N. Ireland struggles to confront Catholic Church’s enslavement of 1000s of women

NOTE FROM JOHN ARAVOSIS: Below is a follow-up to a story we reported on last month about the Catholic-church-run Magdalene laundries that imprisoned up to 30,000 Irish women as slave labor over the past century. This update is authored by Paresh Dave, a journalism student at USC who recently traveled to Ireland and Northern Ireland for 10 days under a grant from the Luce Foundation.

BELFAST — A damning report concluded last month that the Irish government breached its duty of care to thousands of women who were abused over a 74-year-period in church-run asylums known as Magdelene laundries. In response, the head of the Irish government apologized to victims and laid out a compensation package.

In Northern Ireland, however, there is no forthcoming apology or redress for Magdelene survivors.


Map of Northern Ireland (in dark green), the UK (light green) and Europe via Alphathon/Wikipedia

Northern Ireland’s investigation into institutional abuse just kicked off in January — 216 complaints have been filed through March 10. But the inquiry covers only people younger than 18 who were abused in at least 35 places, such as live-in trade schools, between 1922 and 1995. Established by the government, these institutions were generally run by religious orders.

In contrast to the Republic of Ireland, left out in the infant Northern investigation are victims of abuse at local churches and the infamous Magdalene laundries.

Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland program director, said too few of the Magdalene victims came forward as the investigation was originally being organized, so there wasn’t enough political will to include them. Amnesty is pushing lawmakers to now include them.

Patrick Corrigan, the program director for Amnesty International Northern Ireland, discusses his hope that the Northern Ireland Assembly investigates abuse at Magdelene Laundries. (©Megan O'Neill)

Patrick Corrigan, the program director for Amnesty International Northern Ireland, discusses his hope that the Northern Ireland Assembly investigates abuse at Magdelene Laundries. (©Megan O’Neill)

A Northern Ireland Assembly committee heard last Wednesday that it certainly can expand the investigation, if government leaders decide to.

In an interview following the hearing, Amnesty’s Corrigan said Northern Ireland is playing catch up with its southern neighbor.

“The victims in the south have pushed the door open,” he said. “Victims in the north are now asking, ‘Why is my government not responding?'”

Corrigan called for a meeting last month with the two partisan leaders who head the Northern Irish government, but hasn’t heard back from either.

At Wednesday’s hearing, the chairman of the committee that oversees those two leaders suggested there’s potential for action by summer on whether a new inquiry should be started, or the existing one amended.

As part of a month-long campaign to get victims to come forward, the commission overseeing the Northern Ireland institutional abuse investigation placed ads on bus shelters nationwide. (©Paresh Dave)

As part of a month-long campaign to get victims to come forward, the commission overseeing the Northern Ireland institutional abuse investigation placed ads on bus shelters nationwide. (©Paresh Dave)

Corrigan said it would be cost-efficient to expand the existing Historical Institutional Abuse inquiry to include the potentially several thousand Magdelene victims. The goal of the investigation is to determine whether the state failed in its duty toward children in its care, and if so, what should be done about that now.

Dealing with people who were abused at local churches is more difficult. Corrigan said that, unlike with the Magdalene laundries, it’s hard to make a case that the Northern Irish government had a watchdog role inside churches. Because of the strong ties between the Irish government and the Roman Catholic Church, the situation was different in the south.

Yet with a new abuse story emerging nearly every week, many observers now see the likelihood for a more comprehensive investigation in Northern Ireland.

“We don’t know the full story about the abuse crisis in the North,” said William Crawley, a BBC presenter based in Belfast, during an interview. “But we will before the calm hits.”

A report isn’t likely to come out until January 2016.

Girls and women working in Catholic Church's Magdalen Laundry in Ireland in the early 20th century. Public domain photo in the US, via Wikipedia. (PD-US-1923-ABROAD)

Girls and women working in Catholic Church’s Magdalene Laundry in Ireland in the early 20th century.
Public domain photo in the US, via Wikipedia. (PD-US-1923-ABROAD)

Paresh Dave is a senior studying journalism, web development and business law at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. His work has been published by the Sacramento Bee, San Francisco Chronicle, GlobalPost.com, IrishCentral.com, Southern California Public Radio and American Public Media.

