Ireland Liable for Years of Nun-Run, Forced-Labor Women Workhouses

Wednesday, 06 Feb 2013 03:54 AM

By Bill Hoffmann

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DUBLIN — Ireland should be held liable for the horrors suffered by thousands of women and teenage girls who were committed to workhouses against their wills and forced to perform backbreaking labor without pay for nearly 75 years, according to an official report.
 
The workhouses — operated by Catholic nuns and commonly known as the Magdalene Laundries — were vilified in a report by former Irish President Mary McAleese, who was tapped to study what is viewed as one of Ireland’s greatest shames.

The report found that between 1922 and 1996, Irish authorities committed thousands of women — prostitutes, unwed mothers and their children, homeless women and truants — to live in the laundries under brutal slave-labor conditions.

Work days consisted of 12 hours of ironing and washing and those who tried to run away were hunted down by police and returned, the report said.

In addition, as many as 2,000 children were separated from their mothers and illegally exported to United States where they were adopted by wealthy families.

Following release of the report, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny issued a dramatic apology, but stopped short of offering the financial payback survivors have demanded.

"To those residents who went into the Magdalene laundries from a variety of ways . . . I'm sorry for those people that they lived in that kind of environment," Kenny said, according to London’s Daily Telegraph.

Justice for Magdalenes, founded in the United States by onetime workhouse resident Mari Steed, has waged a campaign for an official apology and compensation from Ireland and the Catholic Church.

“It’s so important for us to get oral histories [from survivors], and to try to get compensation for them,” Steed said. “They’re going to start dying out. Perhaps that’s what the government is hoping.”

James Smith, an Irish studies professor at Boston College, told the website Irish Central: “The state is now conveniently scapegoating the Catholic Church when in fact church and state were partners throughout most of the twentieth century.”

The scandal was turned into an acclaimed, R-rated movie in 2002 called “The Magdalene Sisters.’’

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