Monday, June 07, 2010


Canadians might be forgiven for thinking that our residential schools atrocities are unique, and in some ways they are. The plan to eliminate native cultures by the government turning over "care" of the children to various religious boarding schools was unique in that it was premeditated plan of cultural genocide. From that point forward, however, the methods employed by the various churches were hardly confined to aboriginal Canadians. Canada has had a hint of this by such scandals as the Mount Cashel boys in Newfoundland and the 'Dupleissis Orphans' in Québec. It is , however, in Ireland where the Church was nigh to omnipotent that the largest number of new atrocities are coming to light. The Catholic Church sex scandals are now receiving more and more press across Europe, but the Irish case is special. It gives proof to the presumption that religious sects are benign only insofar as they are powerless, and the more powerful they become the more they grow into evil.

One of the scandals rocking the Irish Church is that of the 'Magdalene Laundries'. These were originally touted as "houses of refuge" for so-called "fallen women" ie anyone who got pregnant without the clergy taking its financial cut. What they were in fact were brutal workhouses, and the financial profit that the nuns who ran them made from their inmates - slave labour in all but name- was so delicious that they began expanding their catchment (a modern slave trade) more and more widely. Conditions were atrocious. Pay for the labour was non-existent. Promised education never happened. And just like some residential schools in Canada the nuns had a habit (pun intended) of burying those who died in their "care" as quietly as possible (see article below).

Survivors of these workhouses have banded together to demand an apology and redress from both the Irish state and the Church. The basic story of the Justice for Magdalenes is told below in the article from the Care2 site. The story of these unfortunate victims of organized religion was told in the 2002 film 'The Magdalene Sisters'. Also, lest anyone think that such atrocities are solely the purview of the Roman Catholic Church (they certainly weren't in Canada's residential schools), top article for today at the Justice for Magdalenes website is a memorial for 40 babies buried in unmarked graves in a Dublin cemetery, victims of a protestant residential school.
Justice For Magdalene Survivors
posted by: Megan Susoeff 3 days ago

For decades, women and children endured abuse and poor labor conditions in Ireland's Magdalene Laundries. The laundries were originally institutions for "fallen women," but they soon grew to include developmentally challenged women and abused girls.

Although there is nothing we can do to take back what happened, survivors and their loved ones are pushing for Irish government officials to formally apologize and recognize survivors of the Magdalene Laundries. This Care2 petition asks that people worldwide add their signature, demanding justice for survivors.

Member of Justice for Magdalenes (JFM), Mari Steed, was kind enough to answer a few questions for us:

What is the main goal of Justice for Magdalenes?

Justice for Magdalenes primary goals are (i) to bring about an official apology from the Irish State and the Catholic Church and (ii) the establishment of a distinct redress scheme for survivors of Ireland's infamous Magdalene Laundries.

How long have you been fighting for this cause?

Justice for Magdalenes sprang from a group founded in 1993 (Madalen Memorial Committee) after the discovery of 155 buried bodies at High Park Convent, Dublin. We actively formed around 2000, with individuals from the Irish adoption community, taking over the reins from the original MMC founders, Patricia McDonald, Bláthnaid Chinnéide and Margo Kelly. In one shape or another, our core committee has been working on this issue in an advocacy capacity for some 12 years.

Does it affect you or anyone you know personally?

Yes, several of us on the committee have mothers who spent time in the Laundries. My mother worked for 10 years doing intricate sewing (embroidery, etc.-- the hand-smocked dresses, tablecloths sold for commanding prices in Dublin and even at places like Harrod's in London, and to the American tourism market) at the Waterford laundry, St. Dominick's.

Our mothers also experienced the mother-baby homes of Ireland, which although not as bad as the Laundries and at least regulated by the State, were no walk in the park.

What are your hopes for this petition?

We hope to bring a loud global voice and pressure to bear on Prime Minister Cowen (and members of his government) to stop waffling and provide clear leadership on this issue. We want him to legislate/pass our draft redress proposal and provide justice for these women, as the government did for survivors of residential institution abuse under the terms of the 2002 Redress Act.

Although JFM has had very successful and productive meetings with the departments of Education, Justice and Health, along with the formation of an ad hoc committee, we still continue to hear back-sliding from these departments who were complicit in remanding girls and women to Laundries.
Is there anything else you want readers to know about this cause?

This is very much an international human rights issue. The Irish diaspora is, as we know, quite large. And there is every likelihood that somewhere in the world there is a first- or second-generation Irish citizen whose mother, granny, auntie, sister or other female relations may have spent time in the Laundries (including members of the Irish government!)

There is also a common misconception that the Laundries are a relic of the distant past. Not so -- the last laundry closed its doors in 1996 and there are many living Magdalene survivors, a good number of whom are now in elder care, still with the nuns for whom they worked.

Those not still in the care of the nuns tried to make their own way in the world. But they still bear the scars of their incarceration: failed relationships (as they are unable to trust or build bonds with others), lack of education (they were performing slave labour when they should've been getting an education), lack of financial support (most have no family to turn to or were spurned by their families) and a general institutional scarring that's left many unable to cope in 'outside' society. And of course, in many cases, there was physical, sexual and mental abuse which has never been properly dealt with or healed.


Very few survivors have computer skills or access to the Internet, but you can sign this Care2 petition to honor those who cannot add a signature themselves.

Please go to this link to add your voice to the following petition to Brian Cowen, the Irish Taolseach (equivalent of Prime Minister- loosely translated from Irish Gaelic as "great green cheese") demanding justice for the Magdalene survivors.
Leadership needed on Magdalene Laundries

Target:An Taoiseach of Ireland, Mr. Brian Cowen.

Sponsored by: Justice for Magdalenes.

Urge Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen to call for State acknowledgment of its complicity in remanding women and children to Magdalene Laundries, and to (i) offer an official apology to and (ii) establish a distinct redress scheme for victims and survivors of these abusive institutions. We also have a direct e-mail form which can be sent to An Taoiseach at .

Dear Taoiseach,

We, the undersigned, as concerned global and Irish citizens, write to you to appeal for justice and to add our voices to the call for Irish State acknowledgment of its complicity in remanding women and children to Magdalene Laundries. We urge you to (i) offer an official apology to and (ii) establish a distinct redress scheme for victims and survivors of these abusive institutions.

Your recent assertion that there is a distinction between "children in the residential institutions" and "women in [Magdalene] laundries" is appalling in the extreme. Justice for Magdalenes has proven beyond doubt that there were children in the Magdalene laundries. The Department of Education acknowledged its awareness of this fact when Justice for Magdalenes met with senior officials on 2 February 2010. Your response signals the State's primary concern is to limit liability with respect to anticipated claims for compensation. You and your government should be focused on providing justice for women and children denied their constitutional rights. Do you believe that the State, and in particular the Department of Education, did not have a moral and Constitutional obligation to protect every child from the exploitative work conditions in the laundry institutions?

We urge you to pursue the cause for justice for these women and children, to cease trying to pass the burden solely on the religious orders that ran these institutions, and to exert the utmost pressure on those same orders to also find, as Cardinal Sean Brady himself promised, a 'just solution' for these citizens, whose rights were so grievously violated.

To do less brings shame on yourself, Ireland's government and the nation as a whole.

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