Friday 26 December 2014

Labour minister breaks ranks to call for apology

Lyndsey Telford and Fionnan Sheahan

Published 06/02/2013 | 11:04

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

A LABOUR minister has broken Government ranks to call for a full state apology for the incarceration of thousands of women in the Magdalene Laundries.

 

 

 

Junior minister Kathleen Lynch spoke as Taoiseach Enda Kenny came under deepening pressure to make a full and frank admission about responsibility for the Magdalene laundries.

 

"My personal opinion is that there should be an apology, but I won't be sitting around that table making that decision," Ms Lynch said.

 

Survivors of the Magdalene laundries have fiercely criticised the Government's response after a report yesterday showed 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" 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.

 

In the Dail today he repeated his own sorrow but called for the Government to be given two weeks to prepare a suitable response.

 

Mr Kenny described parts of the report as harrowing.

"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."

Ms Lynch, a junior health minister with no seat at Cabinet, was an outspoken supporter of the survivors of Magdalene laundries when in opposition.

She was speaking in an interview with radio station TodayFM but said she did not speak for the Taoiseach.

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, headed by outgoing Senator Martin McAleese, husband of former president Mary McAleese, interviewed just over 100 surviving women, about 1% of the official total.

Mr Kenny was under renewed pressure over the inquiry and accused of making a "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 said.

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

The report found women were incarcerated by the courts for petty crimes, escapees were returned to laundries by gardai and 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, at Sean MacDermott Street in Dublin's north inner city.

Opposition politicians in Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein rounded on the Taoiseach for his failure to meet the demands of campaign groups Justice for Magdalenes and Magdalene Survivors Together.

Sinn Fein deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said the lack of a state apology from Mr Kenny was cruel and also questioned whether the refusal was for fear of admitting liability and facing compensation payouts.

Mr Kenny said: "Of course I realise that many of those women are now elderly and some are not in very strong and robust health," Mr Kenny said.

"In respect of those people, time is not on their side. It's a case of having a clear strategy and clear plan, how best to deal with it."

Stopping short of issuing a full apology, the Taoiseach added: "On behalf of the State, I'm sorry that so many women have worked and were resident in Magdalene laundries, in a very harsh, authoritative environment."

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 40% - more than 4,000 - spent more than a year incarcerated.

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

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