Irish inquiry: State involved in laundry forced labor | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 05.02.2013
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Irish inquiry: State involved in laundry forced labor

A probe in Ireland has found that the state was complicit in the "Magdalene laundries," where thousands of women were subjected to forced labor until 1996. Ireland's premier has expressed sympathy to the victims.

Irish governments referred more than a quarter of the estimated 10,000 women and girls sent to Ireland's Magdalene laundries over a period of seven decades, according to a report released on Tuesday. Previously, the state had denied involvement in what it had described as private institutions run by several Catholic orders of nuns.

Martin McAleese, the husband of former president Mary McAleese headed the committee, whose report was entitled "Report of the Interdepartmental Committee to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen Laundries."

In light of the revelations, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny publicly expressed the government's regret.

"To those residents who went through the Magdalene Laundries in a variety of ways, 26 percent of the time from state involvement, I am sorry for those people that they lived in that kind of environment," Kenny said before the Irish Assembly.

"It's not a single issue story. Those residents, all 10,000, arrived [in the laundries] through a variety of circumstances and for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was destitution and poverty," Kenny told parliament.

According to the committee's findings, the state helped provide financial assistance to the ten laundries across Ireland, oversaw workplace regulation to some extent and conducted periodic inspections. Entry and exit routes, as well as death registrations were also traced back to the Irish government.

Psychological trauma

The women who had been sent to these institutions were portrayed over the years as "fallen women." However, Tuesday's reported sought to dispel the idea that many of the victims were prostitutes or mothers who then gave birth within the confines of the institutions, saying that "the reality was much more complex."

Referrals fell into the two main categories, the report found. Non-state entities, including Industrial Schools, agencies and families, accounted for cases in which women were forced to live and work in a Magdalene laundry without being told why or for what duration they were to stay.

By contrast, the criminal justice system and social services stipulated both the reason and the sentencing.

"The majority … described the atmosphere in the [laundries] as cold, with a rigid and uncompromising regime of physically demanding work and prayer, with many instances of verbal censure, scoldings or even humiliating put downs," the introduction to the report said.

The wards worked from morning until night and were thought to have been victims of physically abuse, but the report did not find allegations that supported this idea, nor did it find evidence of sexual abuse.

It did, however, underscore the profound psychological impact the conditions had had on the victims, even though over 60 percent resided in the institutions for less than one year.

"[These women felt] deep hurt … due to their loss of freedom, the fact that they were not informed why they were there, lack of info on when they would be allowed to leave, and denial of contact with the outside world, particularly family and friends."

Tuesday's report also acknowledged the regret the Catholic orders have expressed in relation to the findings.

In a separate statement, those four orders - the Sisters of the Good Shepherds, the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, the Religious Sisters of Charity and the Sisters of Mercy - apologized for the trauma caused by their predecessors.

“We have become increasingly aware that whereas our intention was to provide refuge and a safe haven, the impact on some who have experienced our care has been something different." the statement read.

"We are aware that for some, their experience of our care has been deeply wounding, we deeply regret this."

kms/ipj (AFP, Reuters, AP)