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Magdalene: When “Sorry” isn’t anywhere near enough

On Tuesday 19 February, his voice choaking with emo-tion, Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny rose in the Dail to for-mally apologize to the Magdalene women - generations of women and girls imprisoned in laundries run by Catholic Nuns. The women acted as slave labour. Were forced to work in silence and subject to physical and mental abuse. 

The apology led to a mood of national celebration. Dark days had been left behind. We were all moving on. The apology was the declaration of a new modernist Ireland. 

Yet there was much to question. It took the government over a fortnight after the publication of the enquiry to make the apology. Issues of compensation were cloaked in ambiguity. 

The enquiry was chaired by Martin McAleese, consort of a former President and regarded as a safe pair of hands by both the Catholic church and the Irish state. 

It was an investigation limited in resources and in the breadth of its remit, being restricted to the issue of state collusion in the running of the institutions. What it actually did was to step in and out of its formal remit, drawing attention to the numbers sent to the laundries by their own families and thus diluting the role of the church and the collusion of the state. 

Responsibility is spread across society and culture. Time itself is deemed to have resolved the issue. 

Yet the reality is very simple. Ireland was, and still remains, a confessional state where the Catholic church has a special position and where many state functions were put into its hands. The extent to which families referred their own daughters is a function of church control inside the family, of extreme poverty, and of the extreme misogyny and sexual repression fostered by church and state. Class hatred separated the Nuns from their charges. A minor voice in the current debate is that of social workers pointing out that, while the laundries have gone, the lack of care for disabled, neglected or defiant girls has changed little. 

In Ireland political and class analysis has been replaced by the ideology of conflict resolution. The claim is that apology will bring emotional closure and allow everyone to move on. 

In the real world of class struggle many giant tasks remain to be accomplished: the separation of church and state, the establishment of woman's rights, the independent organisation of women. 

All rest on one mighty task - the self-organization of the working class around the struggle for a socialist society.


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