The Irish state does bear responsibility for the ‘enslavement’ of thousands of Irish women, and the years of unpaid labour they were forced to carry out.
That’s the finding today of an expert panel on the infamous, and now defunct, Magdalene Laundries, who found that Ireland should be held legally responsible as authorities committed many of the women to the workhouses.
For much of the 20th century thousands of unwed mothers and their children were forced into strict regimes at the laundries, run by Catholic nuns.
The 1,000 page report, released today, found that there was “significant state involvement” in the laundries, with one in four women sent there through state bodies from 1922 to 1996.
The report also said that many women found it difficult or even impossible to share their stories, and the committee chaired by Martin McAleese was only able to survey 100 “survivors”.
According to the findings, a majority of women spent less than a year in one of the laundries, but almost one in 10 died inside; the youngest recorded death was that of a 15-year-old girl.
Irish radio personality Jenny Kelly said on Twitter earlier this evening that her parents had taken in unmarried mothers when she was a child, saying; “ I was surrounded by beautiful frightened pregnant women… Frightened of the local priest, the neighbours, parents … What would ‘nice’ people think?”
Irish broadcaster Jenny Kelly speaking about the report earlier today
Taoiseach Enda Kenny today declined to apologise on behalf of the government, saying instead;
“To those residents who went through the Magdalene Laundries in a variety of ways, 26 percent of the time from state involvement, I am sorry for those people that they lived in that kind of environment.”
Mr. Kenny said there would be a full Dail debate on the report in two weeks’ time, when people had an opportunity to read the report.