The Magdalene survivors had shed these tears many times before, but this time they were not alone — a nation, and a Taoiseach, was weeping with them.
One elderly survivor, shaking with emotion in the Dáil’s public gallery, gripped the hand of the woman next to her as the State’s apology finally came, and the pair sobbed openly with many others as a pulse of relief surged through the chamber.
Once isolated in fear, the survivors were now united in vindication.
The applause that began on the floor for Enda Kenny’s speech soon spiralled out into something far more profound, as the Dáil stood in ovation and acknowledged the hardship and pain inflicted upon generations of women.
The women also stood and applauded — for the validation of their long, lonely struggle, and for the memory of the thousands upon thousands of their fellow victims who never lived to see this day.
Mr Kenny, humbled and embarrassed by his initial misjudgement over how to handle the McAleese report into the exploitation and degradation of the laundry women and girls, knew he could not afford to let them — or the nation — down again.
Rising to the occasion, Mr Kenny discarded the dry statistics and the dissociation that scarred his Dáil performances two weeks ago, and instead spoke from the heart.
“The Magdalene women might have been told that they were washing away a wrong, or a sin, but we know now — and to our shame — they were only ever scrubbing away our nation’s shadow,” he told an eerily quiet chamber as TDs and survivors alike strained in anticipation of the overdue apology, which finally came in the 13th minute of the speech.
“I, as Taoiseach, 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.”
Mr Kenny’s voice cracked as he remembered the moment a survivor had sung ‘Whispering Hope’ to him: “A line from that song stays in my mind — ‘when the dark midnight is over, watch for the breaking of day’. Let me hope that this day and this debate heralds a new dawn for all those who feared that the dark midnight might never end.”
Mr Kenny apologised a second time and the public gallery had now dissolved into a human wave of tears and hugs, as the decades of abuse were officially atoned for, as the wrongs they suffered were dragged into the light at last.
It was an extraordinary moment in Dáil history — one that befitted the presence of extraordinary women in the Dáil.
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