6 Feb 2013

Irish PM apologises for workhouse conditions

6:26 am on 6 February 2013

Ireland's Prime Minister Enda Kenny has apologised for the stigma and conditions suffered by women who were inmates of Catholic-run workhouses.

Mr Kenny said the Magdalene laundries had operated in a "harsh and uncompromising Ireland," but stopped short of a formal apology from the government, the BBC reports.

About 10,000 women passed through the laundries in the Irish Republic between 1922 and 1996, a government report has revealed.

Girls considered "troubled" or what were then called "fallen women" were sent there and did unpaid manual work.

Many were sent there for falling pregnant, often through sexual abuse, or simply because the local priest thought their good looks would get them into trouble.

Ellen Murphy spent 10 years in the laundries and wants compensation. She said she was repeatedely beaten. "I never did nothing wrong, I was an innocent child. I never saw the world."

The report says the state used to award the laundries lucrative contracts.

Mr Kenny expressed his sympathies with survivors and the families of those who died. He added that the report found no evidence of sexual abuse in the laundries and that 10% of inmates were sent by their families and 19% entered of their own volition.

The inquiry chaired by Senator Martin McAleese found 2124 of those detained in the institutions were sent by the authorities.

There will be a debate in the Irish parliament in two weeks' time giving members time to read the 1000-page document.

In 2011, the United Nations Committee Against Torture called on the Irish government to set up an inquiry into the treatment of thousands of women and girls.

In response, the government set up an inter-departmental committee, chaired by Senator Martin McAleese, to establish the facts of the Irish state's involvement with the Magdalene laundries.

Survivors and representative groups, and the religious congregations, co-operated with the departmental committee.

The Sisters of the Good Shepherd said that because of confidentiality and data protection rules they cannot comment on individual cases and will await the publication of the McAleese report before making any detailed comment.