Irish premier Enda Kenny was under increasing pressure yesterday to issue a full apology on behalf of the Irish state to victims of the Magdalene laundries.
Opposition and government politicians, as well as representatives of some of the estimated 11,500 women incarcerated in the laundries called on the Taoiseach to deliver a full state-backed apology.
A report released on Tuesday found that the laundries were “lonely and frightening places” where women, many of them unmarried mothers, were forced to work without pay and against their will between 1922 and 1996. Just over one quarter of referrals were made by or facilitated by the state.
Speaking in parliament yesterday, Mr Kenny said that the report by former senator Martin McAleese into the laundries “makes for harrowing reading in many respects” but stopped short of making a full apology.
Opposition politicians, including Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, Sinn Fein deputy leader Mary-Lou McDonald and Independent TD Mattie McGrath, called on the Irish leader to make a full apology on behalf of the state.
“Despite the reports finding of state involvement in the women’s incarceration, the Taoiseach has again refused to apologise on behalf of the state to those women for what they have endured,’ said Ms McDonald.
Responding to a question from Mr Martin, Mr Kenny said he was “genuinely concerned about bringing reconciliation and closure to the women involved”. The report exposed the truth and “in that regard, the first and major issue of concern to the girls and women in the Magdalene laundries was the removal of the stigma”.
“This is not a matter for idle comment or flippant politics. It is of intense seriousness for those involved and for those who have responsibility now,” the Taoiseach said. “I want to repeat again my sense of deep sorrow for all those women who went through that regime.”
Calls for a full apology also came from within the government’s own ranks, with a number of figures within Mr Kenny’s coalition partner, the Labour party, criticising the speed of the government’s response to the report.
Labour TD for Dublin North, Sean Kenny, said that “two weeks is too long to wait” for an apology, after Mr Kenny earlier told the Dáil he wanted to use the next two weeks to decide how best to deal with the needs of the survivors.
“There is public concern about the delay in making an apology and I think that needs to be dealt with,” Mr Kenny said.
Meanwhile, Felice Gaer, the vice-chair of the UN Committee on Torture, told RTE’s Morning Ireland that the government had an obligation to provide financial redress and, where possible, justice.
Approximately eight 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 since 1922 are one of the focuses of its work. Justice for Magdalenes, a survivor advocacy group, said the Mr Kenny’s statement fell “far short of the full and sincere apology deserved by the women”.