A report commissioned by the Irish Government in 2012 into the treatment of young women in the Magdalene Institutions, from 1922 to 1996 was handed down by Senator Martin McAleese earlier this month. The McAleese report was initiated after the UN Committee Against Torture called for an inquiry urging compensation for the victims and prosecutions if necessary.
Over 10,000 women were incarcerated in the institutions – laundries run by four religious orders of nuns. Although most were young women in their twenties, there were also young girls and older women. They were used as unpaid labour under draconian working conditions. The report found that approximately 25% of the women were there at the behest of the State, and State agencies, such as social services, the legal system and the Gardaí. Many state agencies, including the Army were clients of the laundries. The perception that the young women committed by State agencies were unmarried mothers and/or prostitutes is incorrect. Most of them were troubled and troublesome, and more than likely homeless. There were no indications of sexual abuse, but physical and verbal abuse was relatively common.
The Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, offered an apology on the part of the Irish Government to the women who had spent time in the Magdalene institutions because of State government intervention. The exploitation of the women was, he said, reprehensible and regrettable and the delay in acknowledging the plight of the women unacceptable. ‘I’m sorry that this release of pressure and understanding of so many of these women was not done before this because they were branded as being the fallen women as they often were referred to in this state,’ he said. He also pledged that the state would provide the survivors, between 800 and 1,000 women the very best of facilities and supports.
However, the advocacy group ‘Justice for the Magdalenes’ said ‘it was time to establish a compensation scheme for those who suffered in this system of exploitation stretching over more than seven decades.’ Survivors should be compensated by the government through the ‘the provision of pensions, lost wages, health and housing services, as well as redress’ for the inhumane treatment they suffered during their time in the Magdalene institutions. They claimed that Mr Kenny’s ‘apology’ did not go far enough by not offering a comprehensive package to the traumatised survivors.
The president of Ireland’s Law Reform Commission, Judge John Quirke, has been given the task of producing a compensation program for former Magdalenes by May, which would include cash payments and access to free medical care and counselling.
Pressure groups have called for the government to provide surviving former laundry residents -about 1000 women – payments of €50,000 to €100,000 ($67,000 to $135,000) and full state pensions, a difficult bill for an Ireland struggling to reduce a 15 per cent unemployment rate, slash deficits and escape from its 2010 international bailout.