The Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, described the Magdalene Laundries as a ‘national shame’ during his formal apology on Tuesday the 19th of February in Dáil Éireann. It is clearly a tragic shame in relation to Irish history, but is it fair to say the nation are to blame for the appalling treatment the women endured in these laundries? For the most part the general public were oblivious to the horrific undertone associated with the Magdalene Laundries and, as such, the blame cannot be put on them due to the secrecy shrouded over the workhouses. The majority of the blame lies most obviously with the Catholic Church but also it seems with the Irish State.
The report by Martin McAleese uncovered the States involvement with the Magdalene Laundries. The report declares that one quarter of the women admitted to the Laundries were sent there by the State. The report explains that a number of women were sent to the workhouses for minor crimes such as not having paid for a train ticket. It was also reported that the Gardaí had the authority to arrest a woman without warrant if she had run away or was being recalled to a laundry. Even when leaving the Magdalene Laundries there was a sense of entrapment justifying the comment made by the Taoiseach that there was ‘a palpable sense of suffocation’ surrounding the workhouses.
Martin McAleese must be commended for the detailed report regarding the Magdalene Laundries. The women have been experiencing mental torture for a great number of years but this has conveniently gone unnoticed by the State for the longest time. It seems the Taoiseach was backed into a corner and forced to apologise for the slave labour endured by the women due to the report being published. The hell the women endured has long been the subject of secrecy in an attempt to cover up the monstrous conduct of the Catholic run laundries, but, thanks to the publication, the public can now truly examine the extent of the suffering. The report details the profit acquired by the laundries through the work of the downtrodden women; a business ledger from the 1980s shows one laundry making £900 a week from businesses using the services of the workhouse. These findings in the Magdalene report show not only were the women kept in cruel conditions but were also exploited for financial gain.
There has been a difference of opinion regarding the apology of the Taoiseach with some saying it was too late. The only opinion that is of importance in the matter is that of the survivors. Having heard the formal apology by Enda Kenny one survivor stated, ‘I have to give the man credit, we never expected a sorry like that’. The compensation fund will soon be established for the women in an attempt to aid in their recovery from the prolonged trauma, and the taxpayer will pay the Government funding for the women who suffered at the Magdalene Laundries. Given that the Catholic Church profited from the free manual labour of the women it seems only right that they would also contribute to the compensation.
There has been no word as of yet regarding the stance of the Catholic Church in relation to the compensation but it seems the atrocious nature of the Magdalene Laundries will never be able to evade the public and be shrouded in secrecy again.