'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'
Enda Kenny delivering an apology to the Magdalene women on behalf of the State in the Dáil yesterday.
The Dáil was charged with strong emotion as Kenny made his apology
It was dark when the Magdalene women left Leinster House. They joined hands and formed a line across the width of the granite plinth.
“Come into the light!” shouted the photographers.
And these elderly women began to walk, and as they walked towards that light they quickened their pace and some began to cheer. All smiling – but through tears, for some.
“See ya, ladies. Night, night. Safe home now,” shouted a friendly young policeman.
This was the night the women of the Magdalene laundries thought they would never see, and a night that those who were present in the Dáil chamber will never forget.
It was an evening when our Taoiseach and national parliament did the right and decent thing by the wronged Magdalene women.
It was a powerful, compelling speech from the Taoiseach. It was riveting. And with it, he answered those people who questioned his sincerity and motives after that first, wishy-washy response to the McAleese report.
But it wasn’t Enda Kenny who stole the show, rather it was the response of the women in the wake of his address.
Who would blame them if they were to show a hint of bitterness or anger? Of if they had shrugged their shoulders at a gesture which has come years too late? Yet they didn’t.
They wanted that apology and that vindication and validation. When it came, they were the epitome of grace and dignity. “I thought it was wonderful. God bless him. Now I’m a proud woman today. God bless the Taoiseach,” said Marina Gambold, echoing the gratitude expressed by her companions-in-arms for what Enda Kenny had done for them.
They arrived at Leinster House in the late afternoon, wondering what would happen.
A few arrived early. A handful of grey-haired women with careworn faces, they settled in the gallery to watch Leaders’ Questions. On both sides of them sat groups of secondary schoolgirls, spruce in their uniforms, with their laughing faces and lovely teeth.
We wondered if they felt sad, looking at the girls, for the youthful fun they never had. But, as their reaction to the speech would later show, the Magdalene women aren’t like that.
Seats were reserved in the gallery for the women. Soon, it was standing room only. Alan Shatter called up to talk to them before the debate began. A babble of female voices filled the Dáil. Then, on the stroke of half past six, the Taoiseach led in his Cabinet. He took his seat in total silence.
Joan Burton waved up to some of the women. Clare Daly, opposite, did the same.
Enda stood. He thanked Martin McAleese for his report and all those who assisted in its compilation. Then he quickly got down to business.
“The Government was adamant that these ageing and elderly women would get the compassion and the recognition for which they have fought for so long, deserved so deeply, and had, until now, been so abjectly denied. The reality is that for 90 years, Ireland subjected these women and their experience to a profound and studied indifference.”
In the gallery, some of the women held hands. Some were crying. You could almost see the weight lifting from their shoulders. It was so quiet, we could hear the clock ticking.
At times, the Taoiseach’s voice thickened and it seemed like he might falter.
He spoke of the Magdalene women having to bury and carry in their hearts the dark secrets of “a cruel, pitiless Ireland” for all their lives. Innocents forced to carry an unjust stigma foisted on them by a pious and prim society.