An emotional Enda Kenny has delivered a long-awaited apology to the women who were sent to the Magdalene laundries.
With his voice breaking at the end of his speech, the Taoiseach had to pause briefly before concluding his comments.
Mr Kenny apologised on behalf of the State, the Government and the citizens to the women who spent time in the laundries.
"The women are and always were wholly blameless," he said. "I as Taoiseach on behalf of this State, the Government and our citizens deeply regret and apologise unreservedly to those women for the hurt they suffered."
He said the women "took this country's terrible secret and made it their own, but today we take it back and they keep it no more.
"As a society, for many years, we failed you. We forgot you, or if we thought of you at all we did so in untrue and offensive stereotypes. This is a national shame for which I say again, I am deeply sorry and offer my full, heartfelt apologies."
It was in recalling a song sung by one of the women in a meeting with the Taoiseach that Mr Kenny was overcome with emotion this evening.
She sang: "When the dark midnight is over, watch for the breaking of day" from the song 'Whispering Hope'.
"Let me hope that this day...and this debate…excuse me...heralds a new dawn for all those who fear that the dark midnight might never end," Mr Kenny said.
The Taoiseach also pledged a package of supports for the women in their remaining years after a three-month review.
He said he hoped the publication of the McAleese report and this evening's apology would go some way to give comfort to the women.
But, he said, the women deserved more than this formal apology. He announced a process to "help and support the women during their remaining years".
President of the Law Reform Commission Judge John Quirke has been appointed to asses the help that can and should be provided to the women.