The Sexual Repression of the Irish People
March 22, 2013

“Lock them up and don’t let them see the cold light of day” more than likely was a thought that ran through the head of the nuns as they threw single mothers back into their rooms after a long day at the laundry working tirelessly to make a quick bucks for the holy orders that ran such kips. Single mothers were placed in these institutions because they had a child outside of marriage, children were given up for adoption or sent into some industrial school and the mothers looked upon with disgrace, daring to have sex outside of marriage. Even at that, it was not only single mothers whom were sent but women whom may have been single but seen to have been too beautiful for how she may tempt man to “partake of her flesh”. Women from society of all types were sent against their will to the laundries. The last of these institutions only closed in 1996, closing its doors never again to be opened thankfully. Ireland however has still held itself back all these years, the closing of the last Magdalene laundry marked a delineation in the role of Irish society perhaps not frowning upon the sexual being that is inside all of us but to think it was a complete delineation is far from the truth.

The Ryan report unmasked the level at which child abuse was prevalent all through the schools run by the Irish church and to what extent the abuse was perpetrated. Priests, most of whom were placed under an obligation to stay celibate, were shown to have been abusing children to satiate some sort of urge they had which can be attributed partially to the twisting of norms at the time at what was accepted and what was not. Sexually you only had sex to procreate and sex for any other reason was seen as a sin except in households where the wife was expected to grit her teeth, spread her legs and think of Ireland in what became a societal norm and not seen as it should have been, an abuse of women’s rights , a violation of her own body.

Donal Fallon’s article recently on thejournal.ie on the rise to prominence of the Irish sex shop (http://www.thejournal.ie/readme/sex-shops-ireland-706612-Dec2012/) illustrates in parallels the acceptance gradually of the rise of the acceptance of some aspects of our sexuality and the decline in catholic faith as the 90’s came and went so did more sex shops to the point they are now a feature very much of the Irish landscape. When Peter Stringfellow opened his strip club in the mid 2000’s, the old dears of the Legion of Mary (LOM) sought to close down the establishment for lap dances (http://www.irishexaminerusa.com/mt/2006/07/19/stringfellows_closes_in_dublin.html)

Ireland however is still trapped in a mire of sexual repression. Speaking to a friend last night from Boston he told me he was amazed at a recent trip to a gay sauna where men would only ‘play’ with him in the dark room, they would not give him the time of day but in the dark anything was fair game, sex with the lights off common enough I’m sure with Irish people ashamed at the thoughts of making love. Typically the Irish male is at complete odds with the Irish female in the bedroom, the woman likes to be held while the Irish man upholds the stereotype of being masculine and being afraid to cuddle, show me an Irish man who wears his heart on his sleeve and I will buy you a pint (perhaps). Where does this come from this cold heart? A mix of Catholic guilt, pressure to conform to male stereotypes and a lack of emotion from parents perhaps all conspire to create this cold shameful sexual Irish being.

Abortion and homosexuality aside, issues discussed to death on the corridors of http://www.Politicalworld.org Ireland, lets face it, are sexually constrained. Our youth are only now being thought about contraception, years after Nell Mc Cafferty and others went on the pill train and young men could not buy condoms in the Virgin Megastore on Aston Quay. Online young men are afraid to come out to express their sexual preference as are young lesbians. Cast of your shackles Ireland, we are but a nation economically screwed, morale is low and we have no money to spend but we do have one and other Ireland.

Make love, not war!

fluffybiscuits 21.3.2013

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One Last Chance for Enda to Provide Justice for the Women Who Were Shut Away in the Laundries
February 17, 2013

I’ve just read the Justice for Magdalene’s redacted submission to the McAleese committee.  It has been released to balance and correct some impressions conveyed by the McAleese report. None of the hundreds of pages of accounts of individual women was quoted by McAleese. I haven’t read McAleese’s report yet, and plan to give it a try today – although at 1,000 pages it will have to be a fast read.

The Press and some politicians and commentators are using the McAleese Report to say that the laundries were “not like the films.” McAleese interviewed 50 women, the rest of the Committee did not meet any. They had no remit to investigate the treatment of the women in the laundries or to make findings on this. The first thing to remember about the McAleese Report is that the brief was to investigate State links with the laundries, not to explore what went on inside them.   All of the Committee members bar McAleese were civil servant representatives of implicated State Departments. McAleese who has close associations with the Church, resigned his position as Senator and left Ireland without making himself available to the press to answer questions on his report.  

The Justice for Magdalene’s earlier reports show the State’s role, and were in part what forced the Government to act. The State was responsible by reason of its neglect of its duties to inspect and to protect citizens from illegal incarceration and brutality. It also paid capitation money in to the laundry system for some women, provided contracts to it, and directly sent women into the laundries, and returned them if they escaped, without investigating if they were held legally. It has taken 10 years of research and campaigning, and a number of women in the meantime have died waiting, with no redress, some in very poor circumstances. One of the women who spoke out last year has lung cancer, and did not expect to see the report come out. Now she is waiting still for an apology and some redress.

