Taoiseach refuses SF call for apology

Wed, Feb 6, 2013, 00:00

Taoiseach Enda Kenny refused to be drawn on a Sinn Féin demand that he apologise to women held in the Magdalene laundries rather than try to put a “positive blas” on what happened.

Mr Kenny told Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald about the just-published Government-commissioned report: “Far from jumping to conclusions, everybody should read this report carefully and reflect on it deeply.”

It will be debated in the Dáil in a fortnight’s time.

He praised the courage of the women who came forward to tell their story to Senator Martin McAleese and his team and said “the stigma that the branding together of all 10,000 residents in the Magdalene laundries needs to be removed and should have been removed long before this and I really am sorry that that never happened”.

‘Removing that stigma’

He also said later: “I am sorry that the State did not act sooner and that this investigation could have been carried out many years ago. And I regret in particular that many who suffered have not lived to see this day when such a report removing that stigma that the true facts finally emerge. I want to see that those women who are still with us, that we should see that the State provides for them with the very best of facilities that they need in their lives.”

He was “sorry for those people that they lived in that kind of environment but as somebody said to me, ‘you know when we look at the women with symphysiotomy or the Thalidomide people or those in mental hospitals’, they saw the way they were treated”.

Mr Kenny said the 1,000-page document referred to an “Ireland which was a very hostile environment in the far-off past” of the 1920s to the 1950s.

But Ms McDonald said the last laundry did not close until 1996, “so sadly this is not something that is simply a throw-back to the 1940s or 1950s”. And she said it was now time for an apology.

She said the Taoiseach spoke of the courage of the women coming forward to tell their true stories and “I join with you in recognising their courage. I only wish that their courage could be matched by some courage on your part.”

She told Mr Kenny: “I’m disappointed for the women, for the survivors that you cannot stand and say ‘the State was culpable, the State was negligent. You told the truth, we believe your stories and for that we collectively say sorry’.” Ms McDonald said Minister for Justice Alan Shatter in 2009 as an opposition spokesman spoke of the “irrefutable evidence of State involvement in the running of these institutions. Consequently, the time for the apology is now and one should not try to put some kind of positive blas on what happened.”

She said these women were not residents voluntarily offering their services and labour “but were young, vulnerable women who were held in institutions and in their minds imprisoned and exploited”.

Residents

The Dublin Central TD said 30,000 women ended up in the laundries, but Mr Kenny said the number was 10,012. There were 14,607 known admissions since 1922 which meant a number of women re-entered the laundries.

He said of 8,025 admissions 26.5 per cent or 2,124 were made or facilitated by the State. Outlining the time spent in a laundry the Taoiseach said 35.6 per cent were there for less than three months, 47 per cent for less than six months, 61 per cent for less than a year and 68 per cent for less than 18 months.

Mr Kenny said he did think of the 10,000 residents in the laundries. “They told their stories . . . Many of them lived with an undeserved stigma, a stigma that was of great disservice to the experience of these women. That stigma has been removed by this report and that’s long overdue.” He described the report as comprehensive.