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31 Responses to “N. Ireland struggles to confront Catholic Church’s enslavement of 1000s of women”

  1. Iban4yesu says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised, it’s just a movie after all! Incidentally, I just read an article about how films can distort the actualities of historical events (although I disliked how it was too nice to the three current, highly problematic films… ) :http://www.jewishjournal.com/hollywoodjew/item/hollywoods_history_lessons_what_counts_when_the_truth_gets_in_the_way

  2. Mary O'Grady says:

    I saw an interview with an elderly survivor of the Magdalen laundries, Iban4yesu. She said that “The Magdalen Sisters” went too easy on the nuns!

  3. Mary O'Grady says:

    The British did try to destroy the Catholic Church in Ireland. Unfortunately, as in Poland first under the Russian Empire and then as a Soviet satellite, Roman Catholicism became a patriotic, nationalist fetish as well as a brain-warping, cruel and sick way of life.

  4. Mary O'Grady says:

    It depends on who you ask. I find Ulster a handy way to refer to the “Six Counties still under John Bull’s tyranny.” (Sorry. Couldn’t resist.) It does have historical precedent. Eire is of course simply the independent Republic of Ireland, of course

  5. Iban4yesu says:

    The 2002 Golden Lion (The top prize at the prestigious Venice Film Festival ) winner,
    “The Magdalene Sisters”(http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0318411/), was my first exposure to this horrible story.
    I recommend the film very highly, if you have seen it yet.

  6. karmanot says:

    The Vatican is even more officious than the Nazis, after all they had a thousand years plus head start

  7. Bill_Perdue says:

    Catholica cultum oportet destrui

  8. Bill_Perdue says:

    The English royals, aristos and banksters are colonial swine. So are the leaders of the Paislyites, with deep connections with European fascists and the racist leaders of the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster.

    I for one can hardly wait for bacon day.

  9. Bill_Perdue says:

    95% of the population of Northern Ireland hated the IRA and what they did to the country. Please reveal what ‘country’ you’re talking about.

  10. Bill_Perdue says:

    Anyone who thinks the Irish in exile or the Irish in Ireland are going to forgive and forget is blind to the reality of Irish culture, which is firmly rooted in anti-colonialism, rage at the mass murders of the English and the colonialists and now the renaissance of working class rage at the capitalist system itself.

  11. Bill_Perdue says:

    What you say is true, nevertheless the battle in Ireland has little to do with competing religions. That’s a cover for the real battle between the Irish and the English, irrespective of religion.

    The protestants didn’t have a reformation, they had an expropriation of roman cult property and prerogatives. That was neither good or bad, just a dispute between the insane leaders and followers of Cult A vs their counterparts in Cult B. It was not a step forward, just a step sideways.

    Then the prots went on a killing spree, murdering midwives and gays and native peoples throughout Africa and Asia while their roman cousins did the same, especially in the Americas There are no essential differences between roman cultists and the potties, just as there are no essential differences between Democrats and Republicans.

  12. Naja pallida says:

    Seems to me they should have no need to rely on people coming forward. The Catholic church keeps extensive records on everything it does. I guarantee you, they have lists of every single person ever forced into these slave labor places. They have ledgers that will detail names, ages, where people are from, how long they were in service, probably even notations on next of kin. There are probably even individual conduct reports, and work detail assignment reports. All they have to do is start raiding the places where they are hiding the records, assuming they haven’t all been shipped off to the Vatican by now.

  13. Bill_Perdue says:

    Your tour leaders opinions are not shared by the Irish in the English occupied sector of northwest Ireland who consistently vote for Sinn Féin who are for independence and reunification – Ireland for the Irish.

  14. Bill_Perdue says:

    Your opinions on the Irish fight for reunification and national independence are dead wrong because they are not based on facts. Your right wing opinions do not count as facts and are not based on facts. They are based on an animus towards the Irish who tried desperately to protect themselves from the violence and apartheid system of the English colonialists.

    Fact. The Irish Republican Army, now disbanded and decommissioned, fought the armies of the English ruling classes for decades in battles to protect the Irish from the mad dog imperialism and mass murder by the English. The hundreds of massacres like those at Armitsar in India, Derry and Belfast in English occupied northeast Ireland, in Basra in Iraq and on their prisonships in NY Harbor during our own revolution are all examples of the way the armies of the English royalists, aristos and the rich treat their rebellious ‘subjects’.

