Analysis While there was some sense to his approach, Kenny's response imploded.
report by Senator Martin McAleese into the Magdalene homes painted a
picture of the bleak, harsh, shackled and indentured lives of a cohort
of vulnerable, exploited and forgotten women in Irish society - or
"penitents" as they were branded by Irish society during three-quarters
of a century from 1922.
When addressing the Dáil
Taoiseach Enda Kenny described his experience of reading the 1,000-page
report the previous night as "harrowing".
For a politician
renowned for his emotional intelligence, that was surprisingly as
empathetic as he has got over the past two days. Formally, the response
from him, from Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and from the Government to the
report to date has been qualified, conditional and legalistic.
recent historical terms, it has been closer to the response of then
minister for health Michael Noonan to the hepatitis C scandal in the
mid-1990s than to the immediate apology given by then taoiseach Bertie
Ahern in 1992 to former residents of orphanages and reformatories who
had been sexually and physically abused.
There was some sense to
the approach. McAleese's report was not condemnatory on the same scale
as the reports into other institutional abuse, and some of its findings
were sur-prising and countered the received narrative that most of the
women were long-term residents.
Both the Taoiseach and Min- ister
for Justice Alan Shatter repeatedly referred to findings that 61 per
cent were resident in the institutions for less than a year; that 26 per
cent were referred by the State in one of its guises; that some
admitted themselves and that others were admitted by their own families.
is indubitable that the report gives a complex and multi-stranded
In addition to that, the Government would have been acutely
aware of the train set in motion following Ahern's apology to those
abused in orphanages and other institutions.
Residential Institutions Redress Board was set up in 2002 and a decade
later some 14,397 applications had been successful.
The overall cost of
the scheme was almost €1.2 billion, of which €172.4 million was taken up
in legal fees.
The number of former residents who applied for redress
far exceeded predictions when the scheme was established.
It was clear the Government did not want to follow that route with its very high compensation and legal payments.
However, the evidence is that the Government wanted a more modest scheme.
strategy was therefore to present the report, give a qualified apology
and allow a period of two weeks to allow people absorb all of the
At that stage, the discussion could turn to compensation and
redress but on a more modest scale.
But unfortunately, the strategy
presented a tin ear to the sentiment of the public and, indeed, of the
mood of backbenchers of both Coalition parties.
The clumsy and
unwieldy response from the Taoiseach met with a blanket negative
response on Tuesday.
Yesterday, Kenny shifted the line, ensuring that
the State became part of the apology, talking about the "best way of
bringing about closure, reconciliation and assistance".
Expect a full State apology in days rather than weeks.