The social structure that allowed for forced labor and misery in Magdalene Laundries to occur is part of the Irish psyche, according to Sunday's Irish Independent Op Ed.
Writing for the newspaper, journalist Emer O’Kelly states that the Irish society should feel guilty for perpetuating a system that allowed for women to be sent to Magdalene Laundries.
“The stigma is ours, and ours alone, to be shared by all of us except the women victimized and brutalized by Irish society as a whole. That the women could have perceived themselves as bearing a stigma for their incarceration reflects on us, not on them,” O’Kelly states.
“The catalogue of miseries Ireland has inflicted on the helpless and hopeless over the generations since independence is as long as it is sickening. With each new revelation, each parading of repressed grief and hurt, each dreadful witness to our inhumanity, we have squirmed and exempted ourselves from blame.”
Last Tuesday Irish leader Enda Kenny apologized to an estimated 10,000 women who were forced into unpaid labor from 1922 to 1996.
Delivering an official apology in the Irish parliament, he told the women and their families, “This is a national shame for which I say again I am deeply sorry and offer my full and heartfelt apologies.”
According to O’Reilly, one of the short fallings of the Senator Martin McAleese’ 1,000 page report was to suggest women were self-referred to the laundries.
“Was a destitute woman thrown on the street by her parents "willing" when her choice was between selling herself or a hell-hole of slave labour?
“Was a motherless child "willing" when a Catholic priest took her from the care of her widowed father because to have her free in society left her open to "moral hazard"?
“If every woman still alive who was ever locked in one of those dark, fearful places was a prostitute; if every woman there had given birth to children "out of wedlock", there should still be no "stigma". They were human, that's all: human like the rest of us. And they were ignorant of the world and its ways, the ignorance as enforced as was their incarceration.”
O’Reilly describes Irish society in the past as a closed society: “an engineered regimentation of the population that described ignorance as innocence, and equated deprivation with purity and nobility of soul: the essence of fascism.”
The column described a joyless Ireland during the Magdalene years when the Church had a stronghold over the country and highlights the terrible conditions they were forced to work under.
“The women in the laundries had their identities denied: given new names, or merely numbers, never to be addressed as they had been in the world.
“The women were forbidden to speak while at work; and work lasted from the early morning Mass …until they retired, exhausted, malnourished and blue with cold.
“Their slave labor contributed to the coffers of Church and State. And they suffered incessant humiliation and punishment for their very existence.”
O’Reilly states that we are all culpable for our inaction to allow such things to occur.
“We fail to get down on our collective knees and say to those we have hurt and betrayed that every element of Irish society is almost equally guilty: none of us has a right to wash our hands of our history.
“That is why the religious orders are, in my opinion, far more blameworthy than the State itself, or even the families who committed their sisters and daughters, or allowed the church to do so on their behalf.”
O’Reilly concluded that the Irish population must ensure that Magdalene Survivors get adequate compensation.
“We, the people, who are the State, must ensure reparation is made by those responsible for what our society became: the weapon of malignant oppression of the women for whom the Taoiseach wept last Tuesday.”