ANDALUSIAN CITY COUNCIL TO DIG UP MASS GRAVE OF FRANCO VICTIMS

(Reading time entire text 5-10 minutes)

Report by RAÚL BOCANEGRA in Publico.es (translation and comment by Diarmuid Breatnach).

Mass grave of victims of Francoist repression, Burgos.
(Photo source: Internet)

“The City Council of Seville has guaranteed on its own to provide the necessary funding — 1.2 million euros — to exhume the Pico Reja pit, in which historians believe that there are at least 1,103 bodies of of victims of the repression, led by the General Queipo de Llano, following the military coup of July 18, 1936.

This exhumation will be the largest ever to be undertaken in Spain, following that which that was carried out in Malaga, in the San Rafael Trench, between 2006 and 2009, and may indicate the path to take for the other capitals (of Spanish state regions – Trans).

The Mayor of Seville, Juan Espadas (PSOE), guaranteed that the grave will be exhumed throughout the mandate of the current Council. “It is a truly historic step in Seville and one of national importance, since it is perhaps the biggest mass grave that [at this moment] has a definite project for its exhumation,” the Councilor said at a press conference.

“And, therefore, it is also one of the most important projects in terms of Historical Memory to be undertaken in our land, due to the importance and volume of the Pico Reja mass grave. It was a commitment that this Government (i.e of the Andalusian region) gave during the past mandate to relatives and memorial groups and today it is made a reality with this tender,” added Espadas.

“Next Friday the City Council of Seville, through the Governing Board will approve the specifications and, therefore, the public tender for a technical service for the exhumation and genetic identification of the bodies of the Pico Reja mass grave, in the Cemetery of San Fernando,” reads a statement issued by the City Council. “The ultimate goal [of the exhumation] is to dignify the memory of the people who were thrown there, give them a dignified burial and attend to the requests of their families,” adds the Council (statement – Trans).”

Militia Women of the Anarchist FAI -CNT in Catalonia, early years of the Spanish Anti-Fascist War. Women in areas captured by the Franco forces were exposed to endemic rape and many female prisoners were shot after being raped.
(Photo source: Internet).

BEGINNING AND COMPLETION OF WORK

          “Accordingly, Espadas will not wait for the Council of Andalucía or the Regional Government to sign the agreement, to which they had committed themselves. Confirming now, at the start of the mandate, the works, the Mayor ensures that the exhumation will not be delayed and will be carried out throughout this term. Municipal sources assured Público of their belief that both the Council and the Andalusian Government will collaborate with the exhumation, the Andalusian Council not before September.

Should they contribute money, the amount would be deducted from the 1.2 million that the Council calculates as necessary to carry out the works. Espadas recalled that the signing of an agreement in this regard with the Board and the County Council to finance these works is still outstanding. “And let’s hope that it is signed as soon as possible.”

“This contract guarantees the beginning of the work and its conclusion, without waiting for the remaining public administrations –- provincial, Andalusian and national — to finalise their contributions,” reads the Council’s note.

Espadas and the Delegate for the Department for Equality, Education, Citizen Participation and District Coordination, Adela Castaño, related the details of this contract to relatives of the victims and to the different organisations involved in the area of Historical Memory in Seville. “Do not fear, the exhumation and the identification of bodies will be done,” the Mayor assured them.

THE DETAILS

          The company that gains the contract must include at least one historian, five professionals in Forensic and Physical Anthropology, five in Archeology and 10 auxiliary support workers. “With the maximum guarantees of scientific rigor, a survey will be performed, material collected on the surface, excavations made in the pit, exhumations and recovering of bodies and remains,” says the City Council in the note. “Likewise, it must preserve and safeguard, also with all scientific guarantees, the samples of bone remains and biological samples taken from the family members until delivery to the University of Granada for genetic identification,” the City Council insists.

The project will be be completed in three phases, explained the Council. The first concerns the exhumation itself and the identification of the bodies, along with works including: the archaeological excavation; dealing with the remains found (the excavation and the direct and individualized identification of these bodies will determine whether or not they are relatives); exhumation (identification, recording of traces of violence and individual extraction of each body or remains); forensic anthropology (that is, determining sex, age, pathologies or anomalies); anthropological analysis in a laboratory manner; and conservation and protection to preserve these skeletal remains and DNA analysis.

The second phase will consist of the presentation of a final report as a logical contribution to the history of Franco’s repression. And the last phase will be the final destination of the remains.

