There’s major news this week from Europe involving government compensation for slavery survivors. Ireland has formally apologized for decades of slave labor inside laundries run by Catholic nuns.
The notorious facilities, known as the “Magdalene Laundries,” have been described by ABC News as “virtual slave labor camps.”
Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny issued an apology Tuesday night to 10,000 women and girls who were sent to work without pay in the laundries, according to The Guardian newspaper.
Some women were sent by state authorities and institutions through contracts, simply because they were unmarried, came from broken homes or were abused, according to the BBC. Others were sent for petty crimes such as forgetting to pay a train ticket. There were 10 laundries with government contracts between the years of 1922 to as late as 1996.
The women toiled behind locked doors, unable to leave, and while the laundries were paid, the women and girls received no wages, according to the BBC.
Kenny apologized during a speech in parliament, two weeks after an official 1,000-page report expressed the suffering the women and girls endured in the laundries. In his apology, he said they deserved “the compassion and recognition for which they have fought for so long, deservedly so deeply.”
He said their experiences had cast a “long shadow” over Irish life and that it had been “humbling and inspiring” to meet them.
“For 90 years Ireland subjected these women, and their experience, to a profound indifference,” he said. “By any standards it was a cruel and pitiless Ireland, distinctly lacking in mercy,” according to the BBC.
Along with his apology, Kenny offered a government-funded memorial to remember the victims, and a compensation package to 800 survivors who are still alive. This package includes counseling services, healthcare and individual cash payments.
“He didn’t hold back on anything, he really did us proud,” Maureen O’Sullivan, a Magdalene Laundries survivor, told the Irish Times. “Now we can get on with our lives, now that we have an apology and they’ve taken responsibility.”
The Magdeline Laundries have been the subject of numerous exposes, a documentary and even a movie.