Kenny under fire for failure to issue full apology to Magdalene women

Maureen Sullivan, a member of Magdalene Survivors Together, who was placed in a laundry in New Ross at the age of 12, during a news conference by the group in Dublin yesterday. Photograph: Cathal McNaughton/Reuters

Maureen Sullivan, a member of Magdalene Survivors Together, who was placed in a laundry in New Ross at the age of 12, during a news conference by the group in Dublin yesterday. Photograph: Cathal McNaughton/Reuters

Wed, Feb 6, 2013, 00:00

A political row has erupted over the refusal of Taoiseach Enda Kenny to issue a full apology to the women who spent time in the Magdalene laundries, despite the fact that more than a quarter were sent there by the State.

The official report published yesterday of an interdepartmental committee chaired by Martin McAleese found the women were from many backgrounds. Some were referred by courts, others released on licence from industrial schools before they reached 16 years of age, while some were young women over 16 years of age who had been orphaned or were in abusive or neglectful homes.

The report, which investigated 10 Magdalene laundries run by four congregations found that:

* The number of women who spent time in laundries since 1922 was 10,012;

* Some 2,124 referrals were made or facilitated by the State - 26.5 per cent of the total;

* The average age at the time of entry was 23.8 years;

* The age of the youngest known entrant was nine and the oldest 89;

* More than a third of the women stayed for less than three months while 61 per cent stayed for less than a year;

* More than 7 per cent stayed for longer than 10 years.

The report found little evidence of sexual or physical abuse and no evidence of profiteering by the nuns who ran the laundries.

In his introduction to the report, Mr McAleese said: “The women who were admitted to and worked in the Magdalene laundries, whether for short or long periods of time since the foundation of the State, have for too long felt the social stigma of what was sometimes cruelly called the ‘fallen woman’.

Hurtful

“This is a wholly inaccurate characterisation, hurtful to them and their families, that is not borne out by the facts,” Mr McAleese added.

The total cost of the inquiry, which involved the production of a 1,000 page report, was just €11,000. The four congregations who operated the Magdalene laundries welcomed the report and expressed regret for the suffering of the women who stayed there. In the Dáil, Enda Kenny said he was sorry the stigma faced by laundry “penitents” had not been removed before now.

‘I’m sorry’

“To those residents who went into the Magdalene laundries from a variety of ways, 26 per cent from State involvement, I’m sorry for those people that they lived in that kind of environment,” he told the Dáil.

He said survivors would receive support from the State.

“I want to see that those women who are still with us, anywhere between 800 and 1,000 at max, that we should see that the State provides for them with the very best of facilities and supports that they need in their lives.” The Dáil would debate the report in two weeks, he said.

Justice for Magdalenes the survivor advocacy group said the Taoiseach’s statement fell “far short of the full and sincere apology deserved by the women who were incarcerated against their will in Ireland’s Magdalene laundries”.

Mr Kenny’s remarks were attacked by the main Opposition parties and by survivor groups who demanded a formal State apology.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said she was deeply disappointed by the Government’s response.

“What went on in the Magdalene laundries was a very Irish form of slavery,” she said.