It’s good that Enda Kenny has apologised to the Magdalene slaves on behalf of the State, but isn’t something missing?
Where is the apology from the nuns who ran these slave labour camps? Where is the apology from the NSPCC (now the ISPCC), employers of the feared and unsupervised cruelty men who consigned so many children and young women to this slavery and to abuse in industrial schools? Where is the apology from the Legion of Mary, whose members — almost unbelievably — served as unofficial probation officers, facilitating the incarceration of people they disapproved of? Where is the apology from the Roman Catholic church on behalf of all those parish priests who ripped children from the heart of their families because of some warped and perverted view of sexuality?
I haven’t seen or heard any apology from any of these groupings.
What an extraordinary society it was that deputised an assortment of self-serving busybodies to act on its behalf. What a strange country that gave (and continues to give) such power to clerics and self-appointed meddlers.
It has been said that many of the cruelty men lived a more affluent life than their salaries might indicate, and there is no doubt that every Magdalene slave and industrial school slave was a money-making asset for the religious orders, no matter what their account ledgers might indicate today. Any business with unlimited access to free labour is doing well. The nuns and the brothers had unlimited access to such a pool of labour, and it has been said that some cruelty men benefited financially from their gratitude. It has even been suggested that there was a bounty on a child’s head, which might account for the arrest and conviction of children for robbing an orchard, for missing school, or in the case of young girls, for being a little too pretty.
Now, nobody can doubt that Enda Kenny was sincere in his apology to the Magdalene slaves. Even though I don’t subscribe to his political outlook, Enda is the ultimate boring embodiment of unimaginative middle-Ireland, and he is a decent man. But as I said already, that apology is partial at best, given the absence of contrition from all the others complicit in the abuse and incarceration of these women.
The last time a government set up a mechanism for restitution and redress, it was deeply flawed. The Residential Institutions Redress Board was an intimidating and cold experience for those who came before it and the process provided yet another opportunity for legal firms to make money at the expense not only of the State, but of the victims themselves, through double billing.
Besides that, the abusive religious orders paid little or nothing towards the cost. Instead, they denied and obfuscated right up to the end and have never shown the slightest genuine remorse for their actions.
The priority must be to support and protect victims of the Magdalene laundries. Let the State look after them without question, and then, if necessary, let us change our law to limit property rights, just as we did only last week in passing the Anglo legislation. Let us judge how much the religious orders should contribute to the cost and let us take this money from them whether they like it or not, just as we should have done after the Ryan Report.
Just as this state has always failed to do.