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.




  1. Christina says:

    Well said, Mr. Arnold.

    The only part of the McAleese Report that showed that Mr. McAleese had a heart and mind capable of emotion was when he spoke of his concern for the ‘profound hurt’ caused to religious congregations by the investigation. I immediately started to think that perhaps the man didn’t quite understand the job he was supposed to be doing (and which he did for free, that should have raised a red flag straight away).

    To say that there was no physical abuse in those laundries is an insult to every girl and woman who stood in one of those laundry rooms. Taking away someone’s freedom, forcing them to work long hours, forcing them to stand for long hours, controlling when they wake, when they sleep, when and what they eat, when they pray, when they go to the bathroom is physical abuse. And I’m fairly certain that the brutes controlling these women were no better than the brutes who made my life a misery so I am certain that some of the women were beaten too, that it is likely that some died because the nuns wouldn’t get them medical treatment (hence no death certificates), that some died with broken hearts and now lay in mass graves, nameless.

    I sincerely hope that Enda Kenny offers the women a real and genuine apology tomorrow. I was so disappointed in him last week but I think everyone could see that even the man himself had trouble believing the nonsense that was spouting from his mouth.

  2. Raymond says:

    With regard to the Rome story – the abdication of a Pope, for the first time in 600 years “having duly inspected his Conscience”, please note that:

    The film MEA MAXIMA CULPA / SILENCE IN THE HOUSE OF GOD is going on general release in Irish cinemas next Friday, 22 February. This film was created “while standing on our Hero Mary Raftery’s shoulders”. It should be made Compulsory Viewing to every single person in Ireland over the age of 15. The government should subsidize this project and offer it to the population for free. It should be shown in Schools. And repeatedly so to the die-hards, ad nauseam, till their heart warms to the suffering of ALL THE VICTIMS. You will have no problem in recognizing the main characters in the story (on the bad side of course) and identify them with our very OWN here in Ireland: from Priest, Bishop to Cardinal, via the Archbishop.

    On this last point, Mea Maxima Culpa could be likened on all fronts to the Irish saga. It also shows how, in my opinion, the live recording and showing of the Victims own stories is the best MEMORIAL and TRIBUTE to the VICTIMS and SURVIVORS, as Kevin Annett’s film Unrepentant has already shown (on youtube).

    Let everybody see for him/and herself WHY Pope Benedict has resigned.

  3. pauline says:

    mong the many rumeurs about rome this one seem right. The papacy want to legalise the gift made by mussilini. Since he was a well known war criminal the vatican state want to get it done quickly. wise if too many questions are asked the whole thing could be cancelled

  4. Raymond says:

    Thank you Bruce Arnold for dissecting the Report and exposing the facts and the truth.

    And thank you for your unflinching stance in the face of the terrible injustices of our society. We need you more than ever, especially now that Mary Raftery is no longer with us.

    With regards to Rome (no, not the McAleese, but the other current story): it is hard to believe that the media are talking about the same man we have seen and heard preside over the calamities coming from the Catholic Church.

  5. mary Fernströmfern says:

    How could anyone suggest that abuse didn’t occur in the reformatory institutions of Ireland. It was the same type of suffering the nuns inflicted on the Children of industrial schools. We who weren’t sent to the laundries were sent as slaves to work in babys homes in pretence that we got an education. It was only futher use of us between different orders of nuns.

    Of course they made o huge furtune at our expence.

  6. frank O'Shea says:

    McAleese is fully ensconced in the ranks of the ruling class. He did as instructed and will doubtless reap the promised reward.
    That the report left out so much is minimally infuriating but grossly disgusting because so much was dismissed. (terms of reference ensuring exclusion; so fuck that for an excuse) Can you imagine the ruling class having an actual Magdalene doing the report?
    Can you just imagine?
    Point made – I hope.

  7. jack says:

    guilty as charged

  8. pauline says:

    Contributions must be one of the tax evasion ways.

  9. pauline says:

    The involvment of the state would have taken five minutes on a computer. The delays and the promesses of a full report turned into a watered down situation for the victime. Where did thay get all the money it took to become the richest property owners in the country. If it wasent the industriel schools and the laundrys then how!!!!!!.

  10. Evin says:

    How much did this cost?