Bruce Arnold

Irish Independent, Wednesday, 6 February 2013

The findings by Senator Martin McAleese are a welcome if predictable outcome to an impressively swift and efficient investigation of material that has become well known to all of us over the past decade. And no one could take issue with his wish that the Report will bring “healing and peace of mind” to those women whose lives were mostly wrecked by their incarceration in one or other of these hideously cruel and vicious places.

That being said, it must also be recognized that the putting right of these innumerable wrongs comes too late for a vast number of the victims who endured the Magdalene Laundries. The system was worse than the industrial schools where the inmates, who were prisoners, were subject to the law. The young people sent to them served their time and were released at the end of their term imposed by the courts. The Magdalenes had no terminal date to their ‘sentences’ and many spent their lives in slave labour.

The tragedy lies in the fact that the Magdalene Laundry system was fully known about from the birth of the State. Its operation has been acknowledged in various ways covered by Senator McAleese’s Report. Beyond his findings, however, was a foolproof State system contained in the country’s census of population. This recorded all the inmates of Magdalene Laundries throughout the country and it did of Industrial School inmates.

The first 1911 census was pre-independence but is now of the utmost importance since it has been published and can be consulted on line. It is the first census to be published. It will be fifteen years before the next (for 1926, the State’s first) is published.

The 1911 census lists, for example, all the inmates of the High Park Magdalene Laundry, 166 women whose ages vary from 15 to 70, whose untold misery is masked by details of whether they were single, married or widowed, whether they had children and whether the children were alive or dead. Their place of birth is listed. They come from all over Ireland though more from Dublin. They are, without exception, described as ‘Dom,’ for their occupation as a ‘domestic servant’ concealing the primitive washing of soldiers underwear and hospital linen.

Similar listings for similar institutions occur throughout Ireland and the first national census was taken in 1926 when the laundry service was at full steam. The holding of the national census followed in 1926, 1936, 1946, 1951, 1956, 1961, 1966, 1971, 1979 (the census due in 1976 was cancelled as an economy measure), 1981, 1986, 1991, 1996, 2002 and 2006.

Until the system was amended in 1993 control of the census was exercised by the Minister for Industry and Commerce and he had wide powers over the records collected. Did he wonder why High Park in Drumcondra needed 166 domestics and how much they were paid? Or did he know, along with most adults in the country, that it and similar places were commercial enterprises paying no taxes on their profit and giving over no income to their ‘employees’?

Of course he did. And he did nothing. Just as successive Ministers for Education did nothing about the Industrial Schools for which they was responsible, though they had full records. Not until 2027 will we have knowledge of the Magdalene Laundries as they had evolved in size and profitability when the next census was taken, in 1926. But those who ran the country knew it all and did nothing.

The most lamentable period of all, for the suffering victims of the laundry system, was the period between 1999, when Bertie Ahern made his hypocritical speech of so-called ‘Apology’ to the victims of the Industrial School system, and today, when a very belated measure of closure has come as a result of Martin McAleese’s Report.

What does it make us think of Mr. Batt O’Keeffe, the Fianna Fail Minister for Education and Science, rejecting the idea of an apology for women who had spent their lives in slavery, and were beaten, starved, had their heads shaved as punishment, their identity stripped from them, their names changed, and were kept in captivity for years longer than the industrial school victims?

What do we make of Seán Aylward, the former Secretary General of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, telling the UN Committee Against Torture that the women ‘volunteered’ to give up their freedom and wash dirty clothes for all their lives under the harsh rule of nuns devoted to lucrative laundry work which enhanced the wealth of the religious order?



  1. robert says:

    if this Government does not see this as it is then they do not deserve to run this Country, there is a Government that rules its people and a Government that leads it’s people, do we still have rulers and no leaders to a healthy country?
    People have suffered all their lives due to the captivity of misconduct by the Religious, and the Government have still turned a blind eye to it all.
    It was the Religious that are proven to be fraudster and this was financed and allowed by the Government.
    What support was there in place to help children and women cope with their lives? what system was set up to assist the poorest or the poor? NOTHING thats what, why because it means the rich would have to pay. If a Government was doing it’s job in the first place women and children of the future of Ireland back then would have led better lives.

  2. pauline says:

    Well so thay werent abused in the laundrys. Well having thier babys taken away by force could have killed them. Many of these women were breasfeeding. Suddenly finding themselves alone with sore breasts must have been painfull.if measured by tables well i would say thats 13 out of ten

  3. Portia says:

    Bruce always puts the truth so well.

    Reading the above is like a mirror truth from Nazi Germany.

    Everyone in Ireland knew the truth of the Magdalene institutions.

    Sure we were threatened as children with being sent there daily for misbehaving.

    The collective fear was unspeakable.

    So for anyone in government to say people did not know is an untruth.

    In a patriarchal society like Ireland-women and children were just second class chattels, dehumanized, and in dehumanizing process we know it allows for all kinds of crimes under the heading of GENOCIDE.

    That dehumanization of the so called “fallen wombmen” was what allowed for the crimes committed.

  4. frank o'shea says:

    Aylward I believe was well versed in the art of lying, if it could be called an art. I knew him only on a very peripheral level during the height of his powers in his role as head of the Irish Prison Service. His farewell letter to his colleagues is an example of one man’s ability to lie to himself. I think that letter is on the interweb somewhere.
    I grew up beside a Magdalene laundry in catholic Ireland. The stories I could tell have been told. I trust God but I cannot abide the hierarchy of the catholic church.
    The scum in the Vatican should be hung or drowned, especially the scumbag in the red Stefanelli’s.
    But they will face their Maker as beggars too.
    Find peace as best you can people and trust just a little in Providence; if you can.

  5. kathleen hawkins says:

    When will people wake up to the church of Rome being nothing more than a money making organisation. Also the Irish government can be filled with nothing more than women haters.
    The rc church should be made bankrupt for the abuse of these women and for all the money making rackets they are involved in.
    If all Catholics had the balls to stand together the church could be destroyed. If ever there was a church of Satan, this would be it.

  6. Mary Collins says:

    O yes it was harsh my mum did not have her hair shaved of she always had shoulder length hair she was not sexually abused, she was not physical abused. But she was not tortured like I was in the industrial school over my mum. But she was locked away she shouted and screamed for her children they did drug her up to shut her up and locked her in her room. They did make her work hard for her keep. They never paid her a penny in wages. They deprived her all her human rights and stole her children from her. They did put her in a mass grave without informing her family who were living. My mum sister and whole family suffered and no amount of wages our justice will heal that pain.These women were not fallen women they were locked away because they were different.What a shame

  7. pauline says:

    In the papers i read about the answers from the church. Its was as if thay imagined the place. listening to the fishing forcast in silence while making beads was discribed as a way of keeping us all occupied. what chores in a family home means that children were waxing the floors late at night. it was yards and yards to clean. The answers in the magdelaine report sound like the same kind of thing.if those places hadent been making a profit what were thay there for. so many of the inmates spent thier lives there. it dident cost much for thier upkeep. that bit is really disgusting. Thay never went to a dance hall or a park or chatted in freedom. its horrable that the guilt of the religous orders seem to matter more than thier lives. so the nuns are upset now isint that awfull.