As many as 15,000 Irish women and girls were reportedly held in slave-like conditions in nunneries, where they were held against their will and forced to work in laundries without pay under harsh conditions through the late 1990s.
Originally established to incarcerate Protestant women and girls, the laundries became prisons run by Catholic nuns to house “fallen” women or those “troubled” with problems like learning disabilities. It seems God works in mysterious ways.
“Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny has apologised for the stigma and conditions suffered by women who were inmates of the Magdalene laundries,” the BBC reports today.
“Mr Kenny said the laundries had operated in a ‘harsh and uncompromising Ireland,’ but he stopped short of a formal apology from the government. About 10,000 women passed through the laundries in the Irish Republic between 1922 and 1996, a report has revealed.
“The laundries were Catholic-run workhouses that operated in Ireland. Mr Kenny expressed his sympathies with survivors and the families of those who died.
“Girls considered ‘troubled’ or what were then called ‘fallen women’ were sent there and did unpaid manual work. In 2011, the UN Committee Against Torture called on the Irish government to set up an inquiry into the treatment of thousands of women and girls. In response, the Irish government set up an inter-departmental committee, chaired by Senator Martin McAleese, to establish the facts of the Irish state’s involvement with the Magdalene laundries.
“Survivors and representative groups, and the religious congregations, co-operated with the departmental committee. Senator McAleese’s inquiry found that half of the girls and women put to work in the laundries were under the age of 23 and 40%, more than 4,000, spent more than a year incarcerated. Fifteen percent spent more than five years in the laundries while the average stay was calculated at seven months.The youngest death on record was 15, and the oldest 95, the report found. Some of the women were sent to laundries more than once, as records show a total of 14,607 admissions, and a total of 8,025 known reasons for being sent to a laundry.Statistics in the report are based on records of eight of the 10 laundries. The other two, both operated by the Sisters of Mercy in Dun Laoghaire and Galway, were missing substantial records.”