Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen Laundries

This is the link to the Full Report

Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen Laundries

Here is the (as yet unformatted) Introduction.

Introduction by the Independent Chair Senator Martin McAleese

1. There is no single or simple story of the Magdalen Laundries.
2. This Report has established that approximately 10,000 women are known to
have entered a Magdalen Laundry from the foundation of the State in 1922
until the closure of the last Laundry in 1996. Of the cases in which routes of
entry are known, 26.5% were referrals made or facilitated by the State.
3. Many of the women who met with the Committee – and particularly those who
entered the Magdalen Laundries as young girls – experienced the Laundries
as lonely and frightening places. For too long, they have been and have felt
forgotten. Indeed for many of them, an inability to share their story in the
years after their time in a Magdalen Laundry has only added to the confusion
and pain they feel about that period in their lives.
4. The mandate of the Inter-Departmental Committee was to establish the facts
of State involvement with the Magdalen Laundries. These facts are set out in
this Report as the Committee has found them. During this fact-finding
process, the Committee also gained a deeper and broader understanding of
the Magdalen Laundries and the context in which they operated.
Committee has, in this Report, drawn on all available information and sought
to record as comprehensive a picture as possible of the operation of the
Magdalen Laundries.
5. In doing so, the Committee was conscious that the operation of the Magdalen
Laundries since the foundation of the State has, prior to this process, not
been fully understood, as many State records were neither readily available
nor easily accessible and the records of the Religious Congregations were not
available for inspection or analysis.
6. It is understandable that – fuelled by this absence of information – stories
grew to fill these gaps. Indeed, the answers to questions as basic as how
Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee
to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen Laundries
many women and girls passed through the Magdalen Laundries or how long
they remained there have, until the release of this Report, not been known.
Otherwise, the chronicle of the Magdalen Laundries was for many years
characterised primarily by secrecy, silence and shame.
7. The picture that the Committee has been able to put together tells the
following story. The women who were admitted to and worked in the
Magdalen Laundries, whether for short or long periods of time since the
foundation of the State, have for too long felt the social stigma of what was
sometimes cruelly called the ‘fallen woman’.
This is a wholly inaccurate
characterisation, hurtful to them and their families, that is not borne out by the
The Committee found no evidence to support the perception that
unmarried girls had babies there, or that many of the women of the Magdalen
Laundries since 1922 were prostitutes. The reality is much more complex. As
set out in detail in this Report, the women who entered the Magdalen
Laundries were from many backgrounds and the circumstances which led to
their admission were varied:

Some women were referred to the Magdalen Laundries by Courts on
remand, on probation or otherwise on foot of criminal convictions
ranging from vagrancy and larceny to manslaughter and murder.

Some were children, released on licence from Industrial or Reformatory
Schools to the Magdalen Laundries before they reached 16 years of

Some were former Industrial School children referred onwards either
directly from these Schools or during the period of their post-discharge

Some were young girls who had been boarded-out and were rejected
by their foster parents when maintenance payments from the
authorities ceased.

Some were young women over 16 years of age, who had been
orphaned or who were in abusive or neglectful homes (in many of
Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee
to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen Laundries
these cases, their younger siblings would have been committed to
Industrial Schools).

Some were women with either mental or physical disabilities which
rendered them unable to live independently, at a time when supported
living facilities did not exist. Some had psychiatric illnesses and were
referred from psychiatric hospitals.

Some were referred by social services at a time when appropriate
accommodation for teenagers was not available.

Some were simply poor and homeless and either voluntarily sought
shelter in or were referred to the Magdalen Laundries by County
Homes or, later, by social services.

