On Thursday 18 June, the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny TD visited the Whispering Hope Centre, run by the Irish Women Survivors Support Network (IWSSN), based in Kentish Town, London. In a symbolic visit and reception, the Taoiseach met with Magdalene Laundry Women and other Survivors of Irish Institutional care who are clients of the Centre’s support services.
This unique event provided an opportunity for UK-based Survivors to share how the Whispering Hope Centre and financial support received from the Irish Government, has made a considerable difference in improving the quality of their lives in their later years.
Taoiseach, Enda Kenny TD, said:
“It is a privilege to visit the Whispering Hope Centre, to reflect on the journey of the centre and the dignity and grace you have shown.
“I am aware that out there, the state and Irish nation apologised to you, followed your stories and witnessed your transformation in a more insightful society.
“Out there, we showed little mercy and here we are asking you to be merciful to us, forgive us for abandoning you, and locking you up.
“While all this was going on out there, in here, in your hearts and heads, progress has been made.
“In here, we celebrate your lives, we’re uplifted by your sense of kindness, warmed by the prospect of the future. Your forgiveness started on a cold February night, when a nation took back a secret.
“While you have got your heritage back, you have given the country back to us. Ireland is so much more insightful than before. You redeemed us and restored our country.”
Sally Mulready, Chair of IWSSN, said:
“It was an honour to host the Taoiseach at the Whispering Hope Centre and introduce him to Magdalene Women who have seen their lives and living conditions improve, as a direct result of the Taoiseach’s efforts.
“So many Magdalene Women we have supported over the years, are overjoyed about the steps the Irish Government has taken to set the past straight, and take positive steps to ensure the ‘hidden Irish’ have much brighter, happier and secure futures.
“We’ve bore witness to the progress these women have made, in reconciling the past and ensuring their childhood ordeals and memories do not hold them back in the present, or future.”
Phyllis Morgan, Senior Advice and Support Worker, IWSSN, said:
“We’re really pleased we got the opportunity to share how appreciative we are of the Restorative Justice Scheme with the Taoiseach. Survivors views, and the views of IWSSN were thoroughly taken on-board by Justice Quirke when the scheme for Magdalene Women was set-up, and as a result, we are now seeing Magdalene Women progress in their lives.
“IWSSN and all of the caseworkers at the Whispering Hope Centre are incredibly grateful for how respectful and dignified the Restorative Justice Scheme is. Applicants did not need to give formal statements, and instead the application process was very straight-forward and non-adversarial, which is exactly what our clients wanted. Survivors in their older age, do not want unnecessary hassle, pressure or upset in having to resurrect painful memories. We have received very positive feedback from Magdalene Women who applied to the scheme, precisely because no verbal evidence needed to be given.”
Mary Currington, Magdalene Women and client of IWSSN, said:
“I’m really pleased that I met the Taoiseach, and could tell him how I have benefited from the actions the Irish Government has taken in rectifying the past.
“Firstly, I wholly appreciate how easy it was to apply to the Restorative Justice Scheme, and am thrilled to have received a financial award within a year, along with an Irish pension. The financial support I’ve received has helped me move on in my life, and become more financially secure.
“Secondly, the Whispering Hope Centre has been an incredibly reliable, welcoming and helpful resource for me. I’ve made so much progress in healing from past experiences, and Whispering Hope has been integral to me becoming a more confident, independent person.
“Lastly, the State Apology to the Magdalene Women has given me peace, and has enabled me to let go of the past, to not fall victim to my history and to lead a much more positive, happy life.”
With generous funding from the Irish Government, the Whispering Hope Centre has been able to support an increased number of Irish Survivors living in the UK and offer a wider, more holistic selection of services. Being the only UK-based front-line, Survivor-led advice and support service for Irish Survivors of Irish Institutional care (including the Magdalene Laundry Women) the Taoiseach was able to hear first-hand how these Survivors have benefited from the support that has been offered to them.
It was after a meeting organised by IWSSN in 2012, with a group of inspirational Magdalene Laundry Women that the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny TD, was moved by their stories and understood the sense of injustice these Survivors felt about their experiences in earlier life. With the promise to set the future straight and acknowledge the failures of successive governments to hear the voices of these women, the Taoiseach made a powerful State Apology and invited Justice John Quirke to look into developing a financial scheme for the Magdalene Women.
Following the State Apology and the report recommendations from Justice Quirke, a Restorative Justice Scheme was established. IWSSN was recognised for its work in bringing the Survivor community together in the UK, providing support and companionship for so many Magdalene Women that had fled Ireland. The Taoiseach also recognised there was a need to fund the work of IWSSN, to enable the Magdalene Laundry Women in particular to access professional advice and support in pursuing their applications to the Restorative Justice Scheme. He further recognised that the wider Survivor community would continue to need proper professional support and guidance, especially as the Survivor population was an ageing one, and their needs would become more complex in their later years.
With the support of the Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD and Eamon Gilmore TD, the Irish government allocated funding of €250k for the Justice and Equality Minister to administer. This funding was given to IWSSN to expand its operation and reach a wider number of Survivors living in the UK. The funding is now in place with a full compliment of staff and a full service is provided to all Survivors of Irish institutional care, seeking advice and support.
The Whispering Hope Centre was set-up in March 2014 as a service for Magdalene Laundry Women and the wider Survivor community, based in Kentish Town, London. The naming of the centre as Whispering Hope was a special recognition of the Taoiseach’s historic meeting at the Irish Embassy in 2013. The Taoiseach heard a moving rendition of the song ‘Whispering Hope’ which has almost become the anthem of Survivors.
A total of 15 Magdalene Women and other Survivors of Irish institutional care run by the religious congregations attended the event, to share their appreciation for the support they have received. These Survivors attend the event along with staff, trustees and volunteers of IWSSN.
If you would like any further information about the work of IWSSN or the Whispering Hope Centre, please do not hesitate to get in touch with:
Sally Mulready, Chair of IWSSN
Mob: 07930 575913
Tel: 020 7428 0471
Charlotte Gerada, Campaigns & Policy Advisor, IWSSN
Mob: 07971 395413
Tel: 0207 267 9997