THERE’S something unforgettable about the faces of women who have been fighting for justice for decades. It’s an expression that combines pain and tenacity, disappointment and dignity. And once you’ve seen it, it stays with you.
Think of Margaret Aspinall of the Hillsborough Families Support Group; or Doreen Lawrence, mother of Stephen Lawrence. And now Mary Smyth, Maureen Sullivan and Marina Gambold – just a few of the women who survived the Magdalene laundries.
The travesties and traumas that these women have suffered are different, but the way they are treated by the establishment is often depressingly similar. How often have we seen those images of them standing there, facing flashes and microphones, with an official report – often not the first – clutched in their hands, grateful for some recognition but still fighting to have questions answered or people held accountable or proper compensation for what they’ve suffered?
Last week’s McAleese report makes clear that the Irish state and the police bore a major responsibility for sending women to laundries where their rights were systematically abused. Run by four orders of Catholic nuns, more than 10,000 women and girls – unmarried mothers and their daughters, those who’d been sexually abused, those with mental or physical disabilities – were locked up to do unpaid manual work in the laundries. The women weren’t told why they were there. They weren’t told when they could leave and they were prevented from having contact with the outside world.
The report found that more than a quarter of the women sent to the laundries were referred by the state. It also found that the youngest to have been sent was nine years old, while the oldest was 89. Nearly 900 women died while working in the laundries. And yet still Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny couldn’t quite apologise. He said sorry for the stigma the women had suffered, and sorry for how long it had taken the government to carry out the inquiry but he stopped short of apologising for the state’s now evident role in what happened.
The Justice For Magdalenes campaign wants a government apology and compensation for the survivors, paid quickly so the women are alive to receive it. Truly, how can they be denied?
THE British Library has just paid £320,000 for the diaries of Obi-Wan Kenobi (I refer to Alec Guinness by his Jedi name to repay him for being so snooty about Star Wars – he called it “fairytale rubbish”). It’s a lot of money, but worth it surely since Guinness is the man who called Laurence Olivier’s Oedipus “tiresome”, claiming that his fellow thesp “knew every trick of the trade and used every one, including, when he made his first entrance, the lights coming up a few points and going down again when he left”. Miaow.
WHAT’S wrong with people? Asked to choose tokens in Monopoly, a third voted for a cat, while the iron polled only 8 per cent. And so the iron’s got the boot. Outrageous. I always choose the iron, not the top hat (for class reasons) nor the boat (it’s the same size as the dog and that’s just silly). It’s claimed that although the iron was an essential domestic appliance when introduced as a token in 1935, it’s now obsolete. Presumably those spreading that story are people who look like they’ve slept in their clothes. «