State had major role in Magdalene scandal

Around 10,000 women and girls were incarcerated in Magdalene laundries since 1922 and more than a quarter of referrals to these institutions were made or facilitated by the State, a new report has found.

The newly-released report on the Magdalene laundries has revealed 'significant' State involvement in these controversial institutions, including direct State financial assistance.

The average age of entrants was 23, the youngest entrant was nine, while the oldest entrant was 89.

The laundries operated a harsh regime where the women incarcerated in them were forced to do unpaid work. Ten laundries were in operation since 1922, with the last one, in Dublin, closing in 1996.

The Inter-Departmental committee which drew up the report found that there were varying reasons for the women concerned being put in the laundries between 1922 and 1996.

There were no allegations of sexual abuse, some of physical abuse, but many instances of verbal censure, scoldings and humiliating put-downs; essentially, psychological abuse.

The girls experienced a 'harsh and physically demanding work environment'.

The laundries were 'lonely and frightening' places for many of the women. Many women who experienced the laundries spoke of the negative effects of loss of freedom, lack of information on when they could leave and denial of contact with their families.

Women sent to the laundries included referrals from the courts, usually for minor offences; from social services; from industrial and reformatory schools; girls who were by foster parents; girls orphaned or in abusive homes; women with mental or physical disabilities; poor and homeless women and girls placed by their families for reasons including social and moral attitudes.

Many of the women and girls put in the laundries did not know why they were sent there. Former industrial school residents sent to the laundries said the ill-treatment and abuse prevalent in the schools was not experienced in the laundries.

The report says: "None of us can begin to imagine the confusion and fear experienced by these young girls, in many cases little more than children. Not knowing why they were there, feeling abandoned, wondering whether they had done something wrong and not knowing when, if ever, they would get out to and see their families again."

The report found direct State involvement in routes of entry, regulations and inspections of the institutions, funding and financial assistance to the laundries, routes of exit, and death registrations.

Just over one third of the entrants to the laundries stayed there for less than three months, but around 8% were incarcerated for more than 10 years. The average stay was seven months. Around 5% were moved from laundries to psychiatric hospitals, and county and city homes.

Dealing with referrals to the laundries from mother and baby homes, the report says is is likely that in some cases a desire to protect ratepayers from funding public assistance of repeated pregnancies outside marriage may have played a part in some referrals to the Magdalene laundries.

While the laundries were subject to inspections under the Factories Act, until health and safety legislation was passed in the 1980s, health and safety laws that applied prior to that time would be considered inadequate by today's standards, the report states.

A total of 879 deaths occurred in the laundries from 1922, the youngest person to die in a laundry was 15.

The four religious orders that operated the laundries have expressed their regret at the impact of the regime of the laundries.

Magdalene survivors have criticised the Taoiseach for stopping short of issuing a full apology on behalf of the Government for the scandal. Survivors are also looking for back wages and compensation.

The review was chaired by former Senator Dr Martin McAleese.

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