Peacock Lane.”

They added that they co-operated fully with Senator McAleese and his Committee in the preparation of the report and made available all archival material. Each individual woman, who requests, will be welcomed and provided with any information on file regarding her stay.

The Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy stated that for the women who spent time in Magdalene Homes; “We hope this Report brings clarity, greater understanding and healing.”

In their statement they wrote that two Magdalene Homes, at Dun Laoghaire and Galway were already in operation before coming under the Sisters care.

“We fully acknowledge and are saddened by the limitations of the care which could be provided in these Homes. Their institutional setting was far removed from the response considered appropriate to such needs today. We wish that we could have done more and that it could have been different. It is regrettable that the Magdalene Homes had to exist at all,” they write in the statement.

They invite anyone who spent time in either Dun Laoghaire or Galway to meet with the sisters if they wish.

By Ann Marie Foley