Ireland agrees compensation for Magdalene Laundries survivors

Rueters/June 27, 2013

The Irish government has agreed to pay up 58 million euros (48.93 million pounds) to hundreds of women forced to work at the Catholic Church's notorious Magdalene Laundries after a report found that a quarter of them were sent there by the Irish state.

The laundries, depicted in the award-winning film "The Magdalene Sisters", put 10,000 women and girls as young as nine through uncompromising hardship from the foundation of the Irish state in 1922 until 1996.

Run by Catholic nuns, the laundries have been accused of treating inmates like slaves, imposing a regime of fear and prayer on girls sometimes put in their care for becoming pregnant outside marriage. One in 10 inmates died, the youngest at 15.

Under the compensation scheme, several hundred surviving inmates will receive up to 100,000 euros each, depending on how long they spent in the laundries, with a total cost to the state of between 34.5 million and 58 million euros.

"I hope that when you look back to today you will be able to say that the arrangements now announced constitute a sincere expression of the state's regret for failing you in the past," Justice Minister Alan Shatter said.

While some survivors groups welcomed the move, others were more sceptical. "This has destroyed my life to date and all this that is going on will never take away our hurt," former inmate Mary Smith told state broadcaster RTE.

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny in February apologised in parliament for the "national shame" of the laundries after a report found that a quarter of the women were sent there by the Irish state.

The apology followed investigations into clerical sex abuse and state-abetted cover-ups that have shattered the authority of the church in Ireland and rocked the Catholic Church's reputation worldwide.

However, unlike other reports where priests were found to have beaten and raped children in Catholic-run institutions, no allegations of sexual or physical abuse were made against the nuns.

Former inmates spoke instead of physically demanding work, enforced by scoldings and humiliation, at the laundries that operated on a commercial basis to wash linen and clothes for the state, private firms and individuals.

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