The City Council will respect at all times the wishes of relations about the identified remains. The unidentified remains and those which the relatives wish to remain in the same place, “will be buried in an authorised space with appropriate technical indications for future identification”.

After finishing the works, “the area will be restored as an expository and explanatory site of the historical significance of the Pico Reja pit”. The successful bidder must submit a proposal for reconstruction of the current site that includes a columned monument to honor the victims.

Exhumation work on mass grave of Franco’s victims in Burgos.
(Photo source: Unai Aranzadi)

COMMENT:

(Diarmuid Breatnach)

          According to official figures, 120,000 victims have been identified (not exhumed) from 2,591 unmarked graves around the Spanish state. The areas with the largest number of graves are Andalusia in the south and the northern regions of Aragón and Asturias – in Andalusia alone, 55,000.

Map of grave sites of victims of Francoist repression in Andalucia (Photo source: Internet)

A mapping work undertaken by the Council of Andalusia region, which was presented publicly in the regional capital in 2011, illustrates 614 mass graves in 359 Andalusian municipalities. Only around half of the 47,000 bodies that were discovered have been identified due to there being no relatives available for DNA tracing or because calcium oxide (quicklime) had been thrown over the bodies.1

In Malaga province alone there are 76 mass graves in 52 towns, containing the remains of 7,471 people who were killed by General Franco’s forces. The largest of these mass graves was discovered in Malaga city’s San Rafael cemetery. 2,840 bodies were exhumed in early 2010, although more than 4,500 are registered as having been buried there”.2

The usual figure given for the total of non-combat killing by Franco’s forces is 150,000 and which does not include those who died of malnutrition and lack of adequate medical care in prisons and “penal battalions” or through confiscations, or economic and financial sanctions in areas occupied by his forces. Nor does it include the civilian victims of bombing by military-fascist air force, whether of cities or of refugee columns.

Against that, the total figure for non-combat killings by the forces against Franco are estimated at around 50,000. Also, while the latter killings for the most part took place in the early months of the military uprisings, before Republican Government control could be established, most of the non-combat killings by Franco’s forces were carried out after they had beaten the resistance and occupied the area and much of it also after the war was over. Typically too, according to Paul Preston (The Spanish Holocaust (2012), Harper Press), women were routinely raped before they were shot.3

The issue of the executed after a cursory military trial or simply taken out and murdered by Franco’s forces is a live one in the Spanish state today. Before Franco’s death it was not even possible to discuss it publicly and bereaved relatives were not permitted to mourn publicly – to hold a funeral or to have a mass said for their souls according to Catholic custom or even to mark their graves.

The Transition process to convert Franco’s Spain into a “democracy” accorded legal impunity to the perpetrators of even the worst atrocities during the Civil War but unofficially extended beyond, to the years afterwards and even to murders carried out during the “Transición” itself. And why not, when all the upper echelons of police, army, judiciary, civil service, Church, media and business were and are for the most part the same people as before or their sons and daughters? When the Head of State and of the Armed Forces, the King Juan Carlos, was specifically chosen by Franco to be his successor and even after the Dictator’s death glorified him and his political trajectory.

‘LET THE DEAD STAY BURIED’

          The fascists and their descendants want the dead and their stories to stay buried and even when a very senior judge like Baltasar Garsón, who presided over the repression and torture of many Basque and Catalan political detainees (but is incredibly lauded as “a foremost human rights defender” by liberals!) decided to play a power and publicity game and and became a problem by authorising the opening of some mass graves in 2012, he was slapped with legal appeals, charges of wire-tapping and disbarred from office for 11 years.

The other graves they don’t want opened are the mausoleum of Franco himself and of Rivera, founder of the Spanish fascist Falange, who lie in the memorial park built by political prisoner slave labour to honour Dictatorship and Fascism, a shrine for fascists today. The order of the PSOE Government to exhume and transfer them to a family graveyard has been paralysed by the Spanish Supreme Court after protests by Franco’s descendants.

If the Pico Reja exhumation in Seville goes ahead and is properly documented, it will be as the PSOE-controlled Seville City Council says, of huge historical — but also of huge political – importance. Can this happen in the same region where the corrupt PSOE administration has lost power after decades without se

The “Valle de Los Caidos” memorial park, constructed by slave prisoner labour, which contains the mausoleum containing the bodies of Franco and Rivera
(Photo: Paul Hanna, Reuters)

rious challenge and is now ruled by a de facto coalition of all the main parties descended from Franco, the Partido Popular, Ciudadanos and Vox? The Seville City Council says it can and that if necessary they will fund it all themselves. We can hope.

