Dáil debates

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Magdalen Laundries: Motion (Resumed) [Private Members]


6:55 pm

Photo of Seán KennySeán Kenny (Dublin North East, Labour) | Oireachtas source

It has been said that people in Ireland today under 40 years of age might be unaware of what Irish society was like during the era that is described in the McAleese report. The writer and journalist John Cooney published a book in 1999 entitled John Charles McQuaid: Ruler of Catholic Ireland. In his well-researched work, Mr. Cooney refers to the Magdalen laundries in the archdiocese of Dublin during Archbishop McQuaid's stewardship. On page 152 he states: "Worse even than the austere regime which applied in industrial schools such as Artane for boys and Goldenbridge for girls, were the conditions for "fallen women" engaged in laundry and menial work in the four Magdalene laundries in the [Dublin] archdiocese, at Donnybrook, Drumcondra, Dún Laoghaire and Lower Gloucester Street. A particular harrowing story was that of 14-year old Martha, who was sent to Drumcondra in 1942 to repent for "telling a shameful lie" - she had been indecently assaulted by a relative, but her aunts did not believe her". On page 278 of the same book Mr. Cooney refers further to the Magdalen laundries: "Unmarried mothers were placed in "Magdalene Laundries" where they were forced by nuns to engage in slave-labour as laundry workers and cleaning women."

This was also a period when Ireland was ruled politically, for the most part, by Fianna Fáil Leader Éamon de Valera as Taoiseach. He was later President of Ireland. This period is often referred to as "de Valera's Ireland". In his book John Cooney describes, in chapter ten, how Éamon de Valera as Taoiseach intervened in 1940 to convince Pope Pius XII to appoint John Charles McQuaid as Archbishop of Dublin and to appoint the Maynooth professor Michael Browne as Bishop of Galway.

In 2011, I welcomed the establishment of the interdepartmental committee of inquiry, headed by the former Senator, Dr. Martin McAleese, and I was pleased to learn that all Government Departments and their records would be made available for the committee's work. I also said at the time that I welcomed the assurances of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, to the Justice for Magdalenes campaign that the development of a narrative of State interaction with the Magdalen laundries would consider acts of omission on the part of the State, particularly the State's failure to inspect and regulate, and thereby prevent abuse in, the laundries.

The State, including the Government and individual Deputies like myself, must remember that the issue of the Magdalen laundries is fundamentally about the women who spent time in the institutions. It is also about their children. Most of the survivors are aging and elderly. Some women feel that both church and State pursued a policy of denial for as long as absolutely necessary. It is for their sakes that the church and State should consider offering an apology. I also wish to put on the record, as I said in 2011, that I believe society owes these women an apology, not merely the State or the church. The reality is that the Magdalen laundries could not have functioned in Irish society without the implicit consent of that society. In many respects, the blame rests on all of us.


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