The Open Heart City Collective welcomes the announcement that the Government has approved high-level proposals for a National Centre for Research and Remembrance to be located on the former Magdalene Laundry in Sean MacDermott Street

We are seeking input from survivors and other interested and affected people on the CoLab architects’ draft designs for the Sean McDermott Street site. These designs have been influenced by several consultation meetings carried out to date with survivors, others affected by historical ‘care’ arrangements, adoption and institutional abuse and local residents. We are eager to receive further comments and suggestions so that we can amend and improve the designs.

1. Watch the recording of the CoLab architects’ most recent zoom presentation on the Open Heart City YouTube channel below.

2. Fill in our short survey here. If you have already attended a zoom consultation with us, please also fill in this survey so that we can record your views in more detail.

CoLab 81-7 Consultation: A model for creating Sites of Conscience in Ireland

Recently on the 20th of November 2020, CoLab architects hosted a Zoom meeting to discuss proposed designs for a Site of Conscience at Seán McDermott Street, …

During the Autumn and Winter of 2020, the CoLab architects hosted several online consultations on Zoom, inviting survivors and all those affected by institutional, adoption and other ‘care’-related abuses to contribute their feedback, comments, suggestions and thoughts about CoLab’s suggested architectural designs for the former Magdalene Laundry site on Sean McDermott Street. The architects’ suggested designs for a National Site of Conscience include space for a national centre of truth-telling and education, a dedicated archive, and memorialisation. Many members of the community surrounding the site in Dublin 1, along with local and national politicians, artists and community organisers also attended these online consultations. Associate Professor Katherine O’Donnell (UCD), Dr Maeve O’Rourke (NUIG) and JFMR have assisted CoLab in organising these consultations.


Please note that the below questions have been asked by attendees at our previous online consultations, in response to our proposals for the site. We welcome all views and suggestions for changes and additions to our proposals. The answers below reflect the views of the CoLab architects and JFMR as expressed during the online consultations. As explained here, CoLab and JFMR are members of the ‘Open Heart City Collective’ .

If you have further questions, please do contribute to our online consultation as suggested above or contact

1. Why does the proposed National Site of Conscience have to be in Dublin and at this site?

The site of the former Magdalene Laundry at Sean McDermott is in public ownership and so it is easier to argue for State-backing to consider a National Site of Conscience here. The Open Heart City Collective imagine that when this site is shown to be of great public interest and national significance it will result in sites of former residential institutions around the country (for example St Conleth’s Reformatory at Daingean which is also owned by the State) also being developed as other National Sites of Conscience. We also believe that it is important that survivors have a place that honours them right in the heart of our capital city – a location that is perfectly placed for school tours and is easy to access by visitors to Dublin.

2. What is a National Site of Conscience?

The Open Heart City Collective encourage ‘active memorialisation’, which means that we believe it is important to not simply erect statues or plaques to honour survivors and others affected by Ireland’s ‘historical’ injustices. It is crucial to ensure that these atrocities never happen again, and for this reason we use envisage the ‘National Site of Conscience’ as a location that fosters conversation, reflection and action to ensure remembrance of the past acts as a way in which we can imagine a more inclusive and more just future. The draft proposal as it currently stands includes an archive, an exhibition space and meeting rooms and performance space.

3. Who is funding this project?

The Open Heart City project and the participation of Co-Lab_817 architects is completely voluntary. The Arts Council of Ireland have given Co-Lab_817 a €50K grant to build a temporary exhibition on Sean McDermott Street to engage with the public on how the site might undergo development that is appropriate and sensitive to the local community’s needs as well as honouring survivors. Justice for Magdalenes Research (JFMR) is covering basic expenses associated with the ongoing consultation process.

4. What records will be held at the proposed archive of institutional records?

The archive will have two parts: (1) first and most importantly, it will provide confidential access to individuals who wish to obtain their own records, and (2) second, a public archive will be developed which will not reveal the personal identifying information of individuals affected by abuse or ‘care’ arrangements to the public without their consent. Instead the public archive will contain the administrative records of Ireland’s Industrial and Reformatory Schools, Mother and Baby Homes, Magdalene Laundries, as well as the administrative records of institutions and agencies associated with the adoption system.

Administrative records include the files associated with the running of institutions and agencies and related correspondence. They do not include personal files. When the administrative records are eventually made available to researchers and educators (see Q7 below), any names or other identifying details about survivors will be removed from the copy made available for research purposes.

If survivors, adopted people or family members want to deposit their personal papers or oral history interviews or artefacts into the public archive, they will be able to do that, so that other people impacted can learn from their experiences. This is a completely voluntary process and nobody will be forced to share their private information.

Separate to the public archive, we envisage the archive of institutional records also as a private place where survivors of Ireland’s residential institutions and adopted people can go to access their personal files and review them with the assistance of trained archivists who will be on hand to guide them through the contents and its significance. 

 5. Why does the proposed archive of institutional records have to be in Dublin and at this site? and Why does the archive have to contain documents from different institutions such as Magdalenes, industrial schools, and mother and baby homes?

We have had a number of commissions of inquiry into Ireland’s practice of locking-up children in Industrial and Reformatory schools, of keeping ‘unmarried mothers’ in Mother and Baby Homes and incarcerating girls and women in Magdalene Laundries. Thousands of mothers and children were also separated from each other through forced adoption.  Many survivors and/or family members were impacted by more than one of these experiences.

