Kenny’s Magdalen omission upsets

by Gazette Reporter

Patricia McDonald, one of the first campaigners to bring the plight of the Magdalen women into the public domain in 1996, has spoken to the Gazette about her sister-in-law who was housed in the St Patrick’s Refuge in Dun Laoghaire for more than 20 years.
Last week Taoiseach Enda Kenny made a public apology to the Magdalen Laundries survivors and their families.
According to Dr Martin McAleese’s report on the Magdalen Laundries, the laundry in Dun Laoghaire, St Patrick’s Refuge, had no register surviving at the time of his research.
Very little is known about the refuge except that it stood on the grounds of St Michael’s Hospital on Crofton Road, and that when it closed in 1963, it was run by the Sisters of Mercy and housed 30 women.
“I was on a drive in Dun Laoghaire with my husband in the sixties and we passed a big wall.  He said ‘I wish I had a penny for every time I tried to climb that wall.’  This got the ball rolling and I met his sister soon after,” said Patricia.
“Mary [not her real name] was the only daughter in the family in Ballinasloe in Galway and her parents died when she was 16.  They were not a poor family, unlike what has been said of these women, as they had a farm and a butcher’s shop.
“Mary remained in the family home looking after the house for her two brothers, one 19 and the other 17.  One day the parish priest visited and told the brothers their sister was in ‘moral danger’.
“We don’t know what he meant by that but he said she’d be better off leaving the home and going to Dublin to look after a family there.  The brothers were not keen, but the priest, at that time, had a lot of power.
“The priest and his housekeeper drove Mary to Dun Laoghaire and there she remained.  The family tried to find her but to no avail as the church would not admit they had put her in a laundry. Then they heard from an old woman in the village of where exactly she was.
“My husband’s family threatened legal action against the nuns.  This was in the 1950s and the nuns agreed to let Mary go.  When the brothers went up to Dun Laoghaire to collect her she was scrubbing a floor. The family asked the nuns why she wasn’t ready and the nun on duty said ‘Do you want us to have a riot on our hands?’
“They eventually got her out and her teeth were all rotted from malnutrition, she was emaciated, lice ridden and had tape worms. She lived with her aunt then and was helped to readjust as she found even normal spaces very strange, she was so used to confinement.”
Patricia was spurred to action when she learned of the story, and was pleased but also disappointed by an omission in the State’s official apology.
“I was in the gallery and was quite impressed by the Taoiseach’s apology. Its sincerity disarmed me, in fact, but I was very annoyed he took credit for the report when really it was on foot of an EU directive.
“The European courts found that such an investigation must be done in Ireland after a case was brought to it by a woman called Maeve O’Rourke.  I thought it was important that the government recognised this EU ruling for an enquiry, but it didn’t happen.  Also, there was very little reference to the church and I think they should chase the church orders for the compensation.
“My sister-in-law was effectively kidnapped and no criminal charges were ever brought.  I questioned this so often but was met with a stone wall.”
The Magdalen survivors are due to be compensated once Mr Justice John Quirke decides on the exact packages for each case.
The judge revealed to The Gazette that it would not matter by which avenues the women ended up in the laundries, all would be entitled to compensation. “There has been no decision to restrict the Fund to those who entered with some State involvement,” he said.

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