McAleese said most of the 118 former residents interviewed by the report authors "described the atmosphere in the laundries as cold, with a rigid and uncompromising regime of physically demanding work and prayer, with many instances of verbal censure, scoldings or even humiliating put-downs." Yet a minority, he said, viewed the laundry as "their only refuge in times of great personal difficulty."
Campaigners for justice for the "Maggies" expressed disappointment with the report and particularly the government's response.
"These women were locked up against their will and not paid a penny for their work," said Clare McGettrick, spokeswoman for the Justice for Magdalenes pressure group. She noted that the state inspected the laundries as licensed workplaces, yet never required the nuns to fund any state pension entitlements for the women as normal employers do, which means they are among Ireland's poorest residents today.
"Frankly their country has failed them yet again," said McGettrick said. The prime minister's refusal to apologize on behalf of the state, she said, "prolongs the stigma for these women. The beginning of this process should have been the apology. More women would have given their testimony."
They have pressed Ireland for more than a decade to admit its legal responsibility to compensate residents for hardships experienced, freedom denied, and the lack of wages paid. The government since 2002 has paid more than (euro) 1 billion ($1.3 billion) to more than 13,000 people who suffered sexual, physical and psychological abuse in other Catholic-run workhouses and orphanages but explicitly excluded former Magdalene residents, contending these were privately run institutions with negligible state involvement.
The United Nations Committee on Torture in 2011, hearing a legal petition from the Justice for Magdalenes group, rejected the Irish government's arguments and ordered the fact-finding effort subsequently undertaken by McAleese and officials from six Irish government departments.
McAleese concluded that his investigation had "found significant state involvement with the Magdalene Laundries."
The four orders issued their own statements of regret to past laundry residents, but largely defended their conditions as inevitable in tougher times.
The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge, which ran the two biggest laundries in Dublin, in a statement expressed "deep regret" that many residents "did not experience our refuge as a place of protection and care." But they suggested that women in their care faced worse conditions and fewer options in the hostile Ireland outside the laundry gates.
And the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy, which ran two laundries south of Dublin and in the western city of Galway, said some workers built lifelong friendships with nuns running the workhouse. "We wish that we could have done more and that it could have been different," the nuns said. "It is regrettable that the Magdalene homes had to exist at all."
Online: Magdalene Laundries report, www.idcmagdalen.ie/