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Irish PM issues full apology to church laundry victims

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny issued a full apology Tuesday to the thousands of women who suffered in church-run laundries, two weeks after stopping short of doing so.

A report published a fortnight ago investigating the involvement of the Irish state in the Magdalene laundries found that more than a quarter of the 10,000 women sent to the institutions were sent there by the state.

Two weeks on, Kenny said in the Dail lower house that the government and parliament had needed that time to study the report properly and reflect on its findings.

"What we address today is how you took this country's terrible 'secret' and made it your own," an emotional Kenny said of the victims.

"But from this moment on you need carry it no more. Because today we take it back.

"Today we acknowledge the role of the state in your ordeal.

"Therefore, I, as taoiseach (prime minister), 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 Magdalene laundry."

The apology paves the way for victims living in Ireland and abroad to receive compensation.

The women who were sent to the Magdalene laundries between 1922 and 1996 worked for no pay while the religious orders ran them as commercial bodies.

While Kenny had expressed his sympathy with survivors at the time of the 1,000-page report's publication, he had previously stopped short of offering a full apology, angering groups representing the women housed in often appalling conditions.

Kenny has since met with former Magdalene residents in Ireland and in London in preparation for Tuesday's debate in parliament.

Steven O'Riordan of the Magdalene Survivors Together advocacy group described Kenny's speech as "phenomenal".

"The taoiseach met with many of our members and referenced some of the harrowing details of their past in his speech, which had a very profound effect on the women in the gallery listening," he told AFP.

"No one expected the redress scheme to include those outside of the remit of the report, but what we witnessed in Leinster House was the right thing. He knocked every stigma that these women suffered on its head, and that meant so much," he added.

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said an initial 250,000 euros (about $335,000) would be made available from the fund to establish a specialist advice and support service for survivors who had left Ireland and were now living in Britain.

The Irish Women's Survivor's Network in the UK welcomed the measures.

"This is an issue that that's been put away for 90 years and finally after working with these women for almost 15 years their needs have been acknowledged and addressed," spokesperson Sally Mulready told AFP.

"We also welcome the indication resources will be made available to continue our work over here (in Britain)," she added.

Women were sent to the institutions for a myriad of reasons, including if they were suspected of being "fallen women" -- those who fell pregnant outside marriage or those who were branded promiscuous or flirtatious in the predominantly Roman Catholic country.

Others were women who were orphaned or disabled.

Kenny also said a three-month review would begin to make recommendations for a redress programme funded by the Irish government, one of the demands of victims' groups.

Kenny also extended the fund and the apology to all women who were admitted, not just those sent there by the state.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130219/irish-pm-issues-full-apology-church-laundry-victims-1