Ireland apologizes for ‘slave labor’ at Catholic-run laundries
Taoiseach Enda Kenny forced into finally saying sorry for ‘the hurt and trauma’ caused to up to 10,000 Magdalene women
The Irish State has finally said sorry to 10,000 women and girls incarcerated in Catholic Church-run laundries where they were treated as virtual slaves.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny was forced into issuing a fulsome apology on Tuesday evening to those held in the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland.
The apology in the Dáil (Irish parliament) came about two weeks after a damning 1,000-plus page report was released detailing the way women and girls were maltreated inside the nun-controlled laundries.
Survivors groups were enfuriated when the Irish premier initially declined a fortnight ago to explicitly apologise for the state’s role in sending women and girls into the Magdalene Laundries, sometimes simply for coming from broken homes or being unmarried mothers.
In a powerful speech to a packed Dáil Eireann, Kenny made some amends for what many view as a major error of judgment on the day the report was released.
At the end of his address, Kenny appeared to break down briefly, choking back tears as he quoted a Magdalene woman’s song to him during a meeting recently.
The Taoiseach said what happened to the Magdalene women had “cast a long shadow over Irish life, over our sense of who we are”.
He said he “deeply regretted and apologised” for the hurt and trauma inflicted upon those sent to the Magdalene Laundries.
Apologising to the women and girls of the Magdalene Laundries, he told parliament that they deserved “the compassion and recognision for which they have fought for so long, deservedly so deeply.”
He said he hoped “it would help us make amends in the state’s role in the hurt of these extraordinary women.”
Kenny also announced a governnment-funded memorial to remember the 10,000 Magdalene women.
As Kenny made his announcement, former residents of the Magdalene institutions held a vigil outside the gates of the Irish parliament in Dublin’s Kildare Street where they lit candles in memory of all those sent to the laundries.
The apology was accompanied by the announcement of a fresh compensation package for around 800 women still alive who were held in the laundries across Ireland. A senior Irish judge would be appointed to oversee how the survivors are looked after.
The compensation deal will include counselling services, healthcare and individual payments, which Dublin hopes can be implemented without the involvement of lawyers and hefty legal bills.
Amnesty International accused the Fine Gael-Labour government of ignoring women exploited in laundries that operated across the border in Northern Ireland.
The report, headed by Senator Martin McAleese, found that the Irish State was complicit in sending girls and women to the laundries where they received no pay. However, the McAleese report did not cover Magdalene Laundries run in Northern Ireland up until the 1980s.
Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty’s director in Northern Ireland said: “Magdalene Laundries operated in Northern Ireland into the 1980s. I have spoken with women survivors of these institutions who now fear being left behind, with no inquiry in place – north or south – into their suffering.
“It is clear that any new inquiry announced by the Irish government will only investigate abuses in the Republic of Ireland, while the Historic Institutional Abuse Inquiry in Northern Ireland will only investigate abuse suffered by children, rather than by the many grown women who were held in Magdalene Laundries.”
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