Kenny apologises to Magdalene Laundries survivors

Updated: Tuesday, 19 Feb 2013 23:11

The Taoiseach has apologised unreservedly on behalf of the State to the survivors of the Magdalene Laundries.

Speaking in the Dáil, Enda Kenny apologised to the women for the hurt they endured in the laundries and for any stigma they suffered as a result of the time they spent in the laundries.

He said: "I, as Taoiseach, on behalf of the State, the Government and our citizens deeply regret and apologise unreservedly to all those women for the hurt that was done to them."

Mr Kenny had been criticised by some survivors for his initial response to the McAleese Report.

However, today he said that after reflecting on the report the survivors deserve more than a formal apology.

He said he wanted to put a process in place to help and support the women in their remaining years.

Mr Kenny said Law Reform Commission President Judge John Quirke will undertake a review to assess how the Government can provide payments.

Mr Kenny said the Government will establish a fund based on his recommendations, which are due within three months.

An emotional Mr Kenny concluded by speaking directly to the women and said that society had failed them and forgotten them.

He said: "This is a national shame for which I'm deeply sorry and offer my full apologies."

Magdalene survivors welcomed the apology, saying it vindicates their campaign and removes any stigma.

Mary Smyth said seeing Mr Kenny cry made it clear that he believed them and she said it was a very emotional day.

Steven O’Riordan of Magdalene Survivors Together said they were happy that compensation was promised.

The inclusion of laundries outside the terms of the McAleese Report was also welcomed.

Dáil reacts to Enda Kenny's apology

Speaking in the Dáil after Mr Kenny's apology, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore acknowledged that what happened to the women in the Magdalene Laundries was wrong, that the stigma they have been branded with was false and that they were sorry.

He said the picture that emerged in the McAleese report was complex and reflected an Ireland where the lines between personal morality and civil authority were blurred, sometimes beyond distinction.

Also responding to Mr Kenny's speech, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin acknowledged the failures of all who participated in public life in the past, who did not act to intervene sooner to apologise to the survivors.

He said the women deserved "earlier intervention" and added that, as a member of the former Government, he was "sorry it didn't happen over the past decade".

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams thanked the Taoiseach for his "fulsome and comprehensive apology".

He said the women in the laundries were slaves "of a brutal and inhuman regime which Irish governments turned a blind eye to."

People Before Profit Alliance TD Richard Boyd Barrett said it beggared believe that the women had to wait so long to get the apology that they deserved.

He said the last of the Magdalene institutions had closed down a long time ago and yet it was only now that a State apology was given.

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter expressed his deep gratitude for the survivors of the Magdalene Laundries, who had taken the long journey to have their experiences recognised.

"With courage and tenacity, they persisted," he said.

"Due to their efforts, the veil of secrecy surrounding the laundries has at long last been lifted and it can never now be replaced."

He said that from tomorrow, people could contact the Department of Justice to register their interest in being considered for benefits and funds coming from the Government fund.

Justice for Magdalenes welcomes apology

In a statement, Justice for Magdalenes welcomed the apology.

It said it “looks forward to the intent of the apology being made evident by the introduction of a system of redress that is prompt, open, fair, and transparent.

“We contend that Justice John Quirke, who will head up the three month review to recommend the criteria for providing supports, payments and services to the women, must be given statutory powers.

“There must also be an independent appeals system, and Justice Quirke must be properly resourced. The system must be non-adversarial and transparent.

“It can be private but not secret. And, the process of review must be completed in the three-month time frame.”

Terms of reference for fund released

The Government has outlined the terms of reference Mr Justice Quirke will use to set up the compensation scheme for Magdalene Laundry survivors.

Payments will be made to women who were admitted and worked in the laundries, as well as those detained in similar institutions that were classed as training units.

The judge will consider relevant criteria during the three-month review period, including labour undertaken at the workhouses.

He will also examine how best to establish an ex-gratia fund "in an effective and timely manner" that ensures the women benefit of the money - and that it is not directed at legal fees or expenses.

Mr Justice Quirke has also been asked to consider how the Government might best provide other supports as part of the scheme, including health services such as medical cards, mental health services and counselling services and other welfare needs.

The compensation will have no impact on the women's social welfare payments and tax liabilities, according to the terms of reference.

And survivors living outside Ireland will receive compensation. The judge will ensure payments to those living in the UK do not affect their existing entitlements and benefits.