    Fact. Sinn Féin is not hated by the Irish in the occupied territories or in the Republic. Relatively new to electoral activity in the Republic, They’re active and growing, with 14 of 166 seats in the Dáil Éireann and 3 of 60 in Seanad Éireann.

    Fact. In English occupied northeast Ireland they hold 29 of 108 seats in the colonialist parliament, and are part of the coalition government and they have one seat in the European Parliament for the colonial government.

    They are not hated but perhaps you’d like to provide some proof, some polls, that would justify your arrogant opinion that 95% or the Irish, north or south, hate the IRA or Sinn Féin. Otherwise we’ll draw our own conclusions about your ability to be truthful.

    And finally, there is one and only one cause for Al Qaida’s criminal terrorist attack on 9-11, and that is the US policy of giving the zionist colonizers the weapons they use to murder Palestinians and steal their land. Blame it solely and exclusively on Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bill Clinton and the Bushes and their parties.


  15. karmanot says:

    Bravo! Like+

  16. karmanot says:

    Ireland has suffered greatly by the hand of England with its genocidal occupation and the insane, evil perversions of the Catholic Church. Both merry ole’ England and Rome have been bathing in Irish blood for centuries.

  17. karmanot says:

    To bad the English didn’t focus on wiping out the Catholic Church instead of stealing Irish land, farms and homes, practicing cultural genocide, banning the native language and murdering innocent people for centuries. The English are colonial swine.

  18. karmanot says:

    Bull shit! The sectarian divisions were created by the English occupation and it’s genocidal war against the Irish people.

  19. karmanot says:

    Anything reeking of the English is a stain on Ireland. Long memories don’t rest.

  20. condew says:

    A long-time friend who studied for the priesthood but instead became a librarian quoted someone to me decades ago, “O holy mother church, there must be something of the divine in you, for your priests have not been able to destroy you.”

  21. MyrddinWilt says:

    That is the type of idiotic nonsense that is easy to spout from the other side of the Atlantic. 95% of the population of Northern Ireland hated the IRA and what they did to the country. Just like 95% of muslims hate Al Qaeda and what they stand for. Stupid talk like that on both sides caused the deaths of 3,000 people.

    Second generation ex-pats living in New York City funded the troubles. It is really easy to sit the other side of the Atlantic and give people money for bombs and bullets and murder. Which is just what all those NORAID fundraisers were about. They only stopped because Bin Laden finally made people ashamed of what they were doing

    On the Protestant side, they point to the crimes of the Catholic church. The inquisition, the persecution of the Huguenots. I don’t think those complaints are any more valid. The ‘Rev’ Ian Paisley was a bigot.

    The Protestants were imported into the north of Ireland more than two centuries ago. Things were a little different then. The United Stated of America was an infamous slave gulag at the time. Ancient history is no justification for present day wrongs.

    I suspect that the reason that there has been less willingness to take on the Catholic church in Northern Ireland is precisely the fact that nobody is anxious to open the lid on sectarian divisions. That is what set off the troubles in the first place.

  22. HeartlandLiberal says:

    Again, Carthago delenda est. (Google it, if you do not know the historical reference.)

    That should be the fate of the Catholic church. I am too old to be patient with this kind of evil anymore.

  23. samiinh says:

    I would highly recommend this movie as well. The Catholic Church has been a powerful controlling entity for centuries, but the evil that lives in it is not new and has been there since the beginning.

  24. samiinh says:

    I visited Ireland and Northern Ireland last year, and did a walking tour in the city of Londonderry (aka Derry), with a fellow who was there on Bloody Sunday in 1972. He passionately expressed his believe that the civil and social causes of The Troubles were now in the past, and that all Irishmen in Northern Ireland were living in peace. Most of the problems began centuries before when the English turned Ireland into a Plantation, and pushed the indigenous people off their lands and usurped them for their own. The Protestant factions or loyalists still think of themselves as British subjects and honor the queen. The Catholics, who only until recently, have been able to vote in Northern Ireland, not so much. That was one of the major issues, I learned while there. If you owned land you could vote, and the only ones eligible to own land were those of English descent or Protestant.

