The UN Committee Against Torture has called on the Irish Government to hold an independent inquiry into the Magdalene laundries.
The laundries have a long history of more than 200 years, but the UN Committee has only concerned itself with activities between 1922 and 1996. (I find it amazing that they were still functioning as recently as 1996!). The Magdalene laundries were run by four different congregations of nuns, who are notorious for their imprisonment of young girls (sent to them either because they were pregnant or considered sexually wayward), for their cruelty towards them and for exploiting their forced labour.
An advocacy group called Justice For Magdalenes took the case to the UN after failing to get the Irish government to institute an investigation.
There's a story in the Guardian describing the discovery of a mass grave of Magdalene inmates whose deaths were never certified:
The nuns had been dabbling on the stock exchange. The results were unfortunate. When a company they had invested in went bust, they decided to sell off a portion of their Dublin land holdings to cover the losses. The snag was that the land contained a mass grave. It was full of "penitents", the label attached to the thousands of women locked up in Ireland's Magdalene laundries. This particular order, the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge, ran High Park, the largest such laundry in the country.
The good sisters did a deal with the developer who bought their land. They split the costs of clearing the mass grave, exhumed and cremated the bodies, and re-buried the ashes in another mass grave, in Glasnevin cemetery. However, it emerged that there were 22 more bodies in the grave than the nuns had listed when applying for permission to exhume. Over one-third of the deaths had never been certified. The nuns did not even appear to know the names of several of the women, listing them as Magdalene of St Cecilia, Magdalene of Lourdes, and so on.
The final number so callously disturbed from their resting place was 155. All had died in the service of the nuns, working long hours in their large commercial laundry for no pay, locked away by a patriarchal church and society ruthlessly determined to control women's sexuality.
It goes on to say:
There has ... been a strange resistance to any official acceptance [by the Irish State] of the injustice suffered by the Magdalene women. The state has wriggled and squirmed, claiming that the laundries were private institutions and all the women entered voluntarily. Uncat has now firmly rejected this, confirming what we in Ireland have long known in our hearts. We knew that women who escaped were caught by the police and returned to the punitive and often brutal regime within the laundries. Generations of Irish people colluded in this, using the laundries when it suited them to clean their clothes and control their daughters.
Just as a postscript to the story, I found this "Mission Statement" from the Sisters of the Good Shepherd on an Australian Magdalene survivors's website:
"The aim of this institute is to provide a shelter for girls and women of dissolute habits, who wish to do penance for their iniquities and to lead a truly christian life. Not only voluntary penitents but also those consigned by civil or parental authority are admitted. Many of these penitents desire to remain for life; they are admitted to take vows, and form the class of "magdalens", under the direction of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. They are an austere contemplative community, and follow the Rule of the Third Order of Mount Carmel. Prayer, penance and manual labour are their principal occupations...."Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)
Have you seen the movie? "The Magdalene Sisters." Horrifying. Catholics suck. And prayer, penance, and manual labor suck, too.
Isn't that what happened to one of the girls in the movie? She was raped at a family wedding so her family sent her to a Magdalene laundry. It must have been a fairly common scenario -punish the victims.
It seems the Catholic loons and the Muslim loons had a meeting of the "minds" on this little enterprise – and who says there is no common ground between them.
I felt ill for hours after watching the movie.
I suspect my mom may have been put in one in the 50's, there is a two year period that she doesn't talk about.
I want to do more research into these, that link looks like a good place to start.
Thanks for posting this. More people should know about them.