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Saturday 30 August 2014

Labour minister breaks ranks to call for apology

Lyndsey Telford and Fionnan Sheahan

Published 06/02/2013 | 11:04

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Maureen Sullivan wipes away a tear during a ‘Magdalene Survivors Together’ news conference in Dublin

TAOISEACH Enda Kenny came under renewed pressure this morning for a state apology to the thousands of Magdalene Laundries women as a UN envoy urged compensation for the victims.

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Mr Kenny again refused today to make a full apology to the remaining survivors.

He turned on Sinn Fein in the Dail for demanding an apology, when it has failed to say sorry for IRA atrocities.

The Taoiseach said the report by former Senator Martin McAleese into the Magdalene Laundries "makes for harrowing reading in many respects".

 

Survivors of the laundries have fiercely criticised the Government's response after a report yesterday revealed a quarter of the 10,000 plus women detained in horrific regimes in the institutions were sent by state authorities.

 

Mr Kenny was accused of a "cop-out" and "mealy-mouthed apology" after he said he was sorry for the stigma attached to the women, but stopped short of issuing a full and frank apology on behalf of the country.

 

"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 told the Dail today.

 

"I want to repeat again my sense of deep sorrow for all those women who went through that regime."

 

"On behalf of this State, I am absolutely sorry for all that happened in the Magdalene laundries," he said.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin, Sinn Fein deputy leader Mary-Lou McDonald and Independent TD Mattie McGrath all called for Mr Kenny to make a full apology.

But the Taoiseach said he did not want to see any "adversarial diplomacy on an issue that is so sensitive". He appealed for time and space to study the report before deciding how to respond to the needs and requirements of the survivors of the laundries.

 

The victims should be compensated and perpetrators of abuse should be prosecuted, according to a leading member of the UN Committee against Torture.

 

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.

 

She welcomed the findings of the Senator Martin McAleese’s report, which was prompted by her committee’s enquiries into the subject in 2011.

 

A committee which investigated the Magdalenes between 1922 and 1996 identified five areas of direct state involvement in the detention of women in 10 institutions run by nuns.

 

The 18-month inquiry interviewed just over 100 surviving women, about 1pc of the official total.

 

It found women were incarcerated by the courts for petty crimes, escapees were returned to laundries by gardai, foster families sent them to workhouses when allowances ran out while others were sent because they were orphaned, abused, mentally or physically disabled, homeless or poor.

 

The last laundry - workhouses which had state and private contracts - closed in 1996, Sean MacDermott Street in Dublin's north inner city.

 

Justice for Magdalenes is aware of at least 988 women who are buried in laundry plots in cemeteries across Ireland and therefore must have stayed for life.

 

Other facts unearthed by the inquiry were that half of the girls and women put to work were under the age of 23, and 40pc - more than 4,000 - spent more than a year incarcerated.

 

Some 15pc spent more than five years while the average stay has been calculated at seven months.

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