Many girls and women were placed in the Magdalen Laundries by their
own families, for reasons that we may never know or fully understand,
but which included the socio-moral attitudes of the time as well as
familial abuse.
These and a myriad other stories make up the background of the women who
spent some period of time in a Magdalen Laundry between 1922 and the
closure of the last such institution in the State in 1996.
8. The girls and women referred to the Magdalen Laundries by officials in the
criminal justice system, social services, or even from psychiatric hospitals and
County Homes would have been made aware why they were there and – in
the case of court referrals – how long they were required to stay.
9. However, this would not have been the experience of the young girls referred
to the Magdalen Laundries from industrial schools or by non-state agents,
including girls referred by their own families. None of us can begin to imagine
the confusion and fear experienced by these young girls, in many cases little
more than children, on entering the Laundries – 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 and see their
Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee
to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen Laundries
families again. It must have been particularly distressing for those girls who
may have been the victims of abuse in the family, wondering why they were
the ones who were excluded or penalised by being consigned to an institution.
10. To add to this confusion, most found themselves quite alone in what was, by
today’s standards, a harsh and physically demanding work environment. The
psychological impact on these girls was undoubtedly traumatic and lasting. In
meeting some of them, and listening to their stories, the Committee was
impressed by their quiet determination to find answers to the many questions
concerning their lives both before and after entering a Magdalen Laundry.
11. The Committee is aware that there are other women who find it difficult or
even impossible to share their stories of the Magdalen Laundries. Some may
not have even told their husbands or children of that period in their lives, but
instead are carrying those experiences silently in their hearts. Many of these
women will choose never to reveal their “secret”, because of the impact they
fear it might have on their lives. It is the absolute right of every woman to
make this choice for herself and the Committee wants to reassure these
women that their right to privacy is utterly respected throughout this Report.
The Committee nonetheless hopes that the contents of the Report, insofar as
it is able to present the facts and set the record straight, may in some small
way be of help to them.
12. It is also true to say that many of the Sisters of the four Religious
Congregations which operated these institutions – whether they worked in
them or not – have experienced a profound hurt in recent years as the debate
on the Magdalen Laundries gained increasing public prominence. Their
position is that they responded in practical ways as best they could, in
keeping with the charism of their Congregations, to the fraught situations of
the sometimes marginalised girls and women sent to them, by providing them
with shelter, board and work. They state clearly that they did not recruit
women for these institutions. The Committee found no evidence to contradict
this position.
Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee
to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen Laundries
13. In addition to their legal obligation not to disclose the personal data they hold,
the Sisters also continue to feel a strong moral responsibility to protect the
privacy of the women who passed through their doors.
The Committee
believes that it is for this reason, and not for secrecy or self-interest, that their
archives, which were so willingly opened to this Committee, have not been
opened more broadly to researchers or the general public. The Sisters have,
however, consistently made available all the personal records they hold
directly to the women concerned or, in the case of deceased women, to their
next of kin, when requested, and have confirmed to the Committee their
intention to continue to do so in the future.
14. The Congregations informed the Committee that this commitment to ensure
anonymity and to protect privacy was also the reason why, in some but not all
of the Magdalen Laundries, women were given a “House” or “Class” name
which was used instead of their birth name. Many of the women who met the
Committee, however, found this practice deeply upsetting and at the time, felt
as though their identity was being erased. The Congregations have expressed
to the Committee their regret that women who were in their care hold this or
other painful memories.
15. This Report examines five main areas in which there was possible State
involvement with the Magdalen Laundries. In each case, the Report sets out
both the policy and practice as the Committee has found them, as well as the
legislative basis for State action (where applicable). The five main areas are:
– Routes by which girls and women entered the Laundries;
– State inspections of the Laundries;
– State funding of and financial assistance to the Laundries;
– Routes by which girls and women left the Laundries;
– Death registration, burials and exhumations.
In each of these areas, the Committee found evidence of direct State
Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee
to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen Laundries
16. The Committee’s findings regarding each of these areas are outlined in the
Executive Summary and detailed in the Report, as are a number of other
miscellaneous areas of State involvement including issues relating to electoral
registration, insurability of employment, provision in relation to rationing during
the Emergency, and industrial surveys under the Census of Distribution and
17. In the course of the Committee’s work, material was also uncovered that is
central to answering many frequently arising questions concerning the
Magdalen Laundries. The Committee is aware that some of this material is,
strictly speaking, outside its core remit. However, while mindful of its Terms
of Reference, the Committee considered these issues to be consequential on
