Irish PM issues full apology to church laundry victims

DUBLIN (AFP) - Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny issued a full apology on 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, Mr Kenny said in the Dail lower house that he wanted the government and parliament to have 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 Mr 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 women were sent to the Magdalene laundries, between 1922 and 1996, worked for no pay while the religious orders ran them as commercial bodies.

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

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

Women were sent to the institutions for a myriad of reasons.

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

Others were women who were orphaned or disabled.

Mr 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.

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