If you can’t leave, that’s prison

The Taoiseach has told the religious orders to have a serious think about their refusal to pay any compensation to the women who did slave labor in the Magdalen laundries for decades. This was a for-profit business the orders were running, and the women got literally no payment at all. That’s slavery, and a pretty damn harsh version of it at that.

The four orders have told the Government they will not contribute to the redress scheme set up to compensate the former residents of the laundries. The scheme is expected to cost between €34 million and €58 million.

The Mercy Sisters, the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, the Sisters of Charity and the Good Shepherd Sisters have informed Minister for Justice Alan Shatter in recent days that they will not pay into the fund.

Laughable, isn’t it. Mercy. Charity. Good shepherd. All that, yet they refuse to pay back wages to women they enslaved. What mercy? What charity? What good shepherd?

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter earlier ruled out stripping the orders involved in running the Magdalene laundries of their charitable status.

He told the Dáil yesterday he believed the orders had a “moral and ethical” obligation to contribute.

One of the groups representing the former residents, Magdalene Survivors Together, called on the Government to strip the orders of their charitable status.

Spokesman Steven O’Riordan said access should be sought to their accounts and their assets.

“The religious orders in question should be absolutely ashamed of themselves. They should be ashamed of themselves and the Irish Government should be going over to the religious orders and demanding access to their accounts. They should be demanding access to their accounts and their land and they should be demanding them to cough up for the injustice that they created in our society.”

Morally, if not legally, they should.

Asked whether there was scope to take legal action against the religious orders, Mr Shatter said: “No, the reality is there isn’t scope to take legal action against them.

“This is a moral and ethical issue. The Magdalene laundries as we know provided a form of refuge for many women, but it was an extraordinarily harsh regime and there was the issue of women working unpaid in the laundries and the impact on their lives of the experience of the laundries.”

No. Come on. You can’t call it refuge, even “a form of refuge,” when they couldn’t leave. They were unlawfully imprisoned, and it’s not right to call that any kind of refuge.



  1. says

    The only sliver of justification these orders have is the question of where else those girls and women could have gone if not to the sweatshops. But even if we accept that as an excuse, there’s the question of what the Church did to give women better opportunities in a society in which they had near-theocratic power.

    So either way, the Church has no excuse: they supported a social order in which women had zero opportunities, then exploited disenfranchised women as slave labor, all the while pretending they were the GOOD guys. This Church is so disgusting I’m begining to rethink my opposition to terrorism as a policy tool.

  2. Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says


    In chapter 8 (with more details in ch 10 which I haven’t at this time read), there is a breakdown of, among other things, of routes of entry and exit to the laundries. Some of the girls and women were presumably without a place to stay since they went into the laundries by themselves, and those taken in by their families were probably without a place to go too, but there is also a number of girls who were sent in by the state (police, courts, other institutions). Since some women later returned to their families, I can only assume that they actually had someone who cared.

    I’ve also read (not in this document) that relatives were often not allowed to see the women, even though some might have wanted to take them away.

    Of course, as has already been said, even if those women had nowhere else to go, using their predicament to exploit them was despicable.

  3. says

    Privatize the benefits (in this case, unpaid labour for the orders), socialize the costs (the Irish citizenry picks up the tab for compensating the victims).

    What a set up.

  4. Gordon Willis says

    What kind of refuge is one that you are forced into and by which you are held captive, with all the forces of society intent on keeping you there? I suppose prison could be a “form” of refuge, for some. Now, if there had been a refuge against the attentions of the Kindly Ones — sorry, I mean the Good Sisters, of course — that might have been something deserving of the name. Shatter could be treading on the heels of compromise.

  5. Omar Puhleez says

    It is all a matter of the public profile of these organisations how their self-image is onsold. A name change or two could work wonders in terms of covering them both legally and in PR terms.

    The Good Shepherd Sisters could rebadge themselves as the Good Shearers, with bonus points for the ambiguity therein. Perhaps the Magdalen Laundry would have beenbetter off with a name like Mary’s Sweatshop, or the Slaughterhouse Sisters of Sin and Salvation.

    Better to tell it like it is. “Thou shalt not bear false witness…”


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