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Irish PM apologises to Magdalene laundries victims

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny is pictured January 24, 2013
Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, pictured January 24, 2013, apologised to thousands of women who suffered in appalling conditions in church-run laundries in Ireland, after the publication of a report investigating state involvement.

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny apologised Tuesday to thousands of women who suffered in appalling conditions in church-run laundries, after a report found more than a quarter were sent there by the state.

More than 10,000 women were sent to the Magdalene laundries between 1922 and 1996 where they worked for no pay while the religious orders ran the laundries as commercial bodies.

They were sent to the institutions 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.

"To those residents who went into the Magdalene laundries through a variety of ways, 26 percent of them from state involvement or state intervention: I'm sorry for those people that lived in that kind of environment," Kenny told parliament.

His comments came after the publication of a report investigating the involvement of the Irish state found that more than a quarter of the women were there as a result of referrals by social services, schools and the criminal justice service.

The probe chaired by Senator Martin McAleese, the husband of former Irish president Mary McAleese, was launched in July 2011 to establish the extent of state involvement.

The report found that the youngest person admitted to the laundries was a nine-year-old girl, while the oldest woman was aged 89. The average age was 23. The average time spent in the Magdalene laundries was seven months.

No complaints of sexual abuse were made against the nuns, but there were reports of physical abuse by some of the women. Most women noted several instances of verbal abuse, however.

Ireland, a predominantly Roman Catholic country, has been rocked by a series of abuse scandals involving the church, many of which have come to light in a number of revealing reports in recent years.

Four religious communities ran the laundries: the Sisters of Mercy, the Sisters of Charity, the Good Shepherd Sisters and the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity.

While Kenny expressed his sympathy with survivors, he stopped short of the full apology that survivors' groups have demanded.

"I'm sorry that this release of pressure and understanding of so many of these women was not done before this because they were branded as being the fallen women as they often were referred to in this state," he said.

"I want to see that those women who are still with us, anywhere between 800 and 1,000, that we shall see that the state provides for them the very best of facilities and supports," Kenny added.

He said lawmakers would discuss the 1,000-page report in full in a fortnight.

Advocacy group Justice for Magdalenes described Kenny's comments as "bizarre" and demanded a full apology.

It welcomed the report but called on the government to establish a transparent and non-adversarial compensation process including the provision of pensions, lost wages, health and housing services, as well as redress, for all survivors.

In the introduction to the report, Senator McAleese said the women who worked in the Magdalene laundries have for "too long felt the social stigma of what was sometimes cruelly called the 'fallen woman'."

It added: "The Committee found no evidence to support the perception that unmarried girls had babies there, or that many of the women of the Magdalene laundries since 1922 were prostitutes."

The report found 10,012 women and girls entered these institutions but there were 14,607 admissions in total -- meaning a number of women re-entered the laundries a number of times.

The religious orders involved all welcomed the report in statements.

"We wish that we could have done more and that it could have been different. It is regrettable that the Magdalene Homes had to exist at all," the Sisters of Mercy said in their statement.

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