    Ireland, all of Ireland, is a beautiful country with some of the finest landscapes in the world. It is sad that its history has been so marred with cultural and civil unrest, dating back hundreds of years, from the earliest days of invasions by Celts, Vikings, English, Spanish. Dublin, in the Republic, is one of the nicest cities I’ve ever had the pleasure to visit.

  25. Bill_Perdue says:

    The answer is: the English occupied sector of northwest Ireland.

    Irish natives in the English occupied sector of northwest Ireland are not willing to be a part of the English state because of it’s ongoing repressive nature. http://www.anphoblacht.com/

    The same is true, for different reasons, of large numbers of Scots (1) and Welsh. (2)

    (1) http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2013/mar/21/scottish-independence-referendum-date

    (2) http://www.english.plaidcymru.org/?force=1

  26. BeccaM says:

    Let’s just say that the Protestant Reformation didn’t happen in a vacuum.

  27. cjfb says:

    There is a “must see” movie called The Magdalene Sisters out on DVD. Many public libraries have it. The thing that struck me about this movie was that the three women whose stories are told in this production were in the laundries in 1965 while I was a young woman travelling around England and Ireland on my own having a great time. The last laundry was closed in 1994. There is a plaque in St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin commemorating these woman. It says – “To the women who worked in the Magdalene laundry institutions and the children born to some members of those communities, reflect here upon their lieves.”

  28. FauxReal says:

    I read about this abuse in 2009 – here’s an article from The Guardian

    Endemic’ rape and abuse of Irish children in Catholic care, inquiry finds
    Beatings and humiliation by nuns and priests were common at institutions that held up to 30,000 children, Ryan report states


    We didn’t pay much attention in this country probably because we were caught up in the sexual abuse by priests.

    Even before this report I saw a story about physical, mental, and sexual abuse of boys by the church in Australia – I think it was an orphanage.

    At the same time I first read the report about Ireland I found this article from Amnesty International –

    Soul Wound: The Legacy of Native American Schools

    Here’s an excerpt – once again we have the Catholic Church involved:

    A 2001 report by the Truth Commission into Genocide in Canada documents
    the responsibility of the Roman Catholic Church, the United Church of
    Canada, the Anglican Church of Canada, and the federal government in the
    deaths of more than 50,000 Native children in the Canadian residential
    school system.

    The report says church officials killed children by beating, poisoning,
    electric shock, starvation, prolonged exposure to sub-zero cold while
    naked, and medical experimentation, including the removal of organs and
    radiation exposure. In 1928 Alberta passed legislation allowing school
    officials to forcibly sterilize Native girls; British Columbia followed
    suit in 1933. There is no accurate toll of forced sterilizations because
    hospital staff destroyed records in 1995 after police launched an
    investigation. But according to the testimony of a nurse in Alberta,
    doctors sterilized entire groups of Native children when they reached
    puberty. The report also says that Canadian clergy, police, and business
    and government officials “rented out” children from residential schools
    to pedophile rings.


    There is something very, very wrong in the Catholic Church and it isn’t something that recently went wrong – they have an appalling history. How does a religious organization allow this evil to go on decade after decade.

  29. BeccaM says:

    They shouldn’t have to depend on “people coming forward” to identify whether they were abused and/or enslaved by their government, acting in collusion with the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland or Northern Ireland. Many of them were probably already on the edges of society, and from what we were told of these programs, the women and girls were indoctrinated with fear of being recommitted.

    There’s no way that records don’t exist. They must exist. If they don’t and were destroyed for some reason, then we have evidence of criminal conspiracy.

    For sure, there should be compensation for the victims. But there also needs to be prosecutions.

  30. Hey, quick question – I was, and still am, struggling with how one refers to Northern Ireland in stories like this. I know it’s part of the UK, but do the Irish take offense when we call Ireland one country and Northern Ireland another? Just curious.

  31. Mary O'Grady says:

    In Ireland, in both Eire and Ulster, during the 20th Century, the Roman Catholic Church profited from slave labor. The Roman Catholic Church has no more moral authority, in Ireland or elsewhere, because of that fact alone.

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