its principal findings and decided, in the public interest, to include these
additional findings in a separate section of the Report (Part IV), with relevant
statistics contained in the body of the Report at Part II.
18. The material in these sections of the Report and in particular the statistical
analysis may also contribute to future historical study and research, without in
any way breaching the trust or privacy of the women referred to. It is also
likely to be of considerable interest to the women, their families and the wider
public. These findings, summarised below, may challenge some common
Background of the women who entered the Magdalen Laundries:
Without identifying any person, the profiles of the women who entered
the Magdalen Laundries (including those who were not referred by the
State or State agents) are set out in some detail in the Report. These
profiles include details on the geographical origin of these women
(those who came from rural or urban backgrounds); parental
background (whether one or both parents were deceased) and those
who had been previously institutionalised.
There is a perception that the vast majority of women who entered the
Laundries spent the rest of their lives there – in fact, as set out in this
Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee
to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen Laundries
Report, the majority (61%) spent less than one year there. This and
other information is contained in these profiles, including information on
the average age on entry, average duration of stay, as well as the
minority of women who remained in the Magdalen Laundries until their
Conditions in the Laundries:
The Report also addresses the question of the conditions experienced
by and the treatment of women in the Laundries, including the
questions of sexual abuse, physical abuse and verbal or psychological
abuse. This is a particularly sensitive and difficult issue to deal with,
made more difficult by the very small sample of women available and in
a position to share their experiences with the Committee.
The Committee does not make findings on this issue. Rather, the
Report records the stories shared with the Committee by these women,
as well as the medical reports and recollections of General Medical
Practitioners who served the Laundries in more recent times and
others who were closely associated with the operation of the
No woman referred to a Magdalen Laundry on foot of a criminal
conviction made contact with the Committee. Instead, the majority of
the small number of women who engaged with the Committee had
been admitted to the Laundries either by a non-state route of referral
or, most common of all, following time in an Industrial School.
Many of these women drew a clear distinction between their treatment
in Industrial Schools and their experience in the Magdalen Laundries.
They made no allegations of sexual abuse against any of the Sisters,
but one allegation was made against another woman. The vast majority
also told the Committee that the ill-treatment, physical punishment and
abuse that was prevalent in the Industrial School system was not
something they experienced in the Magdalen Laundries. However, the
Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee
to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen Laundries
majority of women described the atmosphere in the Laundries as cold,
with a rigid and uncompromising regime of physically demanding work
and prayer, with many instances of verbal censure, scoldings or even
humiliating put-downs.
In that regard, some women and others associated with the operation
of the Magdalen Laundries told the Committee that the atmosphere
“softened” in more recent decades and particularly after the second
Vatican Council (1962-1965).
Some of the women the Committee met stated clearly that the
Laundries were their only refuge in times of great personal difficulty.
Others spoke of their real sense of being exploited.
But the large
majority of women who engaged with the Committee and especially
those who had previously been in Industrial Schools spoke of the deep
hurt they felt due to their loss of freedom, the fact that they were not
informed why they were there, lack of information on when they would
be allowed to leave, and denial of contact with the outside world,
particularly family and friends.
Financial viability of the Magdalen Laundries:
The issue of the financial viability of the Magdalen Laundries is also
addressed. There have been suggestions that the Laundries were
highly profitable institutions. The evidence identified by the Committee
and analysis of the financial records of the Magdalen Laundries during
various periods of their operation indicate that this was not the case.
The Laundries operated for the most part on a subsistence or close to
break-even basis rather than on a commercial or highly profitable
basis. The financial accounts tend to support the fact that, what came
to be known as the Magdalen Laundries, were historically established
as refuges, homes or asylums for marginalised women and girls. The
subsequent establishment of the Laundries was for the purposes of
financially supporting and maintaining them.
Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee
to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen Laundries
19. The members of the Committee approached their work in a committed and
professional manner and both they and their Departmental colleagues are due
thanks and credit for their considerable efforts. Searching for official records
and materials relating to the Magdalen Laundries presented many problems.
Information relevant to the Committee’s work was contained in a very wide
variety of records across many bodies, agencies and individuals. Much of the
material held by the State was not archived or catalogued. In this age of
instant online searches, it is easy to forget that access to digitised historic
material is the exception rather than the rule. Accordingly and to complete
their work, members of the Committee and their Departmental colleagues
hand-searched paper archives in their Departments, National Archives, the
National Library; explored boxes of uncatalogued materials and indeed
physically searched Departmental basements in an attempt to discover any
misplaced files and folders.
Similar detailed searches were conducted in
State agencies and bodies. Given the significant efforts made to gather these
