Dáil debates

Tuesday, 9 November 2010


Report on Magdalene Laundries

8:00 am

Photo of Michael KennedyMichael Kennedy (Dublin North, Fianna Fail)

It is my privilege and that of Deputies Tom Kitt and Kathleen Lynch to work on an ad hoc committee in the Houses in trying to assist the Justice for Magdalenes group. Like Deputy Kitt, I want to welcome Dr. James Smith and his colleague, Dr. Katherine O'Donnell. I commend them on the fantastic work they have done to date against great obstacles.

Deputy Tom Kitt referred to the recommendations of the Irish Human Rights Commission report, the launch of which we had the privilege of attending today. Redress is one matter but a State apology is a very simple issue. Women have been referred to these laundries going back to the foundation of the State and right up to 1996. One might excuse the dark ages of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s but 1996 is just 14 years ago and these laundries were still in operation. We need a State apology. We need to say the simple word "sorry" to these women. Many of them are very old, and nearing death in some cases. If they heard a State apology simply saying the State was sorry for incarcerating them, many of these women would die happy.

It is not too much to ask the State to say "sorry" for referring to these women as penitents and as sinners. Ordinary human beings like the rest of us had the stigma that they were sinners or penitents attached to them. It is not too much to ask that their birth names would be recorded. Many of them were given religious names when they went into these institutions, their children were taken away from them for adoption and their birth records have not been handed over to their siblings or their children. I see no reason we cannot, as an institution of the State, say "sorry" for not doing that.

I believe the State owes an apology to these women for refusing them their freedom, for not protecting their constitutional rights and for not giving them a proper education. The State has to be culpable for referring these ladies to laundries directly from our courts. When one considers how particular we are today about rules and regulations in working institutions, these ladies had no working wage, no maximum hours of work and no holiday time, and there were no inspections, regulations or safe working conditions in any of these institutions. That was the responsibility of the State.

The State should immediately say "sorry" to these ladies. It should remove the words "penitent" and "sinner" from burial stones. We should have the common decency to erect memorial stones throughout the country at the location of these institutions. We should have the responsibility of examining the legislation with regard to why there was no record showing these ladies were cremated and buried in a mass grave at High Park in Drumcondra. We feel very strongly on this issue. I urge the Government to establish the redress scheme and make the apology.


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