Proposals for National Centre for Research and Remembrance approved

30 Mar 2022

The Irish Government has approved proposals for a National Centre for Research and Remembrance to be located on the site of the former Magdalen Laundry on Sean MacDermott Street in Dublin.

Developed by the Secretary General to the government, following informal consultation with key advocates and stakeholders, these proposals were brought to Government jointly by the Taoiseach and the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Mr Roderic O'Gorman TD.

In a statement released yesterday (29 March 2022), the vision for this National Centre is to establish a site of national conscience, providing a space for reflection and remembrance "to honour all those who were resident in Mother and Baby Homes, Industrial Schools, Reformatories, Magdalen Laundries and related institutions".

Following approval of the proposals, Minister O’Gorman said:

“Today’s announcement on the establishment of a National Centre for Research and Remembrance advances a core commitment in the State’s response to the legacy of institutional trauma. Over the past three decades, Ireland has had a difficult reckoning with its history of institutional abuse. This Centre will provide a place of reflection and remembrance, while also ensuring that future generations can fully understand the appalling impact of those institutions.

"I believe this project will make a significant contribution in our journey of recognising and learning from the failures of the past and acknowledging the hurt which continues to be felt by survivors and their families. By creating a National Centre for Research and Remembrance, the State recognises the role of memorialisation in working to rebuild a relationship of trust and support healing for those who were so profoundly wronged. As a site of national conscience, it is my hope that this Centre will offer an enduring reminder of the importance of striving continually to build and promote a progressive, respectful and equal society.”

The National Centre will comprise a museum and exhibition space developed by the National Museum of Ireland, and a research centre and repository of records related to institutional trauma in the 20th century which will form part of the National Archives.

It will additionally provide an educational and early learning service and social housing and local community facilities, and - while physically located in Dublin - will provide digital access as well as developing physical presences elsewhere to ensure global connectivity.

The announcement of approval of the proposals placed particular onus on reflecting the experiences of survivors:

"One unique aspect of the central repository will be the inclusion of the personal testimonies of survivors; allowing the lived experiences of survivors to be formally accepted as part of the official record. Recognising the sensitivity of this work and the importance of respecting data protection and privacy rights, the processes for preserving and accessing records will be progressed in conjunction with survivors and relevant experts, and will be supported by legal analysis and legislation".

The government has also approved the next steps which will involve formal consultation with both survivor and local community representatives and the establishment of a Steering Group, noting that this will be a major, multi-annual project, spanning a number of years.

These approved proposals respond to the Government's Action Plan for Survivors and Former Residents of Mother and Baby and County Home Institutions, published November 2021, which jointly commit to the establishment, on a formal national basis, of a memorial and records centre related to institutional trauma during the 20th century (Action 7) and the acknowledgment of the profound importance of extensive engagement with survivors and former residents in determining memorialisation and the form this may take (Action 15).

History of the former Magdalen Laundry site at MacDermott Street

  • In 1821, a refuge was established at Mecklenburg Street (later re-named Railway Street, at the rear of Gloucester Street) by a layperson (Mrs Brigid Burke) for ‘troubled and homeless’ women. Over time, a four-member lay Committee became responsible for the institution and a Matron was employed to operate it. In or about 1860, the Committee purchased additional land to include a site on Gloucester Street (later re-named Sean McDermott Street).
  • In 1873, Cardinal Cullen requested the Sisters of Mercy to take over the operation of the institution, then known as the Magdalen Retreat, which they did until late 1886. At that point, and with the approval of Archbishop Walsh, the Sisters of Mercy requested the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity to take over operation of the institution. The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity did so and became responsible for the institution in February 1887.
  • There were no other institutions on site, other than the laundry, living quarters for the women who worked there, and the Convent.
  • The capacity of the Magdalen Laundry at Sean McDermott Street was 150. Occupancy varied over time- it was 120 in 1922, 130 in 1932, 135 in 1942 and 140 in 1952. The Laundry ceased operations in 1996.

(source: Irish Government 2013 'Report of the Inter-departmental Committee to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen Laundries')

Following ownership being transferred from the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity to Dublin City Council as part of a property exchange, the site was controversially offered for sale in 2017. However, Dublin City Council Elected Members voted to halt the proposed sale in 2018, with view to promoting "greater access to archival information regarding the Magdalene Laundries" and fully implementing the outstanding recommendations of the The Magdalen Commission Report (Quirke Report), "including services for survivors and memorialisation".