The Magdalene women might have been told that they were washing away a wrong, or a sin, but we know now – and to our shame – they were only ever scrubbing away our nation’s shadow.
We lived with the damaging idea that what was desirable and acceptable in the eyes of the church and the State was the same and interchangeable.
Is it this mindset, then, this moral subservience that gave us the social mores. For we saw difference as something to be feared and hidden rather than embraced and celebrated.
The report shows that the perception that the Magdalene laundries were reserved for what were offensively and judgementally called “fallen women” is not based upon fact at all but upon prejudice. The women are and always were wholly blameless.
Therefore, I, as Taoiseach, on behalf of the State, the Government and our citizens deeply regret and apologise unreservedly to all those women for the hurt that was done to them, and for any stigma they suffered, as a result of the time they spent in a Magdalen laundry.
But in reflecting on this report, I have come to the view that these women deserve more than this formal apology, important though it is. I also want to put in place a process by which we can determine how best to help and support the women in their remaining years. That’s why the Government has today asked the president of the Law Reform Commission, Judge John Quirke, to undertake a three-month review and to make recommendations as to the criteria that should be applied in assessing the help that the Government can provide in the areas of payments and other supports, including medical cards, psychological and counselling services and other welfare needs.
When Judge Quirke has reported, the Government will establish a fund to assist the women, based on his recommendations. I am confident that this process will enable us to provide speedy, fair and meaningful help to the women in a compassionate and non-adversarial way. I am determined that the fund will be primarily used to help the women – as is their stated and strong desire – not for legal or administrative costs. I am also conscious that many of the women I met last week want to see a permanent memorial established to remind us all of this dark part of our history.
As a society, for many years we failed you. This is a national shame, for which I again say, I am deeply sorry and offer my full and heartfelt apologies.
At the conclusion of my discussions with one group of the Magdalene women, one of those present sang Whispering Hope. A line from that song stays in my mind: “When the dark midnight is over, watch for the breaking of day.”
Let me hope this day and this debate heralds a new dawn for all those who feared the dark midnight might never end.