Protest Art - Magdalene Justice
Magdalene asylums were institutions from the 18th to the late-20th centuries ostensibly for "fallen women", a term used to imply sexual promiscuity. Asylums for these girls and women (and others believed to be of poor moral character, such as prostitutes) operated throughout Europe, Britain, Ireland, Canada and the United States for much of the 19th and well into the 20th century. The first asylum in Ireland opened on Leeson Street in Dublin in 1765, founded by Lady Arabella Denny.
In Belfast there was a Church of Ireland run Ulster Magdalene Asylum (founded in 1839) on Donegall Pass, while parallel institutions were run by Catholics on Ormeau Road and by Presbyterians on Whitehall Parade.
Initially the mission of the asylums was often to rehabilitate women back into society, but by the early 20th century the homes had become increasingly punitive and prison-like. In most of these asylums, the inmates were required to undertake hard physical labour, including laundry and needle work. They also endured a daily regime that included long periods of prayer and enforced silence. In Ireland, such asylums were known as Magdalene laundries. It has been estimated that up to 30,000 women passed through such laundries in Ireland. The last Magdalene asylum, in Waterford, Ireland, closed on September 25, 1996.
In May 2009, the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse released a 2,000-page report recording claims from hundreds of Irish residents that they were physically, sexually, or emotionally abused as children between the 1930s and the 1990s in a network of state-administered and church-run residential schools meant to care for the poor, the vulnerable, and the unwanted. The alleged abuse was by nuns, priests and non-clerical staff and helpers. The allegations of abuse cover many Catholic (Magdalene), Protestant (Bethany) and State-run Irish Industrial schools.
The Commission stated:
There were two types of inquiry, one drawing on contested evidence (Investigation Committee) and the other on uncontested evidence (Confidential Committee), which reported to the Commission. Between them the Commission received the evidence of over 1,500 witnesses who attended or were resident as children in schools and care facilities in the State, particularly industrial and reformatory schools.
Since 2001, the Irish government has acknowledged that women in the Magdalene laundries were abuse victims. However, the Irish government has resisted calls for investigation and proposals for compensation; the government maintains that the laundries were privately run, therefore abuses at the laundries are outside of the government's remit. In contrast to these claims, evidence exists that Irish courts routinely sent women convicted of petty crimes to the laundries, the government awarded lucrative contracts to the laundries without any insistence on protection and fair treatment of its workers, and Irish state employees helped to keep laundry facilities stocked with workers by bringing women to the laundries and returning escaped workers.
Notwithstanding the investigations instigated by the government in the Republic of Ireland, similar investigations have still to be instigated in Northern Ireland and worldwide, in general.