Some of the things that stick in my mind from the many accounts in the JFM report and that very much contradict the Enda Kenny/McAleese version of the laundries –

The laundries were locked jails, with barred windows, with no daylight in some cases, little or no access to out of doors. They were cold and often wet. The work was heavy and dangerous. Many women got burns and other injuries.

The girls and women had inadequate diets – porridge for breakfast and supper, a small lunch with little protein, an egg once a year at Easter, occasional pieces of fruit on “special days.” An account mentions that women rooted in bins for nuns leftovers. They were very thin. People talk about fainting from hunger.

Women were not told when or how they would get out, and many never did get out.

Their names were taken off them and a number or penance name given to them.

They were told they were “there for their sins” although some had no idea why they were there at all. Young children as young as 11 were put in the laundries and a lot of them were young women. They were verbally insulted and abused.

Some women were put there because of ill health – lameness, epilepsy, mental disability.

They were not allowed to speak during the long work hours. They worked six days a week in the laundries: after hours they worked making small goods for sale by the nuns, and cleaning.Women were beaten with belts and hit with heavy bunches of keys for “faulty work” and for “cheek” and in some cases severely beaten for running away or for being found in bed with another woman. They were also punished by having their hair cut “to the bone” and by having to kneel and kiss the floor.   Solitary confinement was a punishment. Women were physically forced to work even when ill.    Enda Kenny however told the Dáil that physical abuse was not an issue.

Some girls and women who were resistant of this abuse and bullying or in other ways “difficult” were sent to mental institutions where they were incarcerated and in some cases died, unreleased.

There was an atmosphere of fear: women cried at night in bed. Women had nervous breakdowns and suffered from depression. Some became severely institutionalised. At least one is still living in an institution / care – would have liked her own room, but never had one. Reported problems of not getting dentures and associated weight loss. This seems to be current ?

They were not ever paid.

The young ones got no education. They had no books, newspapers, or radio and didn’t know what was happening in the outside world.

A horror that sticks in my mind – a account of a woman (likely not the only one) who was born in a laundry institution, grew up in it and who died in it.

Another account mentions a woman who sat at one end of the Church at High Park, while her daughter, elsewhere in the institution, sat at the other, without them ever knowing they were living in the same place.

A woman who got out for a day when she was 45 to meet her grown up child had never before tasted coffee, or handled money. She didn’t know her own age, but was told by her children. She died aged 51. (source: from the JFM FB page)

When the women died, there was no death certificate in many cases, and they were put in a mass grave with no name marker and no priest present, no funeral rites.

The State was very much aware of the laundries, was aware of issue of wages and its obligation to inspect and to safeguard basic rights of citizens. It failed catastrophically in relation to the laundries and in fact colluded in stripping women of their rights.

Women were in some cases sent for petty theft (an apple, stolen in an industrial school, is one example), for staying out late, or being rebellious generally.  Some had had children outside marriage.  Others had disabilities. Some had grown up in institutions. If they ran away, Gardai returned them.

The Secretary of Carlow County Council signed an order to incarcerate a married woman in a laundry and send her baby to a babies home, as the child was believed not to be her husband’s. This was in 1956 (As a side note, I know of a case in the 1990s,  in which Gardai in this area turned away a woman who went for help as she was repeatedly beaten at home: they informed the husband they she had complained).

The issue is not to me about who sent women to the laundries. Enda Kenny, McAleese and the press are busy trying to foist the blame for the laundries onto families. This is a particularly toxic and self serving argument. The State has obligations to citizens and residents irrespective of failures of families.

Abuse is an illustration of that.

Some girls /children who had been abused were locked into the laundries. One woman told of how as a young teenager she went to the Gardai and repeatedly asked them to act against her father who was raping her (her mother had died). They refused on a number occasions, but when they did act it was to incarcerate her in a laundry.

Women ended up in the laundries via state schools and institutions, via the courts, via parish priests and families. Families were under enormous social pressure from current “morals” and social stigma enforced by Church and State, and from poverty.  The Laundries were punitive institutions, part of a gulag of social control, that exerted fear and pressure on all girls and women to modify their behaviour and to comply with a rigid, brutal and hierarchical social norm.

The thinking that the State can avoid its responsibilities and push them off onto onto families, no matter how dysfunctional or disadvantaged, still goes on.

This matter will come up before the Dáil again on Tuesday.  Again, Enda Kenny has the opportunity to apologise, and make redress for the appalling acts of omission and commission by our State in relation to the Laundries.  

