TAOISEACH Enda Kenny is reeling from a coalition backbench revolt over his failure to apologise to the Magdalene Laundries survivors – but ministers are worried about any compensation bill.
The Government's fears over costs were revealed as Justice Minister Alan Shatter ruled out paying any compensation to women who only spent "two or three days" in the laundries.
It is the first time that a government minister has spoken about the possibility of paying compensation to the 800-1,000 survivors of the 10 laundries.
Mr Kenny gave a commitment last night to Fine Gael backbenchers that he was willing to meet the Magdalene survivors. But he is under growing pressure from Fine Gael and Labour backbenchers to deliver a full apology.
Labour TDs and senators took the unusual step of issuing a collective statement calling for a formal apology by the Government and the provision of services to help survivors. They said they were "united" in their view that the women should be vindicated and honoured.
Labour backbenchers now expect Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore – who is in full agreement with them – to persuade Mr Kenny to speed up an apology.
Many Labour TDs told personal and highly emotional stories at their meeting – with Labour Wicklow TD Anne Ferris getting upset as she described how she had become pregnant at 17 in the early 1970s.
She said that the prospect of sending her to a mother and baby home was discussed, but she received fantastic support from her parents to raise her baby at home.
The report by former senator Martin McAleese found there was State involvement in the admission of one-quarter of the 10,000 women who ended up in the Magdalene Laundries.
But ministers are understood to be worried about any compensation package flowing from an apology – particularly after the €1bn compensation bill for industrial school abuse victims.
"What everyone is afraid of is the compensation, especially after the deal with the religious orders for the redress board for abuse victims," a source said.
But there is also dissatisfaction in Fine Gael at the current strategy, with Kerry TD Brendan Griffin and Senator Fidelma Healy Eames among those demanding a full apology.
Mr Griffin repeated his calls for Mr Kenny to make an apology at the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting later. Others at the meeting – such as Ms Healy-Eames and Jerry Buttimer – told Mr Kenny he needed to choose his words more wisely on the subject.
In the Dail yesterday, Mr Kenny said it was not an easy matter to deal with in a simplistic manner and the Government needed time.
"On behalf of this State, I am absolutely sorry for all that happened in the Magdalene Laundries," he said.
Mr Kenny also praised Dr McAleese for completing the report in 18 months at a cost of €11,000 in comparison to other reports that cost "millions".
But Labour junior minister Kathleen Lynch did break ranks with Mr Kenny by calling for an apology. She had previously held the Government line on RTE's 'Prime Time', but had been subjected to criticism by an 82-year-old Magdalene survivor.
In a further escalation of pressure, President Michael D Higgins said it was important to make an appropriate response – taking into account that many of the Magdalene women had been held in "involuntary detention".
He said there was a "duty of care" towards the thousands of women held in laundries against their will
One of the proposals being discussed by government backbenchers is to give Magdalene survivors a full state pension of €230 per week.
Many are only entitled to a basic non-contributory state pension of €219 per week.