After a decade long struggle for justice, the Irish State admitted its role in the virtual enslavement of thousands of Irish women in the notorious Magdalene Laundries Tuesday, but Prime Minister Enda Kenny declined to issue a formal apology.
The damning report by Senator Martin McAleese, husband of former president Mary McAleese, found that the State was directly involved with just over one quarter of referrals to the laundries throughout Ireland.
McAleese stated, "None of us can begin to imagine the confusion and fear experienced by these young girls, in many cases little more than children, on entering the Laundries — not knowing why they were there, feeling abandoned, wondering whether they had done something wrong, and not knowing when — if ever — they would get out and see their families again,” he wrote in his introduction to the report.
"It must have been particularly distressing for those girls who may have been the victims of abuse in the family, wondering why they were the ones who were excluded or penalized by being consigned to an institution," he said.
"To add to this confusion, most found themselves quite alone in what was, by today’s standards, a harsh and physically demanding work environment. The psychological impact on these girls was undoubtedly traumatic and lasting," he added.
During leaders questions in the Irish parliament on Tuesday, Prime Minister Enda Kenny said he was sorry the stigma attached to the women in the laundries was not removed before now.
"The stigma that the branding together of all the residents, all 10,000, in the Magdalene Laundries, needs to be removed, and should have been removed long before this," Kenny said. "And I really am sorry that that never happened, and I regret that it never happened."
Survivor groups slammed the Prime Minister for his less than full apology. Maureen Sullivan, a former Magdalene occupant stated, “That is not an apology. He is the Taoiseach of our country. He is our Taoiseach of the Irish people and that is not an apology and we are calling for a proper apology," she said.
“Those comments from Enda Kenny are a complete and utter cop out,” said Steven O’Riordan of the Magdalene Survivors Together..
Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald said on Tuesday she was deeply disappointed at "the Taoiseach's failure to apologise to the surviving women of the Magdalen Laundries.”
She said: "The report sets out definitely direct State involvement in the Magdalen Laundries. Governments of the day oversaw the unpaid forced labour endured by the young girls and women who worked in the laundries without pay or proper care. Courts placed women and girls in the laundries. Gardaí returned those who sought to escape."
She said that "whilst this is a lengthy report and its details must be studied carefully, State involvement in the operation of the laundries has already been proven. Senator McAleese's report simply reiterates that fact. So while the manner of compensation for the women requires consideration, the absolute need for a full apology does not."
The Irish leader said the 1,000 page report would need to be read in full before the Government would react to it.
Here are some principal findings of the report , which was chaired by by Senator Martin McAleese:
10,012* - The number of women who spent time in in Magdalen Laundries since 1922
14,607 - The number of known admissions including repeat admissions, from 1922
2,124 - Number of referrals made or facilitated by the State
23.8 - Average age at time of entry
9 - Age of youngest known entrant
89 - Age of oldest known entrant
7 months was the median duration of the stay
13.5 percent of entrants had no living parents
879* deaths occurred in the laundry since 1922
15 is the age of the youngest recorded death in the laundries
95 is the age of the oldest recorded death in the laundries
*Excluding the two Magdalen Laundries operated by the Sisters of Mercy
In the detailed report Senator McAleese recognizes “deep hurt they [the women] felt due to their loss of freedom, the fact that they were not informed why they were there, lack of information on when they would be allowed to leave, and denial of contact with the outside world, particularly family and friends.”
The Justice for Magdalenes group also expressed disappointment in the Prime Minister’s response in the Irish parliament.
In a statement JFM said: "The Taoiseach's statement falls far short of the full and sincere apology deserved by the women who were incarcerated against their will in Ireland's Magdalene Laundries."
The Religious Sisters of Charity welcomed the report's publication.
In a statement, the sisters said: "We apologise unreservedly to any woman who experienced hurt while in our care. In good faith we provided refuge for women at our Magdalen Homes in Donnybrook and Peacock Lane. Some of the women spent a short time with us; some left, returned and left again and some still live with us.
"We co-operated fully with Senator McAleese and his Committee in the preparation of this report and made available all of our archival material. Each individual woman, if she so requests, will be welcomed and provided with any information we have on file regarding her stay with us."
Helplines are available for anyone affected by the issue:
Justice for Magdalenes: Ireland 086-1267544, USA +1 215-589-9329, UK +44 208-346-7479