There will be a lobby/picket of the Dáil from Tuesday 1 p.m. 19.1.2013  until the debate is over.
Anyone who would like to go along would be welcome.   The women and support campaigners who have brought things to this stage and who have refused to be silenced deserve every support.

POST SCRIPT Justice for Magdalenes and supporters will be gathering at the Dail Tuesday 19th February for a candlelit vigil from 5 p.m. Please come, and bring a candle. 🙂 The debate starts on the Magdalene laundries starts at 6 p.m.

C. Flower  17.2.2013

Senator McAleese: Will You Play Forfeits? Reconciliation with the Women of Magdalene Laundries
January 22, 2013

Does anyone doubt that the Magdalene Laundries existed? Does anyone really believe the Irish Government in its uneasily shifting stance that ‘officially’ the Irish State knew nothing of these ‘private’ institutions?

At the very least there is a false note here and this was pointed out by the UNCAT Committee on Torture where official Ireland found itself over a year ago arguing that Ireland knew nothing of the Magdalene Laundries ‘officially’.

The UNCAT Committee rather embarrassingly for the Irish Government pointed out that it was not enough for a member nation to simply plead ignorance – that under UN Membership Ireland officially was obliged to ensure that such institutions were inspected and under a governance system.

If the Irish State’s position is that it didn’t understand the rules of its UN membership on the subject of ill-treatment, abuse and internment of citizens then it merely means Ireland admits a studied negligence of its own tortured citizens in these institutions.

The Irish State has an overt habit of this practice and while the UNCAT Committee did not accept the State’s point it is very unlikely also that the State can convince us either given how close we are to the State’s record in such matters.

Ireland, socially, is a recidivist. If there were an institution possible for entire states where such societies could be described as ‘fallen’ or at serious risk of being ‘fallen’ with regard to humanity and ethics then the lady in green would be institution bound.

Something of an irony that a lady inclined in all respects and in constant practice towards the refusal to examine her dirty laundry at the same time might be chained philosophically to an institutional washing board and scrubbing, overseen, at a stain on its character that simply won’t come out.

Sometimes the child is wiser than the parent. And what parent could be displeased with a child that announces it is better to tell the truth than persist in lying? And that, on this subject, is where we are as we await the Government’s response to the dental detective Martin McAleese’s report into the Magdalene Laundry issue.

There is apprehension that official Ireland will persist, rather excruciatingly, with its notion that ‘officially’ Ireland knew nothing.

Justice delayed. In fact if McAleese’s report which undoubtedly will be obsequious in its ‘sensitivity’ to the Magdalenes serves only to cling to an evasive manoeuver by the State then it is not just a failure to attend to acknowledging serious wrong but the conclusion will be that the State wishes to persist in another known evil in Ireland – the ‘delay till they die’ process –  which has in the past served the same cult behind the profitability of these washday gulags. The State wishes to portray the Magdalene Laundries as ‘different’ to issues of up to sixty residential “Reformatory and Industrial Schools” operated by Catholic Church orders, funded and supervised by the Irish Department of Education.

To allege that the Irish State which paid capitation (head money) to the orders behind those institutions was unable to ‘see’ a similar system with the Magdalene Laundries attached to them, while elements of the state were ‘remanding’ women to the Laundries is simply insufferable dishonesty of the worst sort.

We will know shortly whether the Irish State wishes to persist in its adopted ignorance – a profitable stance in fear of redress payments and perhaps a wish to avoid a situation where the government will be buried in outrage should it attempt to pay ‘redress’ on behalf of orders which have already welched to the sum of   euros where other institutions are concerned. I may be wrong in my suspicions around McAleese’s report- understandable when the words ‘construct a narrative’ were used in discussions around the remit of his Committee on this issue.

We do a lot of ‘narrative constructing’ in Ireland. One of these days we may decide to restrict ourselves to reporting on what actually happened and who was involved. But that requires a maturity that may not yet be available to our childish state and immature official institutions.

Quite apart from the debt Irish society owes those of the Magdalene Laundries and other religious gulags we could at least show these people that we do care about what happened to them.

They could be forgiven for thinking that any signal now is irrelevant but we have an opportunity while many are still living to at least acknowledge properly the social disgrace of the state and Irish society for allowing this to happen.

It must be said. It may not do much practical good but that part of the national conversation must happen for the dignity of those who had their dignity taken from them in such a horrible manner and for a reconciliation process to begin.

I used the word ‘reconciliation’ because otherwise how can the victims feel vindicated as citizens of this somewhat shabby Republic and how can citizens who weren’t victims look each other in the eye?

Captain Con O’Sullivan    21.01.13

*From the poem ‘Geasa’ (The Bond) by Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill

A report by an interdepartmental committee chaired by Senator Martin McAleese is with the Government: a Government statement is expected within the next two weeks.

Join our discussion on the Magdalene Laundry workers on Politicalworld.org.

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