In other words, hundreds of thousands of Irish people are affected by all of these issues, so it makes sense to have the records available to them in the same place. 

Our recommendation to the State that the records should all held in the same place does not mean we are suggesting that everyone’s experience was the same.  

However, we believe that there are many advantages to having all of these materials in one place, because it will help survivors, adopted people and family members to learn about how the entire system worked. 

There are also practical reasons why it makes sense to have the paper records in one location. Establishing and maintaining an archive is expensive: the building is expensive to construct and maintain; it requires fire-resistant locked shelving as well as strict climate controls to ensure that the paper holdings are not damaged or disintegrate over the many decades and centuries to come. In addition, the records need to be stored in specially built, temperature-controlled conditions in order to preserve them. On 28 October 2020, the Taoiseach committed to creating an archive that meets the ‘highest international standards’.

A single location also ensures that the records can be digitised and put on the internet (in an appropriate format) so that they can be accessed by survivors and adopted people all around the country and abroad. These large archives of institutional records are currently sealed and held by different Government departments and remain inaccessible even to those most directly affected.

6. Do I have to wait until the archive of institutional records is open to get my personal records?

No, you can apply for your own records immediately using data protection legislation. Below we have provided links to the various resources we have made available.

If you were in an Industrial School visit:

If you were in a Magdalene Laundry visit:

If you were adopted or if you are a natural mother who spent time in a mother and baby home or related institution, or family member visit:

7. Will the archive of institutional records be open to researchers and educators?

In the short to medium term, all resources should be devoted to ensuring that survivors, adopted people and family members have access to their personal records and the administrative files. The people most affected by these issues must be the top priority.

In time, the administrative records and files of the institutions and the commissions of inquiry can be made available to researchers and educators. If permission is given, donated personal records can be carefully redacted to remove all personal information (again, this is completely voluntary and you will not be forced to have your personal records included). It is important that researchers and educators also have the opportunity to learn about how this system worked so that Ireland’s history will faithfully record what happened to our most vulnerable populations in the twentieth century.

8. What involvement does Justice for Magdalenes Research have with Survivors of Industrial Schools and others affected by these issues?

JFMR has worked with Magdalene survivors since 2003. Many of those survivors were also survivors of industrial schools and some were also born and/or gave birth in Mother and Baby institutions. In the early years of our organisation, much of the work we did was around assisting Magdalene survivors who went to the Residential Institutions Redress Board (RIRB) because the RIRB refused to take their time in the laundries into account.

Many of the survivors who spoke to the Irish Research Council-supported Magdalene Oral History Project had been incarcerated in Industrial Schools as children. These survivors describe how, as frightened young girls, they were transferred from the Industrial Schools into Magdalene Laundries. In 2018, JFMR was instrumental in organising the Dublin Honours Magdalenes (DHM) event. Many of the survivors who participated in the DHM Listening Exercise had also been confined in Industrial Schools, and they relayed the same experience. Because of their own experiences, many Magdalene survivors are very concerned about what happens to children and teenagers in the State’s care system today. This is another reason why having an archive of different institutions’ records is important: it helps us to understand the past, and it also helps us to recognise how the same things might be happening today. Learning important lessons for the past can help ensure we never repeat or tolerate the same treatment to vulnerable populations today (e.g., families in the Direction Provision system, children in Foster Care, young people leaving State care, etc.).

JFMR was instrumental in securing a State apology and a Magdalene Restorative Justice scheme in 2013 and since then we have lobbied for greater inclusion and fairness in the administration of the scheme. 

In 2019 JFMR organised the successful email campaign that stopped the State from passing the Retention of Records Bill, 2019 which proposed to seal the archive of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (aka the Laffoy/Ryan Commission) and the archive of the RIRB for 75 years. 

JFMR has also drafted legislation to allow all survivors access to the HAA health card and to lift the ‘gagging order’ against those who went before the RIRB and it continues to lobby on this issue. 

JFMR continues to take cases to the UN to represent survivors (such as Elizabeth Coppin who is a survivor of an industrial school as well as Magdalene institutions.) 

Along with Adoption Rights Alliance, JFMR co-organised the CLANN project which has compiled a report based on testimony provided by adopted people and natural parents with strong recommendations to Government in advance of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission report.

9. No Memorialisation Without Justice

Some survivors say that they want ‘no memorialisation without justice’ however we think that:

  • The planned Archive (run by that National Archives) and Museum (run by the National Museum) with exhibition space for a variety of (temporary, some permanent) focused exhibitions are in themselves forms of justice;
  • Without access to their own files, survivors will not be able to mount legal challenges – and millions of pages of documents will remain sealed and inaccessible in various Government departments (Department of Education has the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse or Ryan Report Archive; the Department of the Taoiseach has the Archive of the Interdepartmental Inquiry into State Involvement of the Magdelen Institutions that led to the McAleese Report; the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth has the Archive of the Inquiry into Mother and Baby Homes and Related Institutions);
  • Many survivors across a range of consultants have repeatedly asked the residential institutional abuse and forced family separation to be studied by Irish school-children in the national curriculum – the Archive and Museum will facilitate towards that long-wished for requested to be realised;
  • We can never have ‘enough justice’ and that justice measures can never be exhausted in the case of the trauma and wide-ranging injustices experienced by survivors of residential institutional abuse and all those affected by forced family separation. We will never get to the stage where justice is fully delivered and we can begin to think about memorial spaces and events might be.