THE Magdalene laundry on Clare Street was more often loss-making than profitable when run by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd despite having an unpaid labour force, a government report has found.
The Justice for Magdalenes survivors group is vigorously challenging the conclusions made by the interdepartmental committee regarding the profitability of the enterprises.
Contemporaneous ledgers and accountants records in respect of the Limerick laundry were made available to the committee chaired by Senator Martin McAleese.
They revealed that from 1922 until 1975, when the laundry was run by the nuns, the average income in today’s money was around €766,000 but once expenses were deducted, the average surplus was just over €13,356. Laundry equipment, detergents, fuel, delivery vans and wages for their drivers accounted for most of the expenditure. The Magdalenes were unpaid apart from occasional pocket money but the costs of maintaining and feeding them is included in the outlay. The laundry was loss-making on 34 of the 61 years for which the laundry’s records were available.
At the request of the committee, the accounts were reviewed and translated into 2011 values by the order’s accountants, Noel Delahunty and Company of Waterford.
They observe that the nuns lack of entrepreneurial skills is made plain by the improvement in profitability after the appointment of a layman, John Kennedy, as manager in 1976. He had introduced paid outside workers and would go on to buy the laundry from the order as a going concern in 1982. In the six years he managed the laundry for the nuns, the average surplus grew to over €100,000 in today’s money.
In a note to the committee, Delahunty and Company stated: “the sisters were not skilled in the management of a commercial enterprise. The laundry, while under their management, was operated as a source of funds to support the maintenance of the girls and women together with a contribution to the upkeep of the sisters”.
Mr Kennedy informed the committee that the £100,000 gross profit he had earned in his first year of ownership of the business came as a result of “working tooth and nail” to repay his borrowings and having secured many new contracts.
“It bears no relation to what the nuns may or may not have earned in previous years,” Mr Kennedy noted.
Justice for Magdalenes, meanwhile, have disputed the committee’s finding that the laundries “operated on a subsistence or close to break-even basis”.
“It doesn’t tally. We need to go back and look at that to see how the religious sisters were such poor managers. They had an unpaid workforce and lucrative contracts and they made no money,” said an incredulous Dr Katherine O’Donnell.