Saturday June 25 2011

David Quinn’s analysis of the Magdalene Laundries adds to the public’s confusion about these institutions (“Magdalene inquiry must lift veil and uncloak anti-Catholic myths,” June 17, 2011).

He is factually incorrect when he states that the Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) sent its published Assessment to the UN Committee Against Torture (UNCAT).

The UNCAT recommendation came on foot of a submission by Justice for Magdalenes (JFM), the survivor advocacy group.

Mr Quinn is correct in his assertion that there is nothing essentially Irish or Catholic about these institutions.

Nevertheless Ireland’s Catholic Magdalene institutions retained at least three distinct characteristics, foremost of which was their longevity — the last one closed its doors in October 1996.

Secondly, the nature of these institutions changed at the turn of the 20th Century — formerly they were rehabilitative and oftentimes short-term refuges; latterly they became more punitive on the one hand and often long-term and life-long places of confinement.

Thirdly, the population of women entering the Laundries became ever more diverse after 1922 as the nuns sought to secure a workforce for their commercial, for-profit enterprises.

This unpaid workforce included unmarried mothers, women found guilty of crimes by the courts, young girls transferred from industrial and reformatory schools, women on remand and on probation, women referred to as “mental defectives” and “simpletons,” and so-called “voluntary” committals brought to the laundries by family members, the local priest, a social worker, the local garda, an employer, or teacher.

Finally, myths about the laundries feed off the religious orders’ refusal to provide access to post-1900 records. Because there can be no official history, there are no answers to important questions.

These facts we do know: the 1901 and 1911 census data reveals that there were 912 and 1,094 women respectively in the 10 Catholic Magdalene Laundries that would continue to operate after 1922.

In 1956, the Irish Catholic Directory reported a capacity of 945 at these same 10 homes. Between 1926 and 1963, the Irish courts referred at least 54 women to Catholic Magdalene Laundries.

In March 1944, there were 19 women “on probation” at Magdalene laundries and other religious convents.

Mr Quinn concluded his article stating that: “If this new inquiry does its work properly it will provide a fully rounded picture of the Magdalene asylums.”

When we met with him last year, Cardinal Sean Brady characterised JFM’s presentation of our campaign as “fair and balanced” and encouraged us to continue working toward “a just solution” to the Magdalene Laundries scandal.

That is precisely what this campaign is all about.

Dr James M Smith
Associate Professor, English Department and Irish Studies ProgramME, Boston College, USA


1 Response » to “We need clarity on the Magdalene Laundries”

  1. Raymond says:

    I am puzzled that I could not find the references on this site, to the infamous and ill-fated SYMPHYSYOTOMIES. Last week, I discovered another new word (no suprise though for not knowing, as this was a Stricly-and-Only Irish procedure, or as described in the Irish Times, a “figment of the Irish imagination”): PUBIOTOMY. A quick glance at the newspaper revealed 3 (THREE) horrendous stories on these lines. It was like reading LOG ENTRIES FROM THE NUREMBERG TRIALS !

    IN MY RELENTLESS EFFORTS TO “RE-SENSITIZE” THE IRISH PEOPLE, I want to place the following link here:

    Please bear in mind:
    Nuremberg – Auschwitz – Nazis – Treblinka – Bergen-Belsen – Mengele – and the Irish Gulag, the Church-State.

    and the next day:

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