Irish PM: Magdalene laundries product of harsh Ireland

The Magdalene laundries were presented as a better way of life for "troubled" women

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Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny has apologised for the stigma and conditions suffered by women who were inmates of the Magdalene laundries.

Mr Kenny said the laundries had operated in a "harsh and uncompromising Ireland," but he stopped short of a formal apology from the government.

About 10,000 women passed through the laundries in the Irish Republic between 1922 and 1996, a report has revealed.

The laundries were Catholic-run workhouses that operated in Ireland.

Mr Kenny expressed his sympathies with survivors and the families of those who died.

Magdalene Laundries

Picture from BBC drama sinners about life in a Magdalene laundry

• Originally termed Magdalene Asylums the first in Ireland was opened in Dublin in 1765, for Protestant girls

• First Catholic home was founded in Cork in 1809

• Envisaged as short-term refuges for 'fallen women' they became long-term institutions and penitents were required to work, mostly in laundries on the premises

• They extended to take in unmarried mothers, women with learning difficulties and girls who had been abused

• The facilities were self-supporting and the money generated by the laundries paid for them

• Between 1922 and 1996 there were 10 such laundries in the Republic of Ireland

• Many Irish institutions, such as the army, government departments, hotels and even Guinness had contracts with Magdalene laundries

• The women toiled behind locked doors unable to leave after being admitted and while the laundries were paid, they received no wages

• The last Magdalene asylum in Ireland, in Waterford, closed in 1996

• The congregations which ran them were the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy, the Religious Sisters of Charity and the Sisters of the Good Shepherd

He added that the report found no evidence of sexual abuse in the laundries and that 10% of inmates were sent by their families and 19% entered of their own volition.

The inquiry chaired by Senator Martin McAleese found 2,124 of those detained in the institutions were sent by the authorities.

There will be a debate in the Irish parliament in two weeks time giving members time to read the 1,000-page document.

State involvement

Girls considered "troubled" or what were then called "fallen women" were sent there and did unpaid manual work.

In 2011, the UN Committee Against Torture called on the Irish government to set up an inquiry into the treatment of thousands of women and girls.

In response, the Irish government set up an inter-departmental committee, chaired by Senator Martin McAleese, to establish the facts of the Irish state's involvement with the Magdalene laundries.

Survivors and representative groups, and the religious congregations, co-operated with the departmental committee.

Senator McAleese's inquiry found that half of the girls and women put to work in the laundries were under the age of 23 and 40%, more than 4,000, spent more than a year incarcerated.

Fifteen percent spent more than five years in the laundries while the average stay was calculated at seven months.

The youngest death on record was 15, and the oldest 95, the report found.

Some of the women were sent to laundries more than once, as records show a total of 14,607 admissions, and a total of 8,025 known reasons for being sent to a laundry.

Statistics in the report are based on records of eight of the 10 laundries. The other two, both operated by the Sisters of Mercy in Dun Laoghaire and Galway, were missing substantial records.

Vagrancy

Mary Lou McDonald asks Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny for an official state apology over the Magdalene laundries

Women were forced into Magdalene laundries for a crime as minor as not paying for a train ticket, the report found.

The majority of those incarcerated were there for minor offences such as theft and vagrancy.

A small number of the women were there for prostitution.

The report also confirmed that a police officer could arrest a girl or a woman without warrant if she was being recalled to the laundry or if she had run away.

Amnesty International has called for former residents of Magdalene laundry-type institutions in Northern Ireland to come forward to report their experiences to the Historic Institutional Abuse Inquiry.

Amnesty spokesman Patrick Corrigan said: "Those who suffered abuse as children are now eligible to come forward to the inquiry, recently established by the Northern Ireland Executive, and we would encourage them to consider doing so."

Some former inmates rejected Enda Kenny's apology and demanded a fuller and more frank admission from government and the religious orders involved.

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