Magdalene laundries were institutions that housed “fallen women,” who became pregnant outside of wedlock and were forced to undertake hard physical labour and abuse by nuns for their punishment.
The Irish government will launch an investigation into the reported abuse surrounding Magdalene laundries that operated from the 1920s to the mid-1990s.
For years human rights groups such as the Justice for Magdalenes have fought for reparations for abuse and years of work without pay and now the government is taking steps to find out the truth.
“It’s another important step and we are willing to participate,” said a spokesman for the group Justice for Magdalenes, James Smith. “But it doesn’t offer an apology and all the members of our group feel an apology should have come out front, as a signal that restorative justice is important.”
Many of the victims were teenagers who arrive as punishment for petty crimes, becoming pregnant out of wedlock or being said to be “too pretty”.
“Once you were in, the only way out was if a family member claimed you,” said BBC Dublin Correspondent Jennifer O’Leary. “Any woman who did not fit within the narrow definition of good Catholic behaviour was in danger of being sent to the laundries. Some 30,000 women and girls are believed to have lived in the laundries, many also dying there.”
The four orders of nuns that ran the residential institutions said they are willing to co-operate with any inquiry that would be clarity to the issue.
Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said the Government believed “it was essential to fully establish the true facts and circumstances relating to the Magdalene laundries as a first step,” and believes the investigation will help soothe the tensions between activists groups and the government.
Recently, information showing a connection between the laundries and the Departments of Justice and Agriculture as well as Áras a Uachtaráin, Guinness, major Dublin hotels, Clery’s, the Gaiety Theatre and Dr. Steevens’s hospital in the capital has emerged.
The initial investigation also revealed that between 2006 and 2010 the Health Service Executive gave £87 million to three of the four religious congregations affiliated with the laundries between 1922 and 1996.
Senator Martin McAleese is to chair the interdepartmental committee developed to investigate the allegations in human rights abuse in the Magdalene Laundries.
“The sole purpose of the committee is to clarity and detail the facts of any State interaction with the laundries,” said Dr. McAleese, and he hopes they will be able to make a valuable contribution to the investigation.