Irish-American activists pressure government over Magdalene Laundries

Mari Steed herself is the daughter of a former Magdalene. Her mother is now 77 years old, but the ten years she spent in a Magdalene Laundry still affect her. She keeps her house meticulously clean, scrubbing the floor when it is already spotless.

A US family adopted Steed and she grew up in Philadelphia. An articulate woman with shoulder-length black hair, Steed now gives talks and writes letters to Irish newspapers. She has set up a facebook group and runs the website magdalenelaundries.com.

Smith is the author of Ireland's Magdalen Laundries and the Nation's Architecture of Containment, a book that won himthe distinguished First Book award at the American Conference for Irish Studies in 2007.

Other North Americans are starting to take notice. Marie C. Croll, a Canadian scholar who studies the Laundries, recently wrote a letter to the Irish Independent entitled “World is Looking at You, Minister” asking, “How can the State openly discriminate against these women and children, as members of your nation?”

“I would urge Irish-Americans to go onto Irish papers and submit a letter to the editor,” Smith says. “And to go to the Irish government website and email the Minister for Education’s office.”

Meanwhile the survivors are getting older. “It’s so important for us to get oral histories, and to try to get compensation for them,” Mari Steed says. “They’re going to start dying out. Perhaps that’s what the government is hoping.”

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