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Magdalene Laundries: Tears of Joy Taste Bitter-Sweet in Northern Ireland

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The Irish Prime Minister shed a tear as he apologised on behalf of the country. Then the parliament rose as one to applaud the women in the public gallery representing the thousands of others once detained amid the misery the Magdalene Laundries.

It was an emotional conclusion to a long and courageous battle for justice fought by the survivors. Once they were regarded as the shame of the nation, only fit to be hidden away behind high walls. Now they were the toast of the country, symbols of a past to which no-one wishes to return.

It has taken far too long to get to this point. Successive Irish governments tried to duck and deny their responsibility for what happened to these women. Government Ministers said the institutions were privately run and therefore were no responsibility of the government.

But the victims would not meekly turn away, no longer willing to be dismissed by figures of authority. The women brought their case to the United Nations Committee Against Torture. The UN directed the government to look again at the arbitrary detention, forced labour and ill-treatment suffered by the girls and women of the Laundries.

It is that journey - over many years - which last night finally reached a destination in Dublin.
Amnesty International, which has stood shoulder to shoulder with the victims in their quest for justice, has welcomed both the official apology and the commitment to include all of the women condemned to the laundries in the government's compensation and support scheme.
We hope that commitment indicates a government acceptance that the State is ultimately responsible for what happened to every single woman condemned to the laundries.

Governments everywhere have a responsibility not just to protect their citizens' human rights by ensuring that their officials do not violate individual's human rights, but also to protect individuals from abuses from private individuals and organisations, such as the religious orders which ran the Magdalene Laundries.

That means that the government in Northern Ireland has an identical State obligation to the women who were in Magdalene Laundries north of the Irish border, some of them run by exactly the same order of nuns which ran institutions in the Republic of Ireland.

The outpouring of tears and justice for the victims in the south is bitter-sweet for Northern Ireland victims. They are joyful at justice for their sisters in the south, but for themselves, they fear being ignored - again.

Magdalene Laundries operated in Northern Ireland until the 1980s and there are likely hundreds of former inmates still alive.

Their cases fall under the remit of the Northern Ireland Executive, whose Ministers have recently established an inquiry into abuse of children in residential instructions covering the period 1922-1995. But this probe will only cover a small number of Magdalene Laundry cases where the inmates were aged 17 or under. We know, of course, that many of those in the institutions were adult women.

For them, there is no inquiry. No apology. No compensation scheme to make up for the lost years.

Amnesty International has now raised these cases with Northern Ireland's political leaders and we await a response.

Last night, the Irish Prime Minister and deputy Prime Minister finally delivered for the Magdalene women in the south.

The question now is, will their Northern Ireland counterparts, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, be willing to do the same for Magdalene survivors in the north?

Around the Web

Magdalene asylum - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Magdalene laundries: Ireland to apologise to survivors - The Guardian

Welcome to Justice for Magdalenes

Ireland's Magdalene Laundries: I hope my birth mother can now rest ...

Ireland apologizes to women of Catholic laundries - Yahoo! News

BBC News - Magdalene laundries: Irish Prime Minister issues apology