Kenny appeals for time to address Magdalene issues

Thu, Feb 7, 2013, 00:00

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has appealed for the Government to be given "space" and time to put a structure in place to bring "closure and reconciliation" for women in the Magdalene laundries.

Speaking in the Dáil as he came under pressure to give a full apology to the estimated 1,000 survivors, Mr Kenny said "on behalf of the State I am sorry that so many women worked and were resident in Magdalene laundries in a very harsh, authoritarian environment".

'Unequivocal apology'

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said the McAleese report on the laundries was clear that "an unequivocal apology should be given to the women of the Magdalene laundries".

Mr Martin apologised for Fianna Fáil's failure to deal with the Magdalene laundries while in power. He said the only effective way to remove the stigma for survivors was a State apology declaring that what was done to the women was wrong. "It should be said that the apology is on behalf of the Government, the State and all the citizens, no ifs and no buts."

Dedicated unit

Later, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter highlighted the 74 per cent of laundry residents who were there without State involvement. Independent TD Maureen O'Sullivan had called during justice questions for a dedicated unit within the department to work with Justice for Magdalenes to address all the issues.

Mr Shatter told her it was about examining what was fair. He said nobody would believe someone that the courts had remanded to the Magdalene laundry "and who might have lived in a laundry for two, three or four days should be paid compensation". It was "difficult to talk about these things in this way because it will be portrayed as being unsympathetic", the Minister said.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said to the Taoiseach that the McAleese report confirmed the State was complicit in the laundries, through the means of entry, the State's role in inspections and in direct funding. Ms McDonald said it was a very big disappointment that the Taoiseach had not apologised and it was "extremely cruel" of him not to apologise.

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.

'Political opportunism'

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.