Blog: forced labor

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February 7, 2013

Irish Government Acknowledges Role in Magdalene Laundries; Offers No Apology or Reparations

Posted by Cara Solomon

For a while now, this blog has followed Maeve O’Rourke, LLM ’10, a former Global Human Rights Fellow, as she works with other advocates to secure reparations for thousands of women and girls who labored in Ireland’s so-called Magdalene Laundries. Tuesday marked a milestone for the group, Justice for Magdalenes: After years of ignoring the issue, the Irish government released a 1000-page report into the laundries, which were run by various orders of nuns from 1922 to 1996.

The Good Shepherd Convent/Magdalene Asylum, which operated as a residential laundry until the late 1970s. Photo courtesy of Tarquin Blake
A residential laundry at the Good Shepherd Convent/Magdalene Asylum. Photo: Tarquin Blake

For the first time, the government acknowledged its own “significant” role in the forced labor: more than a quarter of the women and girls in the laundries were referred there by the government. Some came from the criminal justice system, prosecuted for nothing more than petty theft; others came from residential institutions; still others from homes for unwed mothers.

After decades of speculation, the government also confirmed a number: more than 10,000 women and girls worked in the laundries. The youngest was 9. The oldest was 89. The average age was 23.

For all the report’s revelations, the government’s formal response to it on Tuesday fell stunningly short. In comments before the Irish Parliament, Prime Minister Enda Kenny expressed mostly sorrow. There was no apology for the government’s role. There was no talk of reparations.

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October 24, 2011

Today, October 25: Seeking Justice for the Women of Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries

Event poster shows an image of an old hospital in Ireland that appears to be a Margdalene Laundry. In front of the building is a statute of an angel. Overlaid with the image is the event information.

October 25, 2011

“Abuse by Church and State: The Hidden Story of Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries”

A Talk by Maeve O’Rourke, 2010 Global Human Rights fellow
and James M. Smith, Author and Associate Professor of English, Boston College

12:00- 1:15 pm

Lewis Hall 302

Maeve O’Rourke, LLM ’10, and Associate Professor James M. Smith, author of Ireland’s Magdalen Laundries and the Nation’s Architecture of Containment, will discuss their legal campaign for an investigation into- and reparations for- the abuse of thousands of girls and women in Ireland’s church-run Magdalene laundry institutions from 1922 – 1996.

Prof. Smith will explain the workings of the Magdalene Laundries, which incarcerated vulnerable girls and women including those considered to be “fallen” and subjected them to forced unpaid labor.  He will also reveal the Irish State’s interactions with the laundry system.  Maeve will discuss the legal case she presented to the UN Committee against Torture (UNCAT) in May 2011, the resulting UNCAT recommendations, and the Irish government’s response to date. She will also share some experiences of the Magdalene Laundries from women who gave their testimony for the UN submission.

This event is being co-sponsored by Harvard Law Students for Reproductive Justice, HLS Advocates for Human Rights, and the Harvard Women’s Law Association.

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