In a completely enraging move, two of the four religious orders that once ran Magdalene laundries in Ireland have again refused to contribute any money toward compensating the surviving women.
Over a year after the Irish Taoiseach (Prime minister) Enda Kenny gave a heartfelt State apology to the tens of thousands of women who had been cruelly incarcerated in Magdalene laundries, the Irish government's repeated attempts to hold the orders financially accountable have met with blank refusals.
All four orders, which include The Sisters of Mercy, Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge, the Good Shepherd Sisters, and the Sisters of Charity have, at various times, publicly refused to contribute financially to the proposed compensation scheme.
According to recent reports in the Irish press, the four orders, which ran the Magdalene laundries, made almost $415 million in property deals during the Irish economic boom. Given those eye-popping figures, the refusal to offer one thin dime in compensation can be seen in its proper light.
It hasn’t quite been two decades since the last Magdalene Laundry in Ireland closed in 1996. That’s well within the living memory of young adults. All those decades of unpaid drudgery, with moral opprobrium added on top, and the orders don’t feel they have a case to answer?
Clearly they are hoping that even now most Irish people would prefer to look the other way – exactly the way they used to when these for-profit gulags were in operation.
Recall that the Irish government had to be brow beaten for years by a group of committed former inmates and their offspring before they finally offered the women a full apology. That apology was only offered in February 2013, by the way.
So the deep Irish reluctance to face up to the legacy of exploitation and widespread physical and sexual abuse within the church has been one of the most remarkable aspects of the now three decade long crisis.
Instead of principled stock-taking, denial, defensiveness and withholding have been the standard responses.
What fascinates me is what happens to a nation that fails to confront its own traumas? Will it hand them on to the next generation without comment? These orders profited for decades from indentured servitude. The women they incarcerated had to pay their own way out.
Now, flush with cash from their extensive property deals, they are withholding all material support from the women they once treated as chattel.
It is estimated that 600 Irish women who were once incarcerated in one of the laundries run by the four orders are still alive. All of them are elderly. The orders may hope that time turns the page on their stories and the nation forgets them. Waiting out the clock, they may be right.
The history behind “When Irish Eyes are Smiling”