Northern Ireland

Irish government sets up Magdalene laundries committee

Statue of Mary
Image caption The laundries were run by four orders of nuns

The Irish government is to set up a committee to clarify any past state interaction with the Magdalene Laundries.

The laundries were a network of ten workhouses that operated in Ireland from the 1920s to the mid-1990s.

Human rights groups say young women were abused after being sent there.

The inter-departmental committee, chaired by an independent person, is to make an initial report within three months.

The government further promised to "fully establish the true facts and circumstances" relating to the laundries.

Many of the victims were teenagers who arrived as punishment for petty crimes, for becoming pregnant out of wedlock or who were said to be "too pretty".

BBC Dublin Correspondent Jennifer O'Leary said women in the laundries "were effectively enslaved".

"Once you were in, the only way out was if a family member claimed you. Any woman who did not fit within the narrow definition of good Catholic behaviour was in danger of being sent to the laundries," she said.

"Some 30,000 women and girls are believed to have lived in the laundries, many also dying there.

"We know that women who escaped were caught by the police and returned to the often brutal regime. And because the women were locked away, generations of Irish society could turn a blind eye."

'Apology'

Separately, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter and Minister of State Kathleen Lynch are to meet former residents to ensure all available information will be shared.

The government has also pledged to find out how many people put into the care of the laundries are still in the care of religious orders.

Additionally, a "restorative and reconciliation process and the structure that might be utilised to facilitate such process" will also be put in place.

The Justice for Magdalene Group welcomed the announcement of the committee, calling it a "positive step".

However, the group pointed out in a statement that the government had not yet shown it was prepared to issue a formal apology to the women "despite the fact that an apology remains their first and most important request".

"Survivors speaking in recent days stressed the importance of an apology as the first crucial step in restoring their dignity and sense of citizenship," the statement said.

The BBC's Jennifer O'Leary said it was a "limited investigation".

"The minister for justice Alan Shatter stopped short of a full inquiry for now saying there was a need to establish the facts as a first step," she said.

"These women have received no apology from the state, no redress, no compensation for their abuse, they receive no pension for their unpaid labour and most of the women are now elderly."

Last week, the UN Committee Against Torture said the Irish government should establish an independent inquiry into the allegations of abuse in the ten laundries.

The four orders of nuns, which ran the residential institutions, have said they would be willing to co-operate with any inquiry that would bring "greater clarity, understanding, healing and justice in the interests of all the women involved".

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