Martin 'sorry' for Magdalene exclusion
The entrance to the former Magdalene laundry at St Mary's Convent on Grace Park Road, Drumcondra, Dublin. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh/The Irish Times
A former Fianna Fail minister has apologised for not investigating the Magdalene laundries when the party was in government.
Party leader Micheál Martin, who chaired the committee dealing with industrial school abuse, told the Dáil he was “sorry we didn’t deal with the Magdalene laundries at the time”.
Mr Martin said the committee led to a State apology to survivors of industrial schools. He told Taoiseach Enda Kenny that the 1,400 page report published yesterday on the Magdalene laundries “doesn’t take any stigma away. The report doesn’t take any stigma away. The only effective way for the stigma to be removed by the State is to apologise,” the Fianna Fail leader said, with “no ifs and no buts”.
The Fianna Fáil leader was speaking during leaders questions when the Taoiseach was repeatedly pressed to give a full and proper apology to the women in the laundries. Mr Martin said that the “most fundamental need articulated to me above and beyond redress” was for somebody to say that what was done was wrong.
Mr Kenny said he was “genuinely concerned about bringing reconciliation and closure to the women involved” and the report exposed the truth and “in that regard the first and major issue of concern to the girls and women in the Magdalene laundries was the removal of the stigma”.
He didn’t want to get into “adversarial diplomacy” on an issue as sensitive and evocative of bad memories for people.
The Taoiseach said the Government itself would reflect on the issue and he would “like the space to work with government by putting a process in place so that we can help these women reach closure”.
Mr Kenny told the Fianna Fail leader that his government “refused to actually investigate it then. This Government is dealing with it in the context of the McAleese report which sets out the truth here.”
But Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said the Taoiseach was wrong to assert the McAleese report was the first investigation into the Magdalene laundries.
She said the Ryan report on child clerical sex abuse detailed the forced unpaid work the women did and the verbal and physical abuse they suffered.
She said the McAleese report confirmed the State was complicit in the laundries, through the means of entry, the State’s inspection and in direct funding.
Ms McDonald said it was a very big disappointment that the Taoiseach had not apologised and she hoped that he would have had time to reflect overnight on the issue.
The Dublin Central TD said it was extremely cruel of the Taoiseach not to apologise and she asked if Mr Kenny believed the women because the State seemed to be circling the wagons to protect it from any financial liability.
She said people were watching in horror “as they yet again hear another story of brutalisation and the state’s stubbornness” in refusing to face the issue head on.
Mr Kenny said “yes, I do believe the story of the women. I do believe this is the truth and the Government has a duty to act on the findings of this report.”
But he said he would not rise “to the bait of political opportunism” but he was “sorry for all that happened in the Magdalene laundries”.
Independent TD Mattie McGrath said it “really saddens me that you cannot give a decent apology” and he said the Government had commissioned the report, senior civil servants were involved in its production and the Government knew what to expect.
But responding to the Taoiseach’s earlier replies Mr McGrath said Mr Kenny might as well have put on a tape recorder and not come into the Dáil today because he was giving the same replies.
Mr McGrath said “these victims must be compensated and must most certainly get a contributory pension”.
The Taoiseach repeated the Government’s need for a short time to consider the issue to bring closure for the women and the best way to support them.