Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

State apology urged over workhouses

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has been accused of a 'cop-out' in relation to the Magdalene laundries

A junior minister in the Irish Government has broken ranks to call for a full state apology over the incarceration of women in Catholic workhouses.

Kathleen Lynch, of junior coalition partner Labour, spoke as Taoiseach Enda Kenny came under deepening pressure to make a full and frank admission about responsibility for the Magdalene laundries.

"My personal opinion is that there should be an apology, but I won't be sitting around that table making that decision," Ms Lynch said.

Survivors of the Magdalene laundries have fiercely criticised the Government's response after a report on Tuesday showed a quarter of the 10,000-plus women detained in horrific regimes in the institutions were sent by state authorities.

Mr Kenny was accused of a "cop out" after he said he was sorry for the stigma attached to the women, but stopped short of issuing a full apology on behalf of the country. He reiterated his own sorrow again on Wednesday but called for the Government to be given two weeks to prepare a suitable response.

"This is not a matter for idle comment or flippant politics. It is of intense seriousness for those involved and for those who have responsibility now," the Taoiseach said.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter provoked fury from campaigners when he pointed out that the state had no involvement in the cases of three-quarters of those sent to the laundries. Mr Shatter also suggested it would be unreasonable to compensate someone who was ordered into a laundry by the courts for a short period, and who may otherwise have been imprisoned. He added: "It's difficult to talk about these things without being portrayed as unsympathetic."

Campaigners Justice for Magdalenes said it was appalled and outraged by the remarks. Maeve O'Rourke, spokeswoman for the group, said the fact some people spent days in laundries does not take away from the fact that others spent months and years.

"What we are looking for is a full apology from the state, a recognition of what these issues were about first of all - and then we can start talking about the length of time different people spent there," she said. "But to start trying to avoid an apology by saying that some people spent only a few days in a laundry is beyond cynical. It's an absolute outrage."

The Magdalene inquiry found women were incarcerated by the courts for petty crimes, escapees were returned to laundries by gardai and foster families sent them to workhouses when allowances ran out, while others were sent because they were orphaned, abused, mentally or physically disabled, homeless or poor.

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