Kenny drove the process of Magdalene apology
Flame of hope: after years of waiting, the women of the Magdalene laundries have finally received a formal apology from the State. photograph: clodagh kilcoyne
“As we all know now, the report was published immediately after a Government meeting, before anybody had time to absorb it,” said a source familiar with the process.
“We anticipated that people would not be happy with an incomplete response.”
‘Lessons to be learned’
“There are obviously lessons to be learned about how Government handles reports of that magnitude. Time needs to be given to study the findings and discuss them,” said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Thus it became a political imperative to produce a thought-through, sensitive and comprehensive response over the following 14 days; one that would repair the Government’s hand after what was seen as the debacle of the initial response.
It was Kenny himself, rather than the Government, who drove the process.
From the start, a decision was made that there would be three streams to the approach: finding a formula for the apology; setting up an effective process that would not lead to outlandish liability for the State; and engagement with the women who had lived long stretches of their lives in the Magdalene laundries.
None were mutually exclusive – the meeting with the women very much determined the form of the apology as well as the proposed arrangements for redress and recompense.
Kenny initiated a series of meetings with Magdalene women. The first took place in his office on the following Monday. The second, never publicised, was in the Hyde Park nursing home in Drumcondra, where a group of Magdalene women lived in sheltered accommodation. The last took place in London last Saturday.
All were long, lasting two to three hours, and all were emotional. Some of the women disclosed facts and secrets they had never revealed publicly before. As Kenny acknowledged in his speech, the meetings had a profound personal effect on him. “He got sad about it,” as one of the women at the London meeting recalled.
“There was a very firmly articulated view from the women that they did not want an adversarial and lawyer-dominated process. They did not want to have to go to court or before a tribunal,” said the source.
The speech itself was shaped over several days, with Kenny having a big input. Some of the more writerly phrases (the reference to sins being washed away) bore the hallmark of the Cork-born scriptwriter Miriam O’Callaghan, who works in his office.
Another tell-tale sign of O’Callaghan’s is her use of a lot of dots in the written script to separate clauses. His chief of staff, Mark Kennelly, a former scriptwriter, would also have had a key input in shaping the speech and designing the process being undertaken by Mr Justice John Quirke. But key passages would have been included at Kenny’s insistence, including the reference to the women singing Whispering Hope and the inclusion of a line from the song.
The script, with its exploration of the regressive interchangeability of church and State in Ireland, of the deceptive and flattering self-portrait that was drawn by society, compares to the powerful speech Kenny made following the publication of the Cloyne Report, as well as Bertie Ahern’s speech to the House of Commons in Westminster in 2008.
There was an added poignancy when the woman who sang Whispering Hope appeared in the visitors’ gallery in the Dáil. Kenny spotted her as he delivered his speech, perhaps leading to him being overcome with emotion.