Hopes rise of apology for Magdalenes

Magdalene Survivors Together spokesman Steven O'Riordan flanked by Marina Gambold (left) and Maureen Sullivan after women from the group met Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore in Leinster House. photograph: bryan obrien

Magdalene Survivors Together spokesman Steven O'Riordan flanked by Marina Gambold (left) and Maureen Sullivan after women from the group met Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore in Leinster House. photograph: bryan obrien

Tue, Feb 12, 2013, 00:00

Taoiseach Enda Kenny is expected to deliver an apology on behalf of the State to survivors of laundries run by religious orders following a meeting with a representative organisation yesterday.

The Cabinet will discuss the matter this morning and agree a Government counter-motion ahead of Fianna Fáil’s call for redress as well as an apology during Private Members’ business in the Dáil tonight.

Members of the Magdalene Survivors Together group spent three hours with Mr Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore yesterday afternoon. They believe the apology will be delivered next Tuesday when a debate on former senator Martin McAleese’s report on the Magdalene laundries’ workers begins in the Dáil.

Labour backbench TDs strongly criticised Mr Kenny’s initial response to the report. Several described the delivery of a formal apology as a “core” issue for the party.

Maureen Sullivan and Marina Gambold, both of whom spent time in a Wexford laundry, were among the six women from the Magdalene Survivors Together group who attended Government Buildings. The other four wished to remain anonymous.

Ms Sullivan said that when they told Mr Kenny about their experiences, the Taoiseach replied that it was important he could “put a face” to the stories in the report. “That meant something to us,” she said.

‘Healing process’

Asked by reporters if Mr Kenny told them he would make a full apology, Ms Sullivan replied: “Yes, I think that’s coming”.

She said they told Mr Kenny their “healing process” could only take place when a State apology was received. “I think he found that very important.”

Ms Gambold said: “He was very nice and very kind and we all cried a tear. But he was marvellous sympathetic and he said he would do his best anyway.”

They said Mr Kenny told them he would meet them again.

The group’s spokesman, Steven O’Riordan, confirmed that the issue of possible compensation for the women was not discussed. He said the delivery of the apology next Tuesday would be the “ideal scenario”.

The women had prepared for the apology to happen on that day. Some would be travelling from outside Dublin and the United Kingdom to hear the Dáil debate.

“We didn’t think that we’d get a three-hour meeting with the Taoiseach. He listened to each of the women’s stories. They weren’t rushed in any capacity. A lot of the women actually told about things that had happened that they hadn’t told anybody else,” he said. “From that perspective he surely now has the social intelligence to understand that to make the apology is definitely the right thing.”

‘All forms of redress’

Mr O’Riordan said it was important that Mr Gilmore attended the meeting as the Labour Party had been strong advocates for the women. Ms Sullivan and Ms Gambold described Mr Gilmore as “lovely”.

A Government spokesman declined to comment after the meeting.

Fianna Fáil will tonight call for the establishment of a dedicated unit within the Department of Justice and Equality to co-ordinate aspects of the State’s response, “including all forms of redress which should be provided”.

The party’s Private Members’ motion also calls for an apology to be given to the women of the Magdalene laundries by the Taoiseach, “on behalf of the Oireachtas and all citizens of the State, for what they had to endure”.

Sinn Féin said the women should be compensated for lost wages and pension.