Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Should the British Government behave like the Irish did towards Magdalene Laundries?

The Film - Magdalene Laundries
For some reason, the Irish Government get it, when it comes to their attitude towards abuse and the protection of children, whereas the British Government don't get it in the same way. You may have noticed the recent apology from the Irish Prime Minister in relation to the Magdalene Laundries scandal. The BBC News Site stated:-
"The Irish Prime Minister (Taoiseach), Enda Kenny, has formally apologised on behalf of the state for its role in the Magdalene laundries.
Some 10,000 women and girls were made to do unpaid manual labour in laundries run by Roman Catholic nuns in Ireland between 1922 and 1996."
Would we have seen a British Prime Minister apologising in the same way? I leave you to answer that question. No doubt we would have seen multiple enquiries set up and a promise of "transparency", but not an apology.

The Irish government have also announced the setting up of a compensation scheme for the victims of the laundries. It is in its early stages but according to the BBC " victims are being urged to register with the Republic of Ireland's Department of Justice in preparation for the provision of compensation and support services"

"People may contact the Department of Justice on 01-476 8649 or by writing to: Magdalene Laundry Fund, c/o Department of Justice and Equality, Montague Court, Montague Street, Dublin 2."

Some of the background facts about Magdalene Laundries:-
  • 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 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
The Irish deputy Prime Minister (Tanaiste), Eamon Gilmore, said he wanted to tell the survivors that "we have heard you, we believe you, and we are profoundly sorry for what was done to you". The atmosphere in the Irish Parliament was emotional, and the survivors in the public gallery received a standing ovation - how refreshing - we can learn lessons in England from this display of emotion.

An inquiry chaired by Senator Martin McAleese found more than 2,000 women and girls were sent to the laundries by the state authorities, and many Irish institutions, such as the army and some government departments, had contracts with the laundries.

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

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.

This is not the first time that the Irish government has done the right thing by the victims of abuse - in 2001 there was a similar apology by the Taoiseach in relation to abuse in Irish Institutions where widespread abuse took place for many years in the past. A list of homes was compiled, with the noticeable omission of the Magdalene Laundries. The government then set up the Irish Redress Board, which closed its doors again, after making many compensation awards in 2005

We at Abney Garsden acted for about 80 claimants to the Board who were successful in their cases. Whilst it is a shame that the Laundries were not included in the former Redress Board remit, at least the Irish Government have rectified the earlier omission.

The exact terms of the scheme have not yet been published, and are awaited with interest. It is likely to be of interest to many Irish emigrants who fled the homeland to escape not only memories of their experiences but also a lack of opportunity. The authors of the McAleese Report estimated that over 800 former residents are still alive.

Many energetic women have campaigned tirelessly. There will be, however, many others, who have never come forward, and should consider doing so.

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