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25 Jun 2022

Comment: The legacy of Magdalen

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THE Magdalen laundry saga reaches into every institution in Irish life. Women were sent there from a multitude of sources – be it the courts, gardai, hospitals, their families, and a whole range of others.

THE Magdalen laundry saga reaches into every institution in Irish life. Women were sent there from a multitude of sources – be it the courts, gardai, hospitals, their families, and a whole range of others.

Every section of Irish society had a role in this sorry saga. Many of the people who found themselves there did so out of poverty, abuse, neglect and illness.

The ten Magdalen laundries existed due to a lack of a safety net at the time for women who were poor, abandoned, had intellectual or physical disabilities, or were victims of abuse.

The laundries themselves were forbidding institutions and, in time, became a byword for rigid, cold places of hard labour. Irish society developed a massive blind spot as to what was going on in its midst.

They are now a small group of surviving women left, many of them elderly. At the very least they deserve recognition, apology and recompense.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the government have been roundly criticised for their failure to apologise on behalf of the State last week.

Whatever reasoning lies behind this, and no one wants the spectacle of solicitors or legal professionals enriching themselves, the fact is that the State has a duty to these survivors.

The legacy of the Magdalen laundries also needs to be considered.

Could something this odious happen again. Certainly not to the same extent, but many of the base factors still exist in Irish society.

Only last September the Irish Refugee Council issued a report on ‘State-Sanctioned Child Poverty and Exclusion’ which dealt with the poor and harsh conditions of children in asylum accommodation. No public outcry greeted its publication.

Last month, the Irish Primary Principals Network said that as a consequence of food poverty, schools are seeing far more children arriving hungry, and unable to learn properly as a consequence.

In the second decade of the 21st century, we haven’t come as far as we would like to think from the Magdalen laundry era.

That is why this report is so important. To close this terrible chapter in Irish life, we have a responsibility to the people directly affected, and to the present and future generations, that such episodes are consigned once and for all to the past.

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