Slugger O'Toole

Conversation, politics and stray insights

#Magdalene: “When the dark midnight is over, watch for the breaking of day”

Wed 20 February 2013, 11:44am

Enda Kenny may not be the most whip smart of politicians. He was for the longest time a whipping boy for the ward boss Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern…

Most of the comment afterwards was unmanned, literally, by what is a very direct communication with the women themselves… he welcomes them to your parliament, your Dail Eireann

What Enda lacks in intelligence, he more than makes up for in emotional intelligence. It may be something he has to use more than just one more time before this term is out…

Some of the women afterwards spoke of his personal contact with them afterwards, which coincided with the concluding speech of one of his rivals, Mary Lou McDonald… It’s to the credit of Ms McDonald’s own emotional intelligence that she made no play of it.

The story of the Magdalene Laundries brings us face to face once again with all too familiar themes of shame, of stigma, of silence and secrecy.

None of which have gone away, despite what is otherwise a very affecting scene of national reconciliation. As noted by several deputies, the problem here went on for generations, and in the case of Protestant children a problem identified as early as the Cussen Report in 1936, still remains to be addressed.

The question of whether or not Midnight has really passed is dependent on the current crop of Irish politicians being more determined than those of generations past…

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Comments (35)

  1. And in Northern Ireland…

    No inquiry. No apology. No redress. For the moment at least.

    Magdalene Laundries operated north of the border too. From the women with whom I have spoken, the regime in NI appears to have been remarkably similar to those in the south. No surprise given they were run by some of the same people.

    These northern women deserve acknowledgment and justice no less than their southern counterparts.

    I hope the First and deputy First Ministers will show the same spirit of compassion – and action – they showed towards the victims of institutional child abuse and that the Taoiseach and Tánaiste displayed last night.

    Justice may have arrived late for the Magdalene Laundry women in the Republic, but at least it has arrived.

    More from me on HuffPo on the Northern Ireland dimension.

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  2. Update here – Magdalene Laundries: Tears of Joy Taste Bitter-Sweet in Northern Ireland

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  3. SDLP supporter (profile) says:

    In terms of sheer human decency, Enda Kenny is pre-eminent among the current Dail Eireann leaders. I hope he gets another stint as Taoiseach. Beats me how 45% of the Republic’s electorate are favouring Fianna Fail and Sinn
    Fein.

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  4. John Ó Néill (profile) says:

    Enda’s emotional intelligence badly let him down a fortnight ago when he didn’t offer an apology to the women who had been in Magdalene Laundries.

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  5. John Ó Néill (profile) says:

    And here is the response of the Fianna Fail Minister for Education in the previous government, Batt O’Keeffe denying that the Laundries were the responsibility of the state. Both that statement and the McAleese report were generated from the same material held by the departments involved.

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  6. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    Well, it didn’t last night John.

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  7. Alias (profile) says:

    Pure PR, and a welcome distraction for the government from EU Laundries that are currently taking the taxpayers to the cleaners.

    Enda botched it last time so his PR people invited RTE cameras to a meeting they organised with the so-called ‘survivors’ wherein he “listened” and “felt their pain” (Is that you, Bill?) and wherein the taxpayers are left to fund his gesture of heartfelt sincerity this time around.

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  8. Zig70 (profile) says:

    They all at least deserve a pension for the time in the workhouse.

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  9. Reader (profile) says:

    Patrick Corrigan: And in Northern Ireland…No inquiry. No apology. No redress. For the moment at least.
    Your article mentions that there *is* an inquiry into children kept in the laundries.
    When it comes to dealing with adults kept in the institutions, the first question has to be – how were they kept in there? Did the state play a part in restraining them?

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  10. It is good that there was a clear apology. There have been too many non-apology apologies all over the place including here in Canada. And David Cameron issued another one today in Amritsar.
    Survivors obviously need to be compensated, primarily from those running those places. with contribution from governments.

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  11. Granni Trixie (profile) says:

    Reader

    As well as the circumstances which led to women and girls being in these laundry “communities” in the first place, you
    have to factor in institutionalisation which meant they did not question why they were there or how they could escape from their fate. I am sure many were so institutionalised that they were afraid of the outside world.
    I think you also have to understand the mixture of women, some were there because of inadequate family support and others because they just didn’t fit in.

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  12. Reader (profile) says:

    Granni Trixie: As well as the circumstances which led to women and girls being in these laundry “communities” in the first place, you
    have to factor in institutionalisation which meant they did not question why they were there or how they could escape from their fate.

    I would have suspected as much, and also the lack of realistic options if they left without support from their families or community. What I’m getting at is – what part did the state play? Did the courts send women to the laundries? Did the Guards or the RUC drag women back there if they left?
    And shouldn’t we be blaming the community as much as the state?

