24 hours after the Magdalene Report was delivered to cabinet and I am still engulfed in a deep feeling of unease about the whole thing.
This unease began as I listened to Taoiseach Enda Kenny in the Dail yesterday, telling us he was sorry for various things but unable to say sorry to the women who were incarcerated in these labour camps.  As an Irish citizen I am deeply offended that the leader of our country couldn’t or wouldn’t do that on our behalf. 
The report into the Magdalene Laundries was commissioned by Government to investigate if there was state involvement in the running of these facilities.  The report states categorically that the state was most certainly involved – on various levels.  It states this unambiguously.
The state referred girls and women to these institutions via the courts system, the health system and informally via the gardai.  The state paid subventions to these institutions for various categories of women incarcerated there.  The state inspected these facilities regularly and various state departments were clients of the Magdalene laundries. 
This is the core truth of the McAleese investigation.  Therefore it is crystal clear that the state first and foremost owes these women a sincere and heartfelt apology for their appalling treatment even if it was in “an uncompromising Ireland”, to quote the Taoiseach.    
But according to Kenny and Minister Kathleen Lynch (speaking on last night’s Primetime) before an apology can be issued, the Government needs to be study the detail of the report.  The other details are largely irrelevant and are being used as a smoke screen to hide behind while an assessment is made on the cost of retribution. 
However, there is one assertion made in the report which I find incredible.  Apparently having studied the accounts of the charitable orders that ran these facilities, McAleese says they didn’t make a profit. They were being run on a barely break even basis. 
I am not an accountant and my mathematical ability can be very ropey at times but I fail to understand how a business that was being run with a completely free workforce and some clearly very large contracts couldn’t make a profit.  The laundries were being run by orders of nuns who presumably didn’t individually earn large salaries either.  Where did the money go?  I find it incredulous that the Magdalene Laundries didn’t make a profit.
Is this part of the smoke screen?  We know from previous reports into institutions run by religious orders that they like to hang onto their money… but it is outrageous that they are not held accountable financially to these women now. 
So while many of us are incensed by the absence of an apology, are horrified at hearing the testimony of many courageous women, some of whom were children when they were placed in the care of these factories, our elected representatives and our religious orders are concerned about the money. 
I wonder what it is about the Magdalene Laundries and the story of these women that has been so problematic for repeated governments to deal with. 
The abuse and torture of children in other religious institutions was met head on with a formal apology to the victims in 1999, a statutory inquiry (resulting in the Ryan Report), and the setting up of the redress board to handle compensation to the many thousands of claimants.
But the issue of the laundries was ruled out of this enquiry and it has taken until now for it to be looked at seriously, after governments repeatedly claimed that Magdalene Laundries were privately run and nothing to do with the state.  It is also worth noting that the number of surviving women who are entitled to payment and pension contributions is relatively small – probably no more than 1,000.  And let us remember they have earned this payment.
So why is the case of the Magdalene Laundries so different from the other abuse scandals?  The most obvious difference is that the victims are exclusively women.  And there is of course the link to ‘fallen women’, ‘unmarried mothers’ or Magdalenes as the nuns rechristened them on entry. 
The reaction of government to the outcome of the McAleese report shouldn’t really surprise me.  The continuing stigmatisation of single parents, particularly women in this country lies just below the surface, just below the veneer of political correctness.
It can be very subtle but it is as insulting as Enda Kenny’s assertion that at least the Magdalene women didn’t suffer sexual abuse.  And invariably it is justified by concerns over the cost to the state of these single mothers. 
I was recently chatting to a well educated, business man in his late 50s when a young girl in school uniform walked past.  She was heavily pregnant.  Without missing a beat he commented “another one who will be living off yours and my tax for years”. 
Some months ago I was on a panel discussion on radio outlining the bizarre situation I had experienced as a former single mother having to adopt my own daughter when I later got married.  Having heard my story a fellow panellist was asked for his reaction.  He immediately commented “well I think Barbara should have gone after the ‘natural’ father for maintenance”.  At no point had I made any reference to money at all.  But clearly this man (again well educated professional man) thought that until I married I had been a ‘burden to the state’… which was not the case.. but equally is not the point.  It is the mindset that disturbs me.
The Magdalene Laundries flourished in a deeply patriarchal society that ceded power to an equally misogynistic church.  Whereas we seem to have broken the power of the still misogynistic church, this country has a way to go to rid itself of patriarchy.  Why else have we not legislated for the X case which seeks to safeguard a pregnant woman’s health?  Why else have we had at least two budgets that have seemed to target women unfairly in carrying the burden of austerity?
Is it any wonder I feel such deep unease in my own country?

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Writing and Talking.... on the radio, on the telly and in the papers.


  1. Barbara good blog.

    Response was atrocious and probably more hurtful to these poor souls and their children/families than loss of any money.

    It would have been a public statement of value to them, a boost many cases of fragile self esteem, for a full, fair apology to be given.

    You're kinder than me in your view of the report – I regard it as a complete whitewash.

    From the reading of Point 14 in the first part of the report, my stomach lurched with knowingness of what was to come.

    You've mentioned the profit from the laundries,
    and agree your logic. Would love to see an audit of the records in light of some of the human testimony that seems to have been kicked into touch.

    For me another dimension of the 'math' was more
    concerning, the report parameters cover 74 years, in 10 locations, which had a capacity for 1200 women. The report only accepts there were 10,000 women.

    That averages 135 incarcerated women a year, or 13/14 per unit per year.

    Photographs show many more than that and what on earth would nuns be doing with 1200 capacity yet using little over 10% of it ?

    Would like a forensic audit of the work records per location, correlated with numbers there to do it, within the overall figures proposed by the report. I doubt they'd stack.

    Also felt the report took human suffering and negated it into percentages which adds to the inhumanity.

    There is independent testimony which supports higher figures and with a business head on, this report in it's contradictions, may prove those more accurate than the report itself!!!

    A mass grave had 155 bodies, 20 unregistered, one of those headless ?

    The testimony of the women differs in other reports which are recognised as truthful accounts, so all in all, my take on the numbers is it's a complete WHITEWASH.

  2. We have several common mentalities in this country that I find appalling. Among them is the idea that we all have to “get what we're entitled to” before someone else does. My wife, a wheelchair-user, has faced this. She works and doesn't claim disability benefit. The only benefits she claims are in relation to her car, which given the hilly landscape of our town and the lack of reliable wheelchair access on public transport is a necessity.

    But the same people who say that are the ones judging, as you say, young single mothers, assuming they'll be living off the state until they're married.

    There's a strong undercurrent of lad mentality among Irish people. Our politicians got by for years on doing favours for each other. Old men in suits shaking hands behind closed doors. Never expecting that one day we would ask them to step outside so we could see what was going on. Our leaders talk about us being a progressive country, but even twenty years ago we were clutching on to gender-based prejudices that had been the core of rights movements in the 60s and 70s in the UK and America.

    At what point did we forget to stop hating women?

    The Magdalene Laundries, and similar institutions, were nothing but modern-day slave-owners. No-one has a right to deny an apology (at the very least) for that, least of all on the grounds of “it'll cost too much,” “they never turned a profit” and “at least they weren't raped.”

  3. This report only interviewed 100 women I heard on the radio. I believe the women who are not represented & whom were abused, women whose children were taken from them. What a shameful country we are & how low not to issue an apology for fear of giving money away.

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