IRISH taoiseach Enda Kenny finally issued a state apology to victims of the notorious Magdalene laundries last night.
Speaking in front of a packed Dail, the Irish premier apologised “unreservedly” for the Irish state’s role in sending 10,000 women to the workhouses run by Catholic nuns.
“I, as taoiseach, on behalf of this state, apologise unreservedly to all those women for the hurt done,” Mr Kenny said. In the gallery women who had survived the laundries looked on.
“This is a national shame for which I again say I am deeply sorry and offer my full and heartfelt apologies.”
The Irish leader said that his government “was adamant that these ageing and elderly women would get the compassion and the recognition for which they have fought for so long, deserved so deeply and had, until now, been so abjectly denied”.
He added: “As a society, we failed you, we forgot you. This is a national shame for which I offer my full heartfelt apologies.”
Mr Kenny’s statement came two weeks after a 1,000-page report written by former senator Martin McAleese found that the laundries were “lonely and frightening places” where many women suffered horrific mistreatment.
Around 10,000 women were forced to work without pay and against their will in the laundries run by nuns, between 1922 and 1996. Just over one-quarter of referrals were made by or facilitated by the Irish State.
“The reality is that for 90 years, Ireland subjected these women and their experience to a profound and studied indifference,” Mr Kenny said, during a speech that received a standing ovation from his colleagues and opposition members in the Dail.
He said: “Let me hope that this day and this debate heralds a new dawn for all those who feared that the dark midnight might never end.”
Campaigners had previously criticised the response of Mr Kenny’s Fine Gael-Labour government. Last night, they finally got the full state apology for which they had pressed so hard.
Mr Kenny announced that a support fund for survivors of the laundries would be established, alongside a permanent national memorial. These will be financed by the Irish government separately from the funds being set aside for the direct assistance to the survivors of the laundries, Mr Kenny said.
Approximately 8 per cent of the women and girls who entered eight laundries between 1922 and 1996 died in them. The inquiry into Irish state involvement with the laundries has said that the circumstances of the deaths of 879 women who died in the institutions were one of the main focuses of its work.
The inquiry also found that half of the girls and women put to work in the laundries were under the age of 23. Forty per cent – more than 4,000 – spent more than a year incarcerated.
Earlier yesterday, human rights charity Amnesty International accused the Irish government of ignoring women who were victims of the laundries in Northern Ireland.
Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty’s Northern Ireland director, said: “To avoid shame, Irish society, north and south, acted shamefully for more than a century.
“Today, it is our generation’s and our governments’ reputation for honour, not that of the Magdalene women, which is at stake.”