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  13. Granni Trixie (profile) says:

    Whilst not wanting to let the state off the hook regarding systemic failure in duty to care, I absolutely think that the context of families and communities outside the institutions were also a key part of the problem and as such have a lot to answer for.

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  14. And think about it more deeply. If precocious girls, or just poor good looking girls, were sent there, what did they do about horny boys?

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  15. Granni Trixie (profile) says:

    Reader

    I believe that “running away” from institutions was not uncommon when indeed the RUC were notified to take action.

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  16. Granni Trixie (profile) says:

    Mister Joe

    I know you don’t mean it but you are continuing the myth of “fallen women”. I wouldn’t go there.

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  17. Granni,

    Absolutely not. But I’ll heed your advice lest I am understood.

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  18. misunderstood

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  19. Barnshee (profile) says:

    Reader

    I believe that “running away” from institutions was not uncommon when indeed the RUC were notified to take action.

    Not a single case on record The “institutions” were a subset of the roman catholic church – an institution the then RUC would avoid interfering with like the plague

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  20. Nevin (profile) says:

    “The women of the Magdalen laundries had no rights. They were objects of a conservative dispensation governed by conservative elites in the Church and political establishment. In the manner of their incarceration and treatment in the Magdalen laundries, these women were slaves of a brutal and inhuman regime to which Irish Governments turned a blind eye. Successive Governments endorsed and used these institutions.” … Gerry Adams

    It would appear that there are no bounds to the hypocrisy of members of the Provisional Republican Movement. That organisation’s treatment of its victims was much more ‘brutal and inhuman’ than that inflicted in the Magdalen and other institutions.

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  21. anne warren (profile) says:

    Reader in answer to some of your questions:

    what part did the state play?
    According to the McAleese report the State was responsible for sending 20-25% of women to the Laundries

    Did the courts send women to the laundries?
    Yes, in one documented instance for travelling on public transport without a ticket
    Did the Guards drag women back there if they left?
    Yes. Don’t know about RUC as report only deals with ROI
    And shouldn’t we be blaming the community as much as the state?
    I think Mr Kenny’s apology covers community and state.Apportioning blame to either at this stage is not much help. The Catholic Church has clearly been blamed.
    All we can hope for now is that the victims get good pensions and some compensation. It will never be adequate for their sufferings.

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  22. carl marks (profile) says:

    Alias
    “to a meeting they organised with the so-called ‘survivors’ ”
    wanna explain that?

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  23. carl marks (profile) says:

    Nevin
    You’re a giggle mate; you will do anything to avoid condemning loyalist and unionist violence but will twist any subject to attack SF,
    Hypocrisy on a truly grand scale.

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  24. Greenflag (profile) says:

    @ reader ,

    ‘And shouldn’t we be blaming the community as much as the state?’

    Yes but like blaming the Victorians for tolerating the abuse and physical maltreatment of 5 year old chimney sweeps it won’t do much good .
    What these women need is compensation for their abusive treatment preferably by the Roman Catholic Church and thr GOvernment for in truth these launderies remained in ‘business ‘ because of lucrative government contracts .Presumably the State also benefited by enslaving these women and keeping them at a mere physical subsistence standard of living .

    ‘Those who make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities ‘

    Voltaire

    ‘And despite the Godwin disclaimer

    ‘What good fortune for those in power that people do not think ‘

    Hitler

    Or perhaps more accurately they only start to think when the damage has been done -usually to themselves :(

    Good on Kenny for the State apology now follow it up with restitution to the women concerned -ditto for the UK /Stormont Governments .

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  25. Reader (profile) says:

    Greenflag: Good on Kenny for the State apology now follow it up with restitution to the women concerned -ditto for the UK /Stormont Governments
    Restitution for children certainly. I have not seen that the British or Northern governments had any relationship with the northern laundries, or that they had any responsibility for adult women who were residents there.
    And if the adult women were held against their will then there are a few criminal prosecutions to get through first.
    By the way, is there any record of Civil Rights protesters complaining about the Magdalene Laundries during their campaigns? Any record of Nationalist MPs complaining in parliament? And if Stormont ought to have intervened in the Magdalene Laundries, should it also have intervened in the CB schools? Would it have got any credit for either intervention?

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  26. anne warren (profile) says:

    Reader

    I fear you will have to wait for 3 years to have the answers to your latest set of questions.
    The inquiry into historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland is just starting and will initially investigate 35 residential facilities with further institutions possibly coming under investigation as more evidence is gathered..

