ENDA KENNY broke into tears as he made an historic and emotionally-charged state apology to survivors of the Magdalene laundries.
The Taoiseach received a standing ovation in parliament after he described the Catholic-run workhouses as the "nation's shame" and accepted the state's direct involvement.
"I, as Taoiseach, on behalf of the state, the Government and our citizens deeply regret and apologise unreservedly to all those women for the hurt that was done to them, and for any stigma they suffered, as a result of the time they spent in a Magdalene Laundry," Mr Kenny said.
Twenty women who were locked up in one of the laundries watched with bated breath from the public gallery.
They held hands tightly and wept as the Taoiseach made his tearful apology.
Maureen Sullivan, who was 12 when she was sent to a Magdalene laundry when her father died, said Mr Kenny had given survivors their lives back.
"He didn't hold back on anything," Ms Sullivan said.
"He really did us proud. Now we can go on with our lives and we know that we've got an apology, and he's taken responsibility. It's just fantastic."
He had come under fire for failing to apolgoise two weeks ago when former Senator Martin McAleese’s 1,000-page report into State involvement in the Magdalene Laundries was published.
But in the Dail, Mr Kenny delivered a clear state apology to the 10,000 women who had been in the country’s ten Magdalene Laundries.
He said there never would have been any need for institutions such as the Magdalen Laundries in a society guided by the principles of compassion and social justice.
And he said that women kept in there were wholly blameless and were only described as “fallen women” due to prejudice.
Mr Kenny said he hoped that his apology - and the publication of the report- would make some contribution to the healing process.
Mr Kenny announced that the Government would be establishing a compensation fund to help the survivors of the Magdalene Laundries.
He said it would primarily used to help the women and not for legal or administrative costs.
"That’s why the Government has today asked the President of the Law Reform Commission Judge John Quirke to undertake a three month review and to make recommendations as to the criteria that should be applied in assessing the help that the government can provide in the areas of payments and other supports, including medical cards, psychological and counselling services and other welfare needs," he said.
Mr Kenny said that the fund would also be used to pay for a memorial for the women of the Magdalene Laundries.
Mr Kenny became emotional as he concluded his speech to apologise once more for the national shame.
"At the conclusion of my discussions with one group of the Magdelen Women one of those present sang ‘Whispering Hope’. A line from that song stays in my mind – “when the dark midnight is over, watch for the breaking of day”," he said.
He had to pause in the middle of his final sentence, saying "Excuse me", before regaining his composure.
"Let me hope that this day and this debate heralds a new dawn for all those who feared that the dark midnight might never end," he said.