Speech of Michael Kitt TD, FF Private Members Motion on the Magdalene Laundries

Published on: 14 February 2013

I commend Deputy Calleary on moving this motion and Dr. McAleese on the publication of the final Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalene Laundries.  Martin McAleese said that there is no single or simple story of the Magdalene laundries and the report shows significant State involvement in referring women to the laundries.  We are calling on the Taoiseach for an apology and for a dedicated unit within the Department of Justice and Equality to deal with the forms of redress which should be provided.  In The Irish Times last Saturday, the journalist, Breda O’Brien, asked whether there was any section of Irish society that did not have some involvement in the Magdalene laundries.  Religious orders ran them, and family members, priests, the Legion of Mary, the NSPCC, the courts, the Garda Síochána, industrial schools, mother and baby homes and psychiatric hospitals all sent women to these laundries.

Ten Magdalene laundries operated in the State by four religious orders were included in the mandate of the report, and I very much regret that one of those laundries was in Galway.  It was run by the Sisters of Mercy at Forster Street.  The sisters also operated the laundry in Dún Laoghaire.  A statement from the order concluded that they would like to extend an invitation to anyone who may have spent any time in Dún Laoghaire or Galway to come and meet them if they so wished.  The Galway Advertiser quotes the McAleese report that no reliable figures are available for the numbers of women sent to the Magdalene laundry in Galway.  The report reveals blank or missing records but there are hints that it was one of the few in the State operating on an economic surplus.  Many people view it as having been a profitable operation.  The report states that the Galway laundry had a capacity of 120 residents

I recently attended the opening by Garry Hynes, artistic director of the Druid Theatre, of a new premises for the Galway Rape Crisis Centre in Forster Street.  It is located at the rear of the Magdalene laundry in property made available by the Sisters of Mercy.  It is ironic that they made it available.  All credit is due to the sisters for providing this building and I commend also the work of the Galway Rape Crisis Centre.

We are informed that up to 120 were present in the laundry in Galway, 32.5% of whom came from the mother and baby home in Tuam, 16% from the Mater Dei Legion of Mary in Limerick, 26% from the convents and clergy, and 10% of whom were referred by their family.  As well as the call for a State apology and a dedicated unit, Justice for Magdalenes has referred to an assessment of financial reparation and the historical record to restore the identity and dignity of all the women who died in the Magdalene institutions and to fund an appropriate national memorial to commemorate the Magdalene laundries and the women confined therein.  In that way the State is committed to protect against the erasure of this chapter in the nation’s history.

I believe what the Magdalene survivors have said, and many of their testimonies have been quoted in this debate.  In every decade, sad events have happened and we must apologise, but we must also take action on the issues that are raised.  I also believe the Irish Primary Principals’ Network which said last month that as a consequence of food poverty, schools were seeing far more children arrive hungry and therefore unable to learn properly.  Child poverty may be brought up again in ten or 20 years time when we look back at this decade.  This is not to detract from the suffering experienced by women in the Magdalene laundries.  They are a small group of women, many elderly, and they deserve an apology and a special unit dedicated to deciding on the form of redress to be provided.

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