scattered files and records, the Committee decided to recommend that copies
of all official records identified should be preserved as a distinct archive in the
Department of An Taoiseach.
20. The Committee wishes to acknowledge with gratitude the tremendous
contribution to its work and to the preparation and drafting of this Report by
Nuala Ní Mhuircheartaigh. Her work ethic and commitment were outstanding.
21. A large variety of private archives were voluntarily made available to the
Committee and it is important to acknowledge that without them the work of
the Committee would have proved very difficult, if not impossible, to
accomplish. In particular and of critical importance to the progress of the
Committee’s work is the fact that the four Religious Congregations – the
Sisters of the Good Shepherd, the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, the
Religious Sisters of Charity, and the Sisters of Mercy – voluntarily opened all
their records to inspection and analysis and made themselves available at all
times to provide the Committee with the fullest information they could.
Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee
to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen Laundries
22. In conducting its work, the Committee also relied heavily on the voluntary co-
operation and goodwill of many individuals and organisations. The help and
support offered by the Central Statistics Office was invaluable to the process
and the assistance offered by private archives, in particular by the Dublin
Diocesan Archive and organisations such as the Irish Society for the
Prevention of Cruelty to Children, was significant.
23. A number of former residents of the Magdalen Laundries shared their
experiences with the Committee as members of representative and advocacy
groups (53), while others did so directly in their own right as individuals (7).
Some of these women shared their stories on a strictly confidential basis. A
valuable contribution was also made by women (58) who are currently
resident in nursing homes under the care of the Religious Congregations.
24. The stories shared with the Committee by these women provided invaluable
insights into the operation of the Laundries and helped the Committee greatly
in preparing this Report. The majority of them expressed the fact that they
had, for many years, felt forgotten and not believed. This took great courage
and the Committee acknowledges its indebtedness to them for their
contributions and for the dignified way in which they were presented.
25. The representative groups Irish Women’s Survivors Network UK and
Magdalen Survivors
Together and the advocacy group Justice for
Magdalenes also made a significant contribution to the work of the
From the outset, they cooperated fully with the Committee,
sharing their research, analysis and views.
26. The work of the Committee commenced in July 2011 and took eighteen
months in total to complete. The initial preparatory work was carried out within
six months, while the substantive research, investigation and drafting of the
Final Report was concluded in a further twelve months. No member of the
Committee received a salary or stipend in relation to its work. The only direct
costs arose from travelling expenses and room hire for meetings.
costs amounted to € 11,146.06.
Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee
to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen Laundries
27. The Committee has produced a substantive and detailed Report, identifying
hitherto unknown facts of State involvement with the Magdalen Laundries and
clarifying ancillary matters more broadly in the public interest. It is possible
that some more detail could be added with more time, but the Committee is of
the view that such additional time or probing would, at best, add only
marginally to the facts already clearly and unambiguously established in this
28. In light of the Committee’s mandate, there is an understandable focus in this
Report on the cases of State referral to the Magdalen Laundries, in particular
Criminal Justice System and Industrial and Reformatory Schools referrals.
The Committee urges a strong word of caution against generalisations in this
respect. An unforgivable injustice would be done to the facts and complexity
of the story – and more importantly to the women concerned – if public
discourse was to simply replace one label with another, by shifting the
terminology from that of the ‘fallen’ to the ‘criminal’ woman. Respect for the
complexity and sensitivity of this story means that any new caricatures of the
women who spent time in Magdalen Laundries, or indeed of the Religious
Congregations who operated them, must be avoided.
29. The Committee found significant State involvement with the Magdalen
Laundries. Its findings in many cases may also encourage a review of some
perceptions about these institutions and the women who were admitted to and
worked in them. The Committee hopes that the facts established for the first
time by its work, and set out in this Report, will contribute to a more complete,
accurate and rounded understanding of these issues. Most important of all,
the Committee hopes that this Report will be a real step in bringing healing
and peace of mind to all concerned, most especially the women whose lived
experience of the Magdalen Laundries had a profound and enduring negative
effect on their lives.

Senator Martin McAleese
Independent Chair

  1. I note that Martin McAleese has headed for sanctuary to the Vatican now.

    By their actions shall ye know them.

    His actions speak volumes.

  2. The Committee found no evidence to support the perception that
    unmarried girls had babies there????????????????

    It is all about Perception, their perception, not the perception of the actual beings living and feeling the experience.

    Enough to make any human beings blood boil reading “their perception”

    And how complicated they love to make it- so patriarchal.

    It is so simple- women and girls were seen as Eve ill Eves in Eire and still are in secret courts run by the Roman church- with their Red Mass yearly to show their control over our court corporations.

    All together now boys- sure they were only wombmen- second class breeders for the church and state.

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