    Sir Anthony Hart seems determined to do an efficient, competent job.

    http://www.u.tv/News/Abuse-inquiry-to-focus-on-35-NI-sites/63714fef-490e-4f3f-bc18-759b3d540e5e

    I suggest we let him get on with it

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  27. Nevin (profile) says:

    “You’re a giggle mate”

    Carl, you really have tripped over your laces; I’m an advocate for shared sovereignty …

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  28. Alias (profile) says:

    Carl Marks, sure. It is a propaganda terminology when used in the context of folks who had a choice between having a roof over their heads and food on the table courtesy of some mad nuns where the alternative was being homeless in a pre-welfare state. Most of them preferred the roof and the food, even if they didn’t appreciate said mad nuns.

    You survive a plane crash or an attempt to murder you. You may even survive n act of genocide by a state and be duly labelled a Holocaust Survivor.

    These women are not ‘survivors’ of any sort since their lives were never in any danger. They are simply folks who chose a roof over their heads and free food courtesy of said mad nuns but who now want to complain about it – presumably because they think the welfare state should have existed back then for folks who weren’t able to support themselves.

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  29. John Ó Néill (profile) says:

    I can’t find a list of relevant institutions in the North (in my ignorance, I didn’t think there were Magdalene laundries in operation north of the border), here’s Patrick writing for HuffPo:

    “… the Good Shepherd Sisters ran a laundry and home in Belfast from the late 19th century right up until 1977 and 1990 respectively. Thousands of girls and women passed through its doors. The same order of nuns ran two other laundries, one in Newry which operated into the 1980s, and another in Derry.

    Another Magdalene Asylum, including steam laundry, was operated by the Church of Ireland on Belfast’s Donegall Pass, with the home continuing into the 1960s, while the Presbyterian Church ran the Ulster Female Penitentiary.”

    I had a look for a comprehensive listing of relevant institutions in the north on the web but can’t find one, unless that is the list:

    Good Shepherd Sisters Belfast
    Good Shepherd Sisters Newry
    Good Shepherd Sisters Derry
    Church of Ireland, Donegall Pass
    Ulster Female Penitentiary

    Can anyone add to that (e.g. Patrick?) or is that the full list?

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  30. terence patrick hewett (profile) says:

    Children always ask the most difficult questions: why is the sky blue? why do all shellfish have sqiggley shells? Well: I would like to ask a child’s question: why is it so difficult to find a little kindnness; a little consideration? a little charity?

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  31. John,

    The Sisters of Mercy Convent in Strabane ran a Magdalene laundry. It opened in 1911 and ran until 1928 although a nun’s laundry continued to operate long after that. The nuns also ran a Girl’s Industrial School, St.Catherine’s, from 1870 until 1949, with a total enrolment of 100. It was residential and girls were “committed” for a number of years. They came from families from all over Ireland (there was a separate orphanage) but mainly from Strabane and Derry.
    The convent is no more. It closed due to a dearth of girls wanting to become nuns.

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  32. Reader (profile) says:

    Alias : They are simply folks who chose a roof over their heads and free food …
    “chose” : I wouldn’t want to reinvent the past, clearly there were fewer options and less ‘outdoor relief’ for people in the past, and we can’t go back and change that. But the strong implications from the details we already have are that for most of the children and some of the adults there was no choice at all.

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  33. Reader (profile) says:

    terence patrick hewett: Children always ask the most difficult questions: why is the sky blue? why do all shellfish have sqiggley shells? Well: I would like to ask a child’s question: why is it so difficult to find a little kindnness; a little consideration? a little charity?
    1) Rayleigh scattering
    2) Growth by accretion
    3) It’s not difficult, but charity that was thought to be suitable in a harsher era will turn out to be unfit for purpose when society moves on. Furthermore, closed authoritarian systems seem to become more brutal as they age without external scrutiny. The welfare state and NHS may avoid such problems, so long as we keep an eye on them.

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  34. anne warren (profile) says:

    Just a comment on Reader’s last thoughts

    “closed authoritarian systems seem to become more brutal as they age without external scrutiny.”
    Totally agree with this concept. It applies to all social/political systems, validating the need for scrutiny and accountability in all cases.

    Why do “Charitable initiatives that were thought suitable in a harsher era turn out to be unfit for purpose when society moved on?”
    Because they did not move with society and the times. Often they did not apply the law of the land because of laziness? egoism? ignorance? interest? no external controls or pressure?

    Furthermore, one product of past times was the culture of secrecy. At all levels there was complicity to hide the facts. Which implies that at some level the people or organisations that were involved knew they were doing something wrong.

    It is to the credit of today’s society that it does not always shirk from its responsibility of scrutinizing unpleasant situations and trying to rectify them or at least make sure they do not happen again.

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  35. John Ó Néill (profile) says:

    That’s interesting Joe – I had a look for it on the 1911 census website – it had opened but not developed the laundry yet. It also enumerates buildings including laundries. Other convents had ‘inmates’ or more obviously ‘laundry workers’ – I wonder if researchers might track some of the institutions from the 1911 census onwards. It would at least provide a baseline survey.

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