Magdalene laundries women await the McAleese Report
- 20 December 2012
- From the section Europe
The government of the Irish Republic is to receive a report before the new year from Senator Martin McAleese into the issue of the Magdalene laundries.
They were places run by nuns where troubled girls and what were called "fallen women" were often placed either by their families or the courts.
Those women are now looking for compensation.
It is a busy afternoon on a street in New Ross, County Wexford.
Mothers are collecting children from a light-brown old-fashioned school building that was once a Magdalene laundry.
It is a place 60-year-old Maureen Sullivan knows only too well.
Standing outside her old much-hated home she tells me she spent two years there from the age of 12.
"It brings back all the pain, the way we had to work, the long hours. There's nothing pleasant about coming back here," she says.
Maureen's father died leaving a widow and three children.
Her mother re-married.
'An evil thing to do'
But Maureen claims she was abused by her stepfather; the nuns noticed, called in a priest and they convinced her mother that she would be going to a lovely school.
She says she never saw her school books again, was forced to work night and day, seven days a week, and was given a new name, Frances.
She says: "What an evil thing to do. I never did any wrong. I was an innocent child and a nun told me I could trust her to tell her my story. I trusted and what a fool I was.
"I mean when you look back now, you were brought up then to think you could trust a nun or a priest but they did a lot of wrong by me and very many other people."
Sullivan says her day began at six in the morning, and finished at nine at night.
During that period, she would have to scrub and polish floors, work in the laundry and then make rosary beads and knit Aran sweaters.
She says a prisoner would have had more rights.
"Children slaves, that's what we were. There's no other words for it. Put in there to slave for them. And make them get big money. And they looked after themselves so well. You could smell their dinners; they were different to ours. You could get lovely roast beef but when we went into our dinner there was hardly anything there.
"Everything was taken from me; my name, my rights as a child to go out and play with other children, my rights to communicate with other people," she adds.
Maureen Sullivan spent two years in New Ross, then further periods in a laundry in Athy, County Kildare, and another in Dublin.
She says she had virtually no contact with her mother - just four visits in five years.
"I was coming up on 16 and my mother came up and said: "Maureen, do you not think it's time you should be getting paid now", so, I said it to the reverend mother and the next morning my case was packed and I was left at Heuston station with £5 in my hand.
"Back to the town that I was abused in. And nobody cared about me or what happened to me."
'We want the truth'
Maureen Sullivan says she left the laundries unable to communicate properly, with low self-esteem and virtually no education.
Widowed twice, she says she found it hard to trust people.
But now a campaigner for those who were in the laundries, she knows what she hopes will be in Senator McAleese's report to the government on the issue.
She says: "We want the truth to come out about how horrific these places were, how cruel they were.
"We want an apology which is the most important thing. And if they could give us compensation that would make our lives better for what we suffered there and for the hours that we worked."
The Sisters of the Good Shepherd said that because of confidentiality and data protection rules they cannot comment on individual cases and will await the publication of the McAleese report before making any detailed comment.
But a source close to the order said this is a very complex issue involving many strands of Irish society.