The Magdalene Laundries

The appalling story of young women who became pregnant out of marriage in Ireland, forced into slave labour in Catholic institutions is at last being addressed by the Irish government who have now announced compensation for the victims.

They have also stated that the Catholic church will be expected to contribute to the payouts, as the young women were entrusted to their care. What amazes me is that these institutions continued as late as 1996. The singer Sinead O’Connor is one of the victims.

And it was not just Ireland that had such institutions. In this clip, Canada had similar arrangements for dealing with ‘fallen women’. Families too poor to support themselves were forced to give up their daughters, and the money saved allowed them to raids the rest. The men who got them pregnant were never punished of course.:

It is hard to imagine how representatives of a divine being could behave so brutally for so long towards vulnerable young women. And it is of course inexcusable.

But on Desert Island Discs some years ago, author Thomas Kinnealy spoke of his education by – I think they were called The Christian brothers. He recalled how the Irish in Australia were increasing in numbers and poverty to the extent that they were becoming an underclass. He and many other young men were treated badly in order to force them to rise above their poor backgrounds, to in effect, beat them out of poverty. He began to train as a priest, but thankfully gave it up to become a great writer.

I do not in any way wish to excuse brutality towards children, but there is always a starting point for such things, and perhaps the real crime is the long history of Irish poverty that bred such monsters in the first place. As such there is a lesson to be learnt with the rising levels of poverty being proposed by governments.

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