End.

FOOTNOTES:

1See “Mass graves in Andalusia” in References.

2As above.

3See Review of Paul Preston’s book in References.

REFERENCES AND SOURCES:

Main article: https://www.publico.es/politica/memoria-publica-alcalde-sevilla-garantiza-dinero-exhumar-mandato-fosa-pico-reja-hay-1100-represaliados.html

Review Paul Preston’s The Spanish Holocaust: https://elpais.com/elpais/2011/04/04/inenglish/1301894444_850210.html

Mass graves in Andalusia: http://www.surinenglish.com/20110107/news/andalucia/mass-graves-201101071754.html

Map of mass grave sites in Andalusia: https://www.theolivepress.es/spain-news/2011/01/14/terror-map/

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SAN FERMINES 2019: RETURN OF THE OLD REGIME AND THE BATTLE OF THE FLAGS

Introduction and translation by Diarmuid Breatnach

The San Fermines Festival in Iruña (Pamplona in Castillian) is renowned around much of the world for its colour and also danger with the running (corrida) of the bulls. But for many years it has been the occasion and site of sharp political struggle and there have been other dangers too.

ANTI-BASQUE NATIONALISM IN NAFARROA

          Although the city is Basque, centre of the medieval kingdom of Nafarroa (Navarre), it was run for decades by UPN (Union of Navarrese People), what some considered the Basque version of the Partido Popular, post-Franco Spanish political party founded by the Dictator’s supporters. Although in 2008 UPN broke from its fraternal relations with the PP, the party remains Spanish-unionist and conservative, strongly opposed to Basque independentism and wishing to remain separate from the rest of the Basque Country, whether the other three southern provinces or the three across the French border.

During the Spanish Republic of 1936, the ruling political interests in Nafarroa broke with the Basque nationalists and opted for supporting the military-fascist coup of Franco and the other three generals – the reactionary Nafarroan Carlists murdered 3,000 Basque nationalists, republicans, communists, anarchists and social democrats in their province alone. They also took part in fighting as part of the military-fascist forces.

For many years, the first day of the San Fermines festival has been the scene of struggle between those who sought to bring the Basque national flag, the Ikurriña, into the main square, to be present during the launch of the week of festivities. And beatings and for Basque independentists have resulted, even fines and jail sentences, especially when they have been successful.

But in the elections of 2015, a coalition of political parties of Basque independentism, nationalism, and left-social democracy took power in the Navarrese regional Government and began to change matters on a number of fronts. In 2017 the Ikurrina was flown from the official balcony and the the Spanish Government Delegation in the region took a judicial case against those responsible and the same people in 2018, EH Bildu, refrained from flying it, displaying instead a bare flagpole. However, that coalition lost its majority of seats in the elections this year and the UPN came back into power, with the resumption of ‘business as usual’.

ASSAULT AND RAPE

          In recent years, another menace has come to the fore, with some men assaulting women in the press of the crowd. Most horrifying was the multiple rape of an 18-year-old woman on July 7th, during the San Fermines festival of 2016. The woman, who approached a few men to help her find her way and was apparently under the influence of intoxicants, was led into a doorway, her phone taken off her and raped in a number of ways by each, who also videoed the event and put it up on the Internet. Due to the description to the Nafarroan police by the victim and their promotion of their act on social media, the perpetrators were soon arrested. But they were tried not for the more serious crime of rape but for sexual abuse, because she appeared not to resist and therefore no violence was necessary to restrain her – a feature of Spanish law.

The group of five violators and rapists had given themselves the boastful title of La Manada (the Wolf-Pack) contained a Spanish Army soldier and a Spanish Guardia Civil policeman among its members. And they on a previous occasion filmed themselves having sex with an intoxicated woman on the flat bed of a truck and put that too out on social media.

Gang-rapists, the self-styled La Manada (“the wolf-pack”) (Photo source: Internet)

The Pack claimed that their victim was willing but found it difficult to explain that she had only met them seven minutes before the assaults or their taking of her mobile phone and some other matters and were found guilty and sentenced to nine years jail but allowed bail when they appealed. Since their appeal might find them not guilty, one might argue that they were entitled to bail while awaiting the hearing.

