The stage was set for Kenny's humanity to shine. It didn't happen
Dáil Sketch:The stage was set for Enda Kenny. Enda – the emotional Taoiseach, the sympathiser and the empathiser. This is his territory, and he’s good at it.
Everyone knew that a question about the Magdalene laundries would come up during Leaders’ Questions. Everyone expected Enda Kenny to deliver the reply the country wanted, for so long, to hear. Why? Because the Taoiseach’s innate decency and humanity shines through on these occasions. He doesn’t put it on for effect. His sincerity never comes across as contrived. People respect that, and appreciate it.
So there was a certain expectation when he rose to answer Mary Lou McDonald’s question in the wake of the publication of the Magdalene laundries report: “When does the Taoiseach propose to offer – on all our behalves and that of the State – a full apology to these women?”
Enda would speak for all the people who are ashamed and embarrassed and angry by what was done to vulnerable people in State and religious run institutions during harsher and less tolerant times.
They are old now, but the hurt remains.
Yesterday afternoon, he would reach out for all of us and say sorry.
But it didn’t happen.
There was an apology of sorts. But not the one that was expected. In truth, Enda sounded all over the place. His sure-footed sincerity wasn’t there.
After the exchanges between the Taoiseach and Sinn Féin’s deputy leader ended, he sat down to a puzzled silence. What had just happened there?
Enda looked and sounded way outside his comfort zone, and he shouldn’t have. Perhaps we’re going too easy on him, but one couldn’t help feeling that the words being spoken by the Taoiseach on the floor of the Dáil were not the ones he really wanted to say. And that’s why he appeared ill at ease.
In the public gallery a number of women listened, waiting for that apology. As Enda talked of numbers and things that happened in the dim distance of the bad old days, they looked increasingly unhappy.
One young women – maybe a daughter or granddaughter of a Magdalene woman – kept shaking her head. She looked close to tears.
Enda repeated the word “sorry” over and over during his replies. But his apology centred on the removal of “the stigma” that has stayed with these women over all the years. The stigma that they were “fallen women”. That, he emphasised again and again, was the “overriding requirement” of the team compiling the report.
So. They are not fallen women. He has officially declared that “the stigma” does not exist. This, doubtless, comes as a comfort to the women who worked as the unpaid labour in these institutions. But it hasn’t been an “overriding” issue with the public for a long time.