TAOISEACH Enda Kenny has promised to deliver a full state apology to the survivors of the Magdalene laundries before next week's special Dail debate.
He gave the commitment at a meeting in his office in Government Buildings with six women who had been in the laundries. Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore was also in attendance.
It represents a turnaround from last week, when Mr Kenny was criticised for failing to deliver an apology after the publication of the Magdalene report by former Senator Martin McAleese.
A government source confirmed that an apology was on the way – with the issue of compensation for the survivors also due to be discussed at today's cabinet meeting.
Magdalene Survivors Together founder Steven O'Riordan, who had requested the meeting on the women's behalf, said they were very satisfied with what Mr Kenny had said.
"I think from our own perspective he was very compassionate, he listened to the women. I think it's definitely his intention to issue a state apology," he said.
The meeting took almost three hours, with Mr Kenny and Mr Gilmore offering more time to the survivors to tell their stories if they wanted it. The six women were given tea and coffee, as well as cake and chocolate muffins. Four of them opted to remain anonymous, but two later gave their reaction.
Maureen Sullivan (now 60) was sent to a Magdalene laundry in New Ross, Co Wexford, at the age of 12, after suffering from abuse. She said that Mr Kenny had told her that he believed her story.
"Now all we ask for is two words: 'I'm sorry.' Our healing process can only take place when there's a state apology. I think he found that very important," she said.
Marina Gambold (77) was orphaned when she was eight after both her parents died.
She lived with her grandmother for a couple of years but when she was 16 she had nowhere to go and a priest referred her to the Magdalene laundries.
She said she did not bear any bitterness about what had happened – and praised the compassionate response of Mr Kenny and Mr Gilmore to their stories.
"I thought they were lovely people, the two of them. I said to them that I hope God will guide you to do the right thing," she said.
Survivors believe that the Dail debate next Tuesday week would be the ideal time to apologise because former Magdalene residents are travelling from around the country and from Britain to be in the public gallery. Around one quarter of the 10,000 women who were in Magdalene laundries between 1922 and 1996 were referred there by the State.
But the Government is going to come under immediate pressure today from a Fianna Fail private members' motion calling for a state apology and for a dedicated unit in the Department of Justice to provide "all forms of redress" for the survivors.
Fianna Fail TD John Browne, who has met survivors in New Ross, said his party was keeping the issue on top of the agenda.
"It's our duty as an opposition to keep it to the forefront and make sure a decision is made quickly," he said.