BASQUE AND CATALAN INDEPENDENTISM V. RAPE

          However, the youth from Alsasua (Basque town in Nafarroa), who were accused of assaulting off-duty Guardia Civil policemen who entered a Basque independentist late-night bar as a provocation in October 2016, were not only kept in jail while awaiting trial in Madrid but also four of them while awaiting an appeal hearing (against sentences of between two and 13 years jail!). And the Catalan independence grass-roots campaign leaders and elected politicians who were charged with sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds for organising a referendum on independence in October 2017, were kept in jail until their trial and are there still, now awaiting judgement. They include one who was elected an MP while in jail and another who was elected an MEP (Jordi Sanchez and Oriol Junqueras).

Many aspects of the Manada case led to an outcry over the whole Spanish state. Although the Prosecution had asked for sentences of 22 year and 10 months, they were sentenced to nine year jail. On December 5th 2018 their sentences were confirmed to those nine years, although two judges on the panel disagreed, wishing for sentences of a little over 14 years as they felt that there had been intimidation and coercion, there had been “degrading acts” and she had been left half-naked on the ground with her mobile phone taken (and memory cards removed). The five-judge panel however ordered the first court that tried them to issue another sentence for the filming and publishing of the rape as her privacy had been violated. The Defence lawyer has indicated that his clients would appeal the sentence as did also the City of Iruna (Pamplona).

THE BATTLE OF THE FLAGS

The town square of Iruna/ Pamplona, traditional site of the launch of the San Fermines folk festival, this year showing, despite threats of the UPN Mayor, Ikurrinak and banner against the dispersal of Baque political prisoners prominently displayed.
(Photo sourced: publico.es)

Translation of short article in Publico.es

          In the end, the ikurriña was present. The images of the first Sanfermines after the return of the Right to the City Council of Pamplona are already crossing the world and they do it with the ikurriña and the flag of Navarre displayed among the public. The earlier threats of Mayor Enrique Maya (UPN) had no effect, nor did the police deployment in the surrounding area.

Under an intense sun and in a crowded square, the txupinazo (firing of ceremonial rocket — Translator) of the Sanfermines – the act that marks the beginning of the festivities — took place at 12.00 o’clock. Minutes before, (many of) the attendees managed to deploy a ikurriña of great proportions, accompanied by the Flag of Navarra. A white placard also appeared in which the return of the ETA prisoners was demanded (i.e end of the dispersal of independentist prisoners all over the Spanish state — Trans).

“UPN, kanpora” (UPN, out!) was heard in the square when the Mayor was on the balcony. A few days before, Maya had issued a notice announcing that entering with fabric of large proportions was strictly forbidden, citing security reasons. However, the same Councilor said shortly after in an interview in the newspaper El Mundo that there would also be “a device” to prevent the EH Bildu councilors unfurling the Basque flag on the balcony of the town hall.

POLICE SEIZURE OF FLAGS

          One hour before the txupinazo, journalist Gara Aritz Intxusta reported by Twitter that local police had seized “150 small ikurriñas that were going to be used in a kalejira” (festival parade) that was going to be performed in the streets of the city to protest against the Mayor’s party.

Source: https://www.publico.es/politica/ikurrina-acto-presencia-sanfermines-gritos-upn-fuera.html

Video posted 2013

of daring event as the hour for the launch approached, Basque independentists in “disguise” of anglers, cast a line across from the rooftop on one side of the square to the other and then a stronger line was taken across with a giant ikurrina attached. One can see earlier, police rushing to confiscate a flag or banner and a giant political prisoners’ banner being held above many in the crowd. In 2013 the UPN Mayor deliberately delayed the launch past the traditional hour of noon so as to give secret police time to cut the line and not to have it happening with the Ikurrina hanging over the square.

End.

FASCIST HORROR IN WESTERN SPAIN

A brief account of the fascist horror between Cantalpino and Villoruela (Salamanca) during the Spanish War, forwarded to me for translation from Castillian (Spanish).  I will post the original separately.  

Diarmuid Breatnach

Comment: If another reason were ever needed to ensure we crush fascism before it gets strong!  Stories like this illustrate how fascism was not defeated, much less rooted out in the Spanish State and remains at its heart to this day.  No progress can be made towards democracy in that state without taking that fact into account.  DB.

(Translator’s note: Villoruela is a municipality located in the province of Salamanca, Castille and León, in western Spain).

