U.S. Magdalene daughter was taken from her mother aged 18 months
Mari Steed led the fight to have justice done for Magdalene women
“On top of that within the ex-pat Irish communities there was a lot of internal bullying going on. People just didn’t dare admit they had been to an industrial school or a Magdalene laundry. You wouldn’t be accepted by your own community.”
Steed’s mother was fortunate, however. She was eventually let go with a work referral in 1957 and picked up employment as aide in a Dublin hospital run by the church.
“Having been raised completely by the nuns, she had no interpersonal skills, no sexual education, she didn't know anything about men,” says Steed.
In less than two years she was pregnant. The nuns sent her back to Cork, this time to a mother-and-baby home.
She gave birth to Steed in 1960 and stayed with her until a U.S. adoption was arranged for the infant about 18 months later, separating another generation from their roots.
“We started Justice for the Magdalenes in 2003,” says Steed. “It took 10 years, but the women who listened to Kenny’s apology are immensely grateful for their state to stand up and say we are sorry for the way we treated you, that’s important to them.
“You almost want to cry for them because that’s all they actually wanted. But that speech needs to underpin some real restorative justice. I didn’t really feel that yet from Kenny.”
How do you compensate someone for the loss of years or even decades of their life lost to shame and indentured servitude?
“The EU Human Rights Commission has a guideline that we’re looking at. There are different reparation schemes across the globe. But it comes down to a fair assessment of each woman and how their experiences impacted their life when they got out,” Steed says.
Steed credits the U.N. Commission Against Torture for pushing the Irish government to produce an apology.
“The government was doing nothing but dragging their feet on this issue until 2011. We had no other choice but to make a human rights case out of it. We took it to the Irish Human Rights Commission and to the UN,” she says.
“I don’t believe for a minute that the government’s response came because they had a change of heart. I believe the UN held their feet to the fire and embarrassed them internationally.”
Meanwhile, for Steed the apology means that the women like her mother can begin to make peace with their difficult pasts.
“They can go about their lives now. I am happy for what’s being done for my mother and women like her,” she says.
“But now I think the floodgates will open on the issue of illegal adoptions. I think that’ll be for the best. We’re at a point in Irish society now where we really just need to clean house.”
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