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5 February 2013

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Magdalene Laundries report: Mary Lou McDonald calls for full state apology and redress scheme

Magdalene laundry

‘A Dáil debate on the report is due in two weeks’ time. I am calling on the Taoiseach to come to the debate with a full apology on behalf of the state followed swiftly by details of a transparent redress scheme for the surviving women.’

TAOISEACH Enda Kenny’s refusal to issue a public apology immediately on the publication of the report on Tuesday afternoon by Senator Martin McAleese into the state’s involvement in the Magdalene Laundries has disappointed campaigners.

Thousands of women were used as unpaid labour in ten laundries operated by religious orders with the knowledge, compliance and active support of the state.

Of the 10,000 who went through the laundries’ doors from 1922 to 1996 – often because of poverty or family break-up but for many reasons – one in four was referred by the state, including the courts. State agencies gave contracts to the laundries. The Garda and Government colluded with the system.

Mary LouSpeaking in the Dáil on the publication of the report, Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald TD (right) said she is seriously disappointed with the Taoiseach’s statement to the Dáil, which even RTÉ described as “a qualified sorry” to the survivors of the laundries, estimated to be less than a thousand.

The Dublin Central TD told the Taoiseach directly in the Dáil:

“I am disappointed for the women, for the survivors, that you cannot stand and say the state was culpable, the state was negligent, you told the truth, we believe your stories and for that we collectively say sorry.”

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Mary Lou added later:

“The Taoiseach’s response to the Magdalene Laundries report is deeply disappointing. Whilst this is a lengthy report and its details must be studied carefully, state involvement in the operation of the laundries has already been proven. Senator McAleese’s report simply reiterates that fact. So while the manner of compensation for the women requires consideration, the absolute need for a full apology does not.

“Time is of the essence for the surviving women. They are elderly and many are unwell. They have lived with the stigma of the Magdalene Laundries and the brutality they experienced during their incarceration for their entire lives.

“The Taoiseach spoke of the courage of the women coming forward to tell their true stories:  I only wish that their courage was matched today by some courage on the Government’s part.

“The time for an apology is now. These women were not residents voluntarily offering their services and labour but were young, vulnerable women who were held in institutions, imprisoned and exploited.

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“A Dáil debate on the report is due in two weeks’ time. I am calling on the Taoiseach to come to the debate with a full apology on behalf of the state followed swiftly by details of a transparent redress scheme for the surviving women. Survivors must be compensated for lost wages and pension. Health and housing needs must be provided for.”

Trade union SIPTU has called for the financial compensation of the survivors of the Magdalene Laundries and their families for the forced labour these women endured and from which religious orders and other businesses profited.

SIPTU Equality and Campaigns Organiser Ethel Buckley said:

“The scale of the abuse of women in the Magdalene Laundries can no longer be denied following the publication of the inter-departmental committee report on state involvement with these institutions.

“The mental anguish these women and their families endured can never be undone. The issue of the social context in which this abuse was allowed to persist – and in many instances supported by the state – is an issue to which Irish society must now face up. SIPTU supports calls for these women to receive adequate compensation for the abuse which they endured as workers condemned to forced labour.”

SIPTU said it is clear from the report that certain institutions and businesses, including some state enterprises, profited from the forced extraction of labour from these women.

“SIPTU supports the call of the support and advocacy groups for the survivors of the Magdalene Laundries for compensation. The Government must now ensure that the institutions responsible, whatever their status, are made to pay for the forced labour of these women.

“It should also not be ignored that there was a clear class dimension to the exploitation and abuse. This report has lessons for Irish society today, as well as helping to expose wrongdoing that was allowed to continue and fester for so long.”

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