Alejandra, the interviewee, who was raped in front of her husband, next to her while a gun was held to his chest.

Fear ravaged Cantalpino, where the Falangist hordes killed a woman and 22 men; where they robbed and raped. Mrs. Alejandra tells the story and her eyes seem to look inside herself: “They murdered many here and Eladia Pérez, the Jaboneta, too. They went looking for her son Guillermo, whom they “took for a walk” later, and she did not want to open for them; so the bastards shot and killed her; then they took her to the cemetery and her body did not fit in the hole and the bastards cut off her head with the shovel … the murderers were people from the town and strangers, Falangists, priests, friars and that kind. The priest was the worst, he gave his blessing to the “walks” .. They also cut the hair of about a hundred women to the scalp and, in the rain and everything, they took them in procession, the music playing and the Falangists shouting “Up Spain!” and “Long live Franco!” and … I shit on the mother who gave birth to them! “

Alejandra continues with her story: “… they did a lot to me, they raped others. Five Falangists raped me. They took my husband out of bed, may the poor man rest in peace, and they pushed a pistol against him, in the chest, and there, in front of him, they raped me. Some had me by the arms and others, by the legs, and here, Saint Ines, to what they wanted to do, and the guns on the bed in the presence of my Desiderio. Poor Desiderio! They also stole everything they could. Yes, yes, they were from here, from Cantalpino. Unfortunately, this violation was not an isolated incident. In Poveda de las Cintas, a few kilometers from Cantalpino, the story was repeated, this time with the wife of the secretary of the town hall .. “

On August 24, 1936 the blood did not stop in Cantalpino, the impunity of the murders encouraged the Francoists. That same afternoon they appeared in Villoruela, less than 10 kilometers from Cantalpino, 3 Falangists accompanied by fascist neighbors of the town: They arrested the following people: Eustasio Ramos (51 years old), Elías Rivas (43), the brothers Leonardo (43) , and Leoncio Cortés (41), Daniel Sánchez (35), Esteban Hernández (29) Francisco García (25) and Benigno Hidalgo (18).

The fascists gave criminal replies to the families of the detainees when they went to look for them at home: Leonardo Cortés’ wife was asked where her husband was; she replied that she did not know and they answered: “Do not worry, even though he were underground, we will find him”. Daniel Sanchez had been risking his life to save the lives of other people with his mules and his cart to cross the flood, regardless of what color or what party they were. When they went to look for him at home, the woman said to them: “Wait, he is taking off his clothes, he is all wet”; the answer was: “Do not worry, he will get it all the same”. When they went to Esteban Hernández’s house, his mother told them: “wait, he does not have socks”; the answer was: “Do not worry, he will not need them”. When they went to look for Benigno Hidalgo, his mother told them: “I have to give him an injection”; “Do not worry, we’re going to give it to him,” they replied.

Once captured, they were arrested at the City Hall tied hand and foot with ropes. The members of the City Council called a meeting and decided that the 8 detainees should be shot. So bound, they were put on a truck in Villoruela, after midnight, and they were moved to the end of Salvadiós, a town in the province of Ávila. There, at a crossroads, they were shot and left lying in a ditch. Right there they were buried by neighbors from Salvadiós. The murderers were 7 from the town, the one that drove the truck and the 3 outsider Falangists.

Two of the detainees’ wives, María Engracia Cortés and Angeles del Pozo, went to ask for help from the nuns of the convent. They told the nuns what was happening and the nuns answered that this was a crusade, and that if they had not done anything why had they had been fleeing, to which the neighbors correctly answered: “Jesus Christ was also persecuted and though had done nothing, was crucified. “

Jaime Cortés, the son of one of those shot, said that “after the suffering they caused, the fascists appointed among the townspeople a policeman, allegedly civic, to control our movements from home, the demonstrations of suffering. We spent the whole night crying with my mother and my grandparents in the kitchen .. it takes a lot of patience and resignation to live a lifetime with the criminals who shot your father .. We had to go through calamities and sufferings … I always remembered very well a phrase that my mother told us very often: “Children, I never want to see you with blood on your hands” … the only reasons for which they were shot were their way of thinking differently from the Franco regime, that is, to defend freedom, the rights of workers, social security and education … they were shot for defending the largest right of all person: freedom .. “

From the date August 15, 1936 to June 16, 1939, there is no document or record book of the Villoruela archives. Who were the ones who made that documentation disappear? In the book of death certificates for March 13, 1937 the entry inscribed by the judge Iñigo de la Torre these 8 people shot dead are listed as missing.

