In an emotional speech that lasted almost twenty minutes, the Taoiseach said: "This is a national shame for which I say again I am deeply sorry and offer my full and heartfelt apologies."

The Fine Gael leader opened the Irish parliament debate on the McAleese report, a 1,000-page report which was published two weeks ago.

The McAleese report found that the State facilitated the referral of at least 26.5  percent of women to the laundries. More than 10,000 women and girls entered the 10 laundries between 1922 and 1996.

The Taoiseach described the women as wholly blameless.

He added: “I, as Taoiseach, on behalf of this State, the Government and our citizens, deeply regret and apologise unreservedly to all those women for the hurt that was done to them, for any stigma they suffered as a result of the time they spent in the Magdalene laundry.”

During the debate, Kenny said he had ordered a three-month review to be undertaken by the Law Reform Commission, Judge John Quirke. Upon completion, recommendations concerning payments and other supports for victims will be made.

"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," Kenny said.

“The reality is..... that for 90 years ..... Ireland subjected these women and their experience..... to a profound and studied indifference.

"We now know that the State itself was directly involved in over a quarter of all admissions to the Magdalene Laundries."

The Taoiseach said he hoped the publication of the McAleese report and the Governments’ official apology would help the healing process.

Kenny choked up when he delivered his concluding remarks: "Let me hope that this day and this debate heralds a new dawn for all those who feared that the dark midnight might never end.”

The Deputy Prime Minister Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said he wanted to join the Taoiseach "in offering, on behalf of the State and the Irish people, a heartfelt apology to the survivors of the Magdalene Laundries."

“These laundries were private businesses, run by those orders, which benefited from the unpaid labour of the women committed to them,” he said.

As the Dáil statements into the State’s role in the laundries continued, Enda Kenny made a trip up to the Dáil’s public gallery to greet the Magdalene survivors gathered there.

In response, the Justice for Magdalenes (JFM) group welcomed the Taoiseach’s official apology.

“JFM arranged for a group of surviving women, children and family members to sit in the public gallery in Dáil Éireann and all of them wish to acknowledge Mr. Kenny’s sincere and heartfelt words of sorrow on behalf of all Irish citizens and the Irish State. This was a deeply meaningful experience for people who never thought they would see this day, and the official apology, come to pass. JFM thanks Mr. Kenny on their behalf,” the group said in a statement.

An Taoiseach Enda Kenny: Statement On The Magdalene Laundries Report: