Bruce Arnold

Irish Independent, Monday 11 February 2013

The Martin McAleese Report on the Magdalen Laundries is a flawed document. It is not based on the best evidence. Its focus is inappropriately narrow. Its researches, despite claims of prodigious hunting through the enormous ocean of State records, missed obvious and important information about the Magdalene Laundries.

Its terms of reference were wrong and have been dishonestly represented to the Irish people. The Government issued what can only be described as ‘a mandate both broad and narrow’. The narrow bit was “to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen Laundries”. This was primitive and clumsy. Its objective seems to have been to find out where the State was at risk from legal pursuit.

The Committee broadened this into ‘a Narrative Report’ on the laundries into which they threw every possible document, many of which were absurd for the task in hand.

For example, what are Tomas Derrig’s ‘Rules for the Industrial Schools’ doing as a grubby photocopy Appendix version for St George’s Industrial School in Limerick, signed but not dated by the Minister? This is published without any context. There is no reference to the inexcusably broad ignoring of the rules by Derrig, one of the State’s worst Ministers for Education. There is an absence of reference to later change made by District Justice Eileen Kennedy in silently eliminating the punishment rule when she republished this woefully betrayed document? The document is a standard part of abuse and institutional ill-treatment cover-up of recent years.

Industrial School rules had nothing to do with the Laundry Girls. They were lucky to get a faint whiff of education as they lifted their heads from the steaming cauldrons of filthy clothing that dominated their lives?

These and many other questions should have been faced and answered by the man responsible for the Report, Senator McAleese. Yet he faced no questions at all and left for Rome immediately after publication of the Report.

The Report is very long. In my view it is jaundiced by a creaking sanctimonious tone, unctuous towards the Congregations, whose evidence is treated with a humble respect I find laughable. The committee and Martin McAleese seem to believe, like a pack of gobdaws, that the laundries were run in such a way that they at best broke even, but mostly lost money, all in a righteous cause.

Can anyone in their right mind believe that, for fifty years, these congregations did their baleful work among the huge baskets of dirty linen in order to break even?

Have we not learnt, over the last fifteen years, how these and many other supposedly Christian care-merchants misrepresented what they did while milking the State of grants for the industrial schools, starving the children, depriving them of their educational due, and then directing the generous cash grants in other directions beneficial to themselves?

The Report had a counter-productive effect when published. Its supposedly wholesome achievement was acclaimed. All eyes turned to Enda Kenny demanding an Apology. Had we learnt nothing from Bertie Ahern’s infamous Apology?

Wisely, since he had not read it – nor, I suspect had more than a couple of Government members (Joan Burton one of them) dipped into it – he declined. The raging media descended on him instead of on Senator McAleese, whose profile quickly became very small and then vanished. Enda Kenny, in a classic example of his commendable sang-froid, ignored the issue.

The publication of the Report is a totally inappropriate occasion for apology to Magdalane Laundry victims. It was improper of the Committee to make the Congregations the source of information about inmates. What Mr McAleese should have done was to make the census the basic record and extrapolate from it the true narrative of the lives of the laundry women.

The Central Statistics Office was represented on the committee by four officials. Furthermore, and in law the Director General, in consultation with the Taoiseach, could have made the information available. Mr McAleese and his committee should have gone outside the very narrow range of laundry women still in the care of the Congregations, or close to them and sought a far wider coverage.

However, they were not finding out about the laundry girls. They were there to ‘establish the facts of State involvement’ which would ultimately assist in determining the State’s legal exposure and allow steps to be taken to protect State interests.

One specific and telling example of statistical short-comings concerns two large Magdalene Laundry establishments, in Galway and Dun Laoghaire, through the ‘unexplained exclusion of the two Magdalen Laundries operated by the Sisters of Mercy.’ It seems the Sisters could not find the books.

The census would have listed all the inmates at ten-year and later at five-year intervals. The Report therefore admits to giving wrong figures. Overall, the census would have covered the full period covered by the Report, giving control to the Committee and not the Congregations. What a wonderful source the census would have been. Pity it was totally ignored.

After fifteen years of writing on this subject I have learnt to distrust religious organizations involved in the care of children or of girls and women. I have repeatedly proposed Church organizations be confronted by the challenge of truth and by forensic interrogation. Neither is to be found in the Report.

Enda Kenny is a wise man. He has a remarkable ability to hold his fire and dig his heels in when, as on this occasion, he was put under enormous pressure by the media and, unfortunately, by the Justice for the Magdalenes leadership. They should have known better. They made a big mistake by adding to that pressure. And so the cry went up ‘Apologise! Apologise! Apologise!’

This Report is seriously not the occasion for Apology. It would be tantamount to the Head of Government apologizing to the Congregations for being distrusted, or to the public servants we are meant to believe stood by the victims, protecting and caring for them with all their might and main.

Believe that and you, my readers, will believe anything.

Meanwhile, I recommend that the Taoiseach extend his pause about the Apology and look again at Martin McAleese’s manufactured narrative and at his bevy of obliging State assistants who have failed to establish the full facts but have produced, with the aid of the Congregations, an intriguing new version of the carefully monitored lives of the laundry women.