Originals by Ángel Montoro in Jiminiegos36 and Foro por la memoria (Intervíu nº 177, 4-10 October 1979). Photo by Xavier Miserachs

APPROPRIATE MEMORIAL FOR MAGDALENE LAUNDRIES VICTIMS: CAMPAIGN WINS IMPORTANT BATTLE IN DUBLIN CITY COUNCIL

Diarmuid Breatnach

Dublin City Councillors at their meeting on Thursday (13th September) voted by huge majority not to sell the former Magdalene Laundry building in Seán McDermott Street in the city centre. Deputy City Manager Brendan Kenny had earlier announced the possibility of the Council selling the building at an expected price of €14.5 million to a Japanese company that planned and hotel and supermarket on the site.

A campaign group called Separate Church & State had lobbied for the building to become a memorial to the suffering of the inmates of the Magdalene Laundries. The group called people to support an event outside City Hall to coincide with a motion being put forward to prevent the sale of the building.  A range of people attended, seeming mostly Left social and political activists independent of any party and a sprinkling of People Before Profit activists.

The motion was propose by Gary Gannon, a Councilor of a very small political party (with only one member on the Council), the Social Democrats. However the motion was supported by the overwhelming majority of a Independent councillors (i.e of no party) and those belonging to a number of other parties and was passed with 37 voting in favour, eight against and two abstentions.

Campaigners and supporters in front of Dublin City Hall from across the street
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

The successful motion called on the Council not to sell the building and land and that instead those who suffered abuse there should be commemorated with a memorial. Other than preventing the sale, exactly how the memorialising might be put into effect remains to be outlined and agreed. There is talk of the State taking it over but whether by donation of the Council or sale has not been clarified. There are very few memorials to the Magdalene Laundry victims and all but one of them are small

The Sean McDermott building appears to have been the last of the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland and was closed in 1996. It is also the last of those buildings in the possession of Dublin City Council.

(Photo: D.Breatnach)

The significance of the victory is greater than that of elected representatives versus unelected City Managers, the former being more responsive to public pressure than to the demands of high-ranking officials who seem happy to hand over much of the city centre to property speculators, shopping centres, hotels and large student accommodation complexes.

The terms in which the issue was raised are an attack on the legacy of the Catholic Church’s grip on secular society and its relationship with the State.  The campaigners clearly see the Council vote as a victory, though a moral one, against that legacy.  And they are planning to press ahead with the offensive in the terms indicated by the title of their campaign, indicating further targets such as the national health and education services, along with legislation to follow on the national referendum’s rejection of Amendment 8 of the Constitution outlawing abortion.

The Magdalene Laundries – some brief background

       The Magdalene Laundries were a major institution of the Irish Catholic Church from the 18th to the late 20th Century. There were some Protestant parallels too in the Six Counties (“Northern Ireland”) run by the Anglican and Presbyterian churches but the vast majority of the Irish population were of the Catholic faith. The Laundries took in and accommodated women who were considered “fallen women” which at first meant sex workers but later included unmarried women who had a child or children or even women whose behaviour was considered immoral or flirtatious (or even whose beauty attracted male attention) and they were put to work in the laundries for no pay. Ostensibly at first a charitable initiative, their title drew on the New Testament story of Mary Magdalene who, from being a “morally loose” woman, after meeting him became one of the most ardent supporters of Testament’s Jesus.

But if the name was associated with the alleged mercy and lack of judgementalism of the Christ, it also implied moral sin and judgement. In the extremely conservative Catholic Church that it became after the Great Hunger, the main element was likely to be punishment and, when allied to an also socially reactionary political class, the Laundries became an institution of social control of the Catholic Church in Ireland and of the new Irish State.

The Magdalene laundries soon became known to their inmates as places of hard work and ill-treatment, mostly of a psychological nature but also physical. If women left them without permission, they were pursued by the police and brought back. Continuous escapes could lead to jail sentences.

(Photo: D.Breatnach)

During their time in operation an estimated 30,000 Irish women were kept in these institutions in Ireland, approximately 11,000 after the State was created in 1922.

The horrors of these “charitable institutions” began to be revealed to the public during the last decade of the 20th Century, notably in 1993 after a mass grave of 155 corpses was uncovered in the north Dublin convent grounds which housed one of the laundries and the last Laundry was finally closed down in 1996. The Church never accepted any financial responsibility for reparations.

