Between 1922 and 1996 around 10,000 women are known to have entered Magdalen laundries, working for no pay in what were lonely and frightening places.
Senator McAleese and his committee were asked to outline the extent of state involvement and knowledge of the women in these laundries.
In each of the five categories it examined, it found evidence of state involvement. Most notably, 26% of the women who entered the laundries were referred there by the state.
The authorities also inspected the laundries, funded them, and registered the departures and deaths of the women there.
But it found that there was a legal basis for the state’s involvement as many of the women were referred by the courts as a condition of probation, or under supervision after enrolment in industrial schools.
Many but not all. That means that some were there without due process. That means they were unlawfully held prisoner – in an institution the state was partly involved with. It’s incredibly sinister.
The Irish Times presents one personal experience.
Her mother died when she was seven. At 14, her father remarried but she and a younger sister were unwelcome in the new family household, the only home they ever knew. Poverty was her only crime.
She was taken to the Good Shepherd convent in New Ross, her younger sister sent by train to the congregation’s Limerick house. The Good Shepherds managed industrial schools for children at both locations and a reformatory school for girls in Limerick.
But the two sisters were put to work in the Magdalene laundry with its population of adult women workers. For the next five years she washed society’s dirty laundry and received no pay. When she refused to work the nuns cut her hair as punishment. The hair grew back but to this day the loss of her education angers her. To her, it was a prison in all but name. There was no inspector, no child welfare officer. She was abandoned and no one cared.
She wasn’t just abandoned. She was imprisoned and made to do forced labor for no pay. She was kept out of school. She was first abandoned (and rejected) and then imprisoned and enslaved.
…the women’s testimony is compelling. It rebuts government claims that they entered these institutions “voluntarily”. It contradicts the religious orders’ assertion that women were free to come and go as they pleased. Some survivors describe their experience as tantamount to “slavery”, living behind locked doors and barred windows.
They insist, moreover, that members of An Garda Síochána routinely brought women to the laundries and/or returned women who escaped – regardless of whether the State was involved in committing them in the first place, and in the absence of any statutory basis for doing so.
The women’s testimony corroborates historical archives that disclose the transfer into the Magdalene laundries of children from State-funded residential institutions and unmarried mothers from State-licensed mother-and-baby homes.
There is no evidence to suggest the State made certain the release of these women and young girls. Some would remain to live and die behind convent walls.
The Free State was a slave state.