Laundering The Laundries

Is this collusion?

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I have heard a few discussions of the Magdalene Laundries in recent days, in anticipation of the report released today that is intended to clarify ‘any State interaction and to produce a narrative detailing such interaction’.

And so people are talking about it in terms of whether there was State interaction, or collusion, or not. On the one hand, the Magdalene Laundries, on the other, the State. And then: how much interaction was there, and in what forms?

What I find hard to process is the notion that the State and the Magdalene Laundries existed as two separate and distinct entities. How do you situate the Magdalene Laundries outside the State?

In his Economy and Society, Max Weber proposes that a compulsory political organisation with continuous operations will be called a “state” insofar as its administrative staff successfully upholds the claim to the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force in the enforcement of its order (17. Political and Hierocratic Organisations, vol 1.).

By contrast, the interdepartmental committee ‘adopted the full meaning of “the State”, to refer to a body, whatever its legal form, which is or was responsible for provision of a public service under the control of the State and with special powers for that purpose.’ Note the strange circularity. For a body to be recognisable as the State, it has to be under the control of the State.

Well, returning to Weber, how did the Irish State successfully uphold its claim? Can we seriously claim that the carceral regime of psychiatric institutions, industrial schools, and slave labour laundries, which dotted the landscape and terrorised generations of Irish working class people, especially women, played no part in upholding the order of the Irish State?

The function of the Magdalene Laundries, the way they served to uphold the order of the Irish State
for instance, in the protection of ‘the Family as the natural primary and fundamental unit group
of Society
, or in their
use as a penitentiary institution by the criminal justice system, was not deemed within the scope of the interdepartmental narrative. This may have arisen in part from a concern with getting the claims of former detainees addressed urgently.

But it serves to place the institutions in a kind of historical quarantine, as if all that remains to be done is issue the apologies and provide appropriate redress (not that there is any guarantee of that being done to the satisfaction of the victims). That way it is assured that contemporary political questions about a State that used the slave labour of women to uphold its order and maintain its legitimacy can be safely set to one side. That way political society can quickly get back to addressing the greatest economic crisis since the foundation of the State, as they put it, as if that were something to be proud of.

 

 

 

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