The Irish State set aside a sum of up to €58 million (about half of which has been paid out – see Links) but the religious institutes concerned, the Sisters of Mercy, Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd and Sisters of Charity refused demands from the Irish Government, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the UN Committee against Torture, along with other groups in Irish society, to contribute to the compensation fund for the the surviving victims, an estimated 600 of whom were still alive in March 2014 (see Wikipedia in Links).

(Photo: D.Breatnach)

The Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of the Irish State apologised publicly and emotionally in the Dáil (Parliament) in February 2013 but the State never accepted any legal responsibility, its representatives saying that they did not control the Church. When they were reminded that the victims had washed not only clothes and vestments of priests and nuns but had also done laundry service for such state institutions as Aer Lingus, the Irish Army, the Gárdai, the State’s representatives declared that the Laundries were like any other contractor in that regard and that the State could could not accept responsibility for how contractors treated their “employees”. But it is known that State courts sent a number of women to the Magdalene Laundries. And it was the State that allowed the Catholic Church to dominate social care, health care and education, areas which are usually considered the responsibility of the State.

The general story of the Laundries is fairly well-known in Ireland now through media coverage and the testimonies of victims and even abroad in some countries through the 1992 Peter Mullan film Magdalene Sisters (see Links) and a number of documentaries for TV. Mary Coughlan sang a fierce attack on them too the same year as the film, composed by J.Mulhern (see Links for a Youtube video).

View of the protesters outside the meeting (some were inside) looking eastward.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

There are very few monuments to the suffering of the victims of the Magdalene Laundries and they are all of a small size except the statue in Ennis which aroused some local controversy.

The monument at Forster Street, Ennis, Co. Clare, dedicated to the Magdalen women and a subject of some controversy.
(Photo: Mike Shaughnessy)

Despite the duration of their existence and numbers involved and the international coverage, the Pope claimed when tackled by some survivors on his recent visit to Dublin that he had no knowledge of the existence of the institutions.

 

Sale of Council buildings and land – the legal position and some background

Due to a legislative change some years ago, Dublin Council Executives such as the City Manager and Senior Planning Officer can make major decisions without consulting elected Councillors and even against their expressed wishes. In this way, for example, the planning permission for the Shopping Centre Plan over the Moore Street Battleground and Market quarter was firstly agreed and secondly, even after the High Court judgement that it is a national monument, was renewed in 2016 by the Chief Planning officer of the time, Jim Keogan.

Many feel and have felt since such decisions that this is an unhealthy state of affairs, with no democratic controls and leaving key officials open to suspicion of bribery from developers influencing their decisions.

Fortunately however when it comes to the disposal of Council assets, the Councillors must agree by majority. This prevented the “land swap” proposed in 2014 by Joe O’Reilly of buildings in Moore Street, which if successful would have enabled his company to demolish half the 1916 Terrace: responding to campaigners and interested elected Councillors, the Council voted the proposal down against senior officials’ recommendations in November of that year.

Links:

Separate Church & State campaign group: https://www.facebook.com/separatechurchandstate/

Short article on the Dublin Council lobby and vote in Look Left: https://www.lookleftonline.org/2018/09/dcc-votes-not-to-sell-off-ex-magdalene-laundry-site/

Closing of the Magdalene Laundry on Sean McDermott Street: https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/last-days-of-a-laundry-1.89388

Proposed sale of the Sean McDermott Street building: http://www.thejournal.ie/sean-mcdermott-magdalene-laundry-3941031-Apr2018/

State compensation package: https://www.rte.ie/news/2013/0626/458868-magdalene-report/ and https://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/flanagan-257m-paid-out-to-682-magdalene-laundry-survivors-462711.html

The Magdalene Laundries on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magdalene_Laundries_in_Ireland

The Pope “had no knowledge”: https://www.buzz.ie/latest/pope-magdalene-laundries-297205

Film The Magdalene Sisters, Peter Mullan (1992): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Magdalene_Sisters

Song Magdalene Laundry by Mulhern and sung by Mary Coughlan (Sentimental Killer album (1992)): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GHWsLYtxzz0

 

(Photo: G.Guilfoyle)
Irish TV (RTÉ) cameraman filming the protest (Photo: D.Breatnach)

 

Section of protest (Photo: D.Breatnach)