It was slave labour in the twentieth century. For almost 200 years, thousands of women and young girls, judged to be “fallen women”, were sent to live in Catholic institutions throughout Ireland. Some were sent to the “asylums” for being pregnant out of wedlock, others for being too pretty, others because their families could not afford to take care of them.
Named after Mary Magdalene, up to ten thousand women and girls, some as young as 12 years old, were forced to pay for their “sins” washing linens in laundries run by the Church.
They worked six days a week, up to 16 hours a day. There was no talking, bars were on the windows, prayers were constant and there were reports of abuse, torment and torture. No one was allowed to leave. Some women remained in the laundries until they were in their 80s.
The women and girls cleaned laundry for local hospitals, businesses and government institutions. But while the Church pocketed the revenues, the girls were never paid and the government did not intervene.
The experience has scarred scores of women across the country, promoting many to demand justice. Earlier this year, the Irish state apologized for their role in the laundries, but stopped short of financial compensation.
Today, the Irish government announced it will pay survivors 11,500 Euros to women who spent three months or less in a laundry and up to a maximum of 100,000 Euros for ten years or more.
Over 600 survivors will receive forms to enable them to apply for compensation. The Irish government expects the total cost will be between 35m and 58m Euros.
Last year, in a 16×9 exclusive we spoke with Irish women who were on the search for justice.