Irish state colluded in forced labor at laundries, report finds

DUBLIN — The state colluded in forced labor at laundries run by nuns in Ireland between 1922 and 1996, according to a report published by the Department of Justice on Tuesday.

The Magdalene laundries were run by Catholic religious congregations using the forced labor of young women, some of whom had just given birth or were pregnant outside marriage.

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny told parliament it had been proved that there was state intervention in 26 percent of cases where women were sent to the laundries.

Kenny said the stigma of being a resident should have been removed and he said he was “sorry” it has not happened sooner, but fell short of issuing a full apology.

The state had previously refused to compensate the women, denying collusion in their forced labor and saying that it was a matter for the religious orders.

The state-commissioned report published Tuesday deals with 10,012 women.

The actual number of known admissions was 14,607. The average age was 23 and the youngest entrant was nine. At least one quarter of the entrants were found to have been previously institutionalized.

The environment at the laundries was found to be harsh and punitive with many instances of verbal censure, scoldings and humiliating put-downs.

Sexual abuse was not alleged.

The average stay was seven months, but some residents became institutionalized and stayed a lifetime.

Martin McAleese, husband of former President Mary McAleese, chaired the committee, which spoke to 58 former residents who are still being cared for by the religious congregations that ran the laundries.

It also spoke with a further 50 former residents who came forward to give evidence.

Kenny said “destitution and poverty” were among the reasons women ended up in the institutions. Kenny said the overriding requirement of the report was to deal with the stigma attached to those who worked and stayed in the laundries.

This stigma needs to be removed, he said, calling for a debate in the parliament on the issue. The session was scheduled to take place in two weeks, to give people time to read the 1,000-page report.

The campaign group Magdalene Survivors Together has called upon the religious orders for an official apology and for compensation to women who were in the Magdalene Laundries.

The group, which represents 27 women who are still alive and who were in the laundries, said it was happy the report had been published, but noted “an awful lot of denial still exists regarding the laundries.”

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said: “I regret that it was not until July 2011 that action was initiated on behalf of the state to undertake a comprehensive examination of the circumstances that applied in the laundries and the impact of the laundries on many of the women who resided there.

“I am sorry that the state did not do more and the government recognizes that the women alive today who are still affected by their time in the laundries deserve the best supports that the state can provide.”

The probe is a partial response to the U.N. Committee Against Torture’s call for a prompt, independent, statutory investigation into allegations by former residents of the Magdalene Laundries.

Welcoming Tuesday’s report, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland Colm O’Gorman said the scale of the human rights abuses demanded urgent action from the government. He called for reparations from the government.