In a couple of weeks on the first of July, the Redress for Women Who Were Resident in Certain Institutions Act comes into effect in Ireland, providing healthcare (including counseling services) to women who survived their time in the Magdalene Laundries and are still living in Ireland.
The Laundries were the Irish manifestation of Magdalene asylums, institutions run by the Catholic Church that housed “fallen women,” a term that generally referred to prostitutes, unwed mothers, or others considered to be sexually promiscuous or deviant. The women and children in these “asylums” were subject to neglect, horrible abuse, imprisonment, and forced labor at the hands of the nuns often for the majority of their lives. A mass grave was found at the site of a Dublin laundry in 1993, which obviously prompted investigation. The last one closed in 1996.
In 2013, Ireland finally admitted to some state guilt (keyword “some”) and Enda Kenny issued a pretty weak apology for “the stigma” these women have had to face. So this Act is attempting to fulfill a 2013 promise that would grant the women government support and healthcare. But there has been some critique on what exactly the government is offering: payouts to applicants in exchange for their agreement not to sue the State and medical cards. This card, however, is not the HAA card that was promised, but one that does not “provide direct access to treatment.” It might also be worth it to point out that the Church has refused to help out with compensation in any way, and the more extreme members of it, unsurprisingly, have even denied the abuse.
That aside, in 2013 there was also talk of erecting some sort of memorial or turning one of the former sites, the Laundry run by the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, into a museum, but construction and planning has yet to be begun on either. Unfortunately, “the problem is money.” Yes, that always is a problem. But, I think the bigger problem is that just as during the days in which the Laundries operated, no one besides the victims seems to care. It’s easier to cover it up, to deny it, to not have to think about what these women and children went through, because then we don’t have to feel responsible for allowing it to occur. And while we do this countless women who were locked away and silenced by the Catholic Church, the Irish government, and their fellow Irish people are still not being heard, still not getting the validation and justice they deserve.