Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Can You Hear Me Now? Sister? Hello?

Fair play to Minister for Justice Alan Shatter. He's still trying to get in touch with the nuns who once ran Ireland's notorious Magdalene laundries.

Slave labor
The Sisters just won't pick up the phone.

For decades, Irish girls were thrown into a workhouse that was essentially a prison, but without the usual legal preliminaries like a trial and a set length of their sentence. Many of the inmates never left. Their only crime was often that of being too attractive to men, or of keeping house for a bachelor brother because that was the first step on the road to incest. Some of them were pregnant outside of marriage. Some of them were rape victims. It didn't matter. Women had to be contained.

They were made to work, backbreaking work, and received not a cent in compensation. The nuns who benefitted from the slave labor failed to pay into the government's pension funds. The women who survived the harsh regime are now elderly, and have no pension coming to them. Financially strained, many are afflicted with mental problems that go unaddressed because they cannot afford the help they need.

Mr. Shatter politely asked the religious orders who ran the laundries to be good enough to contribute to a a little fund he hoped to establish, one that would compensate the abuse victims. Is it any surprise that the nuns cried poor and declined the offer?

After the UN issued their rather scathing report, he's giving it another go, hoping that the nuns have had a change of heart. When the UN says you're guilty of abuse, you might sit up and take notice. At least that's what he mentioned in his letter to the four congregations, offering them a gentle nudge (these are nuns he's dealing with and you can't get cheeky with them) to remind them that they are expected by the world to take responsibility for what happened under their reign of terror.

Alas, the nuns are remaining behind the tall walls of their various fortresses and they're emptying their noses in Mr. Shatter's general direction. Instead of money, they provide records, except so very often the records were lost in a fire. Convents are notoriously combustible in Ireland.

While it's grand that a former inmate can get her hands on records to prove she was incarcerated and thus eligible to receive compensation, those pieces of paper won't make up for the years of slavery and an old age without a pension.

The Sisters have yet to respond to Mr. Shatter's most recent missive. They may be too busy grading his penmanship and grammar to comprehend the actual contents.

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