Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Magdalene laundries

Magdalene laundry in Ireland
The report on the operation of the Magdalene laundries in the Irish Republic has been published and has been covered extensively in the media.  Around 10,000 women passed through the laundries between 1922 and 1996 and the conditions in them were extremely harsh.
The start date for the report is simply the start of the southern state but in fact Magdalene laundries were in operation long before 1922.  The first Roman Catholic home in Ireland for 'fallen women' opened in Cork in 1809 and the last asylum, which was in Waterford, closed on 25 Setpember 1996.
Former inmates have demanded an apology for the treatment they received and it has been a difficult day for the Roman Catholic orders that ran the laundries.
However this is not the first time that the Roman Catholic laundries have been the subject of comment and controversy. 
Indeed a century ago there were demands for the public inspection of the laundries.  Among those who campaigned for inspections was the South Belfast MP Thomas Sloan (1870-1941), an Independent Unionist, who was associated with the Belfast Protestant Association and the Protestant Alliance.
Convinced Protestants such as Sloan were to the fore in calling for the inspection of Roman Catholic laundries while the Roman Catholic Church argued that such inspections were interference and that they had the right to operate without 'interference'.

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