‘He did us proud, now we can get on with our lives’

There were scenes of joy and gratitude outside Leinster House last night as victims cheered and whooped following the Taoiseach’s apology for the State and the people of Ireland’s involvement in the Magdalene laundries.

‘He did us proud, now we can get on with our lives’

Enda Kenny described the laundries as “the nation’s shame” as he said the State accepted its role in the incarceration of over a quarter of the 10,000 women who worked without pay, often for years, in the laundries.

“I believe I speak for millions of Irish people all over the world when I say we put away these women because, for too many years, we put away our conscience,” he said.

Maureen Sullivan was aged 12 when she was sent to a Magdalene laundry in New Ross after her father died.

She said Mr Kenny had given survivors their lives back.

“He didn’t hold back on anything,” Ms Sullivan said.

“He really did us proud. Now we can go on with our lives and we know that we’ve got an apology, and he’s taken responsibility. It’s just fantastic.”

Another woman, Mary Smith, who was locked up in Sunday’s Well laundry in Cork, said: “To see the Taoiseach cry today. He believed us. Because nobody ever believed what we suffered”.

The women described the speech as a victory, shouting “we won” as they emerged from the Dáil.

“Our hearts were broken so many, many times but we tried and we tried and we tried and we go there,” said another woman, Kitty McManus.

Justice for the Magdalenes, who were the group that the brought the plight of the Magdalenes to the UN Committee on Torture forcing the Government’s hand on the issue, also welcomed the long-awaited apology.

“JFM now looks forward to the intent of the apology being made evident by the introduction of a system of redress that is prompt, open, fair, and transparent,” committee member Katherine O’Donnell said.

JFM is calling for Justice John Quirke’s review to be given statutory powers, include an independent appeals system and be properly resourced. “It must be non-adversarial and transparent. It can be private but not secret,” spokeswoman Ms O’Donnell added.

The Magdalene Survivors Together group has called for compensation in the form of a nominal payment of €50,000 for incarceration and an additional €20,000 for every year spent in detention to make up for lost wages.

Meanwhile, JFM is seeking a benchmark figure of €100,000 lump sum compensation for Magdalene survivors, in addition to a package of services including pensions and lost wages. They say the benchmark figure reflects that women are foregoing important legal rights to go before the courts.

According to the recommendation of the UN Committee Against Torture (UNCAT), survivors must “obtain” redress and “have an enforceable right to compensation.”

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