Opposition parties bran-ded the lack of a formal State apology by the Taoiseach as a “disgrace” and a delaying tactic motivated by a desire to limit any compensation payments.
In heated exchanges with the Taoiseach during leaders’ questions, Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald said his attitude was “cruel”.
“I think it is extremely cruel to the Magdalene women who expected that their story would be fully validated and that the Taoiseach would move to remove that awful stigma with which they have lived — by putting up our hands, collectively, and by the State putting up its hands and saying: ‘You were wronged. We were negligent’. I hope his [Mr Kenny’s] version of responsible government is not one that simply seeks to circle the wagons to protect the State from any financial liability that might arise and to simply cast the women’s experiences to one side.”
The Taoiseach said his aim was to find the best way to bring about “closure” for the 800-plus survivors.
Mr Kenny described the report by Martin McAleese as “harrowing” reading and insisted he needed to reflect deeply on the issues raised.
Insisting that some people find it hard to say the words “I am sorry”, Mr Kenny told the Dáil he was sorry for what happened and did believe survivor’s stories.
“I am sorry that so many women worked and were resident in Magdalene Laundries in a very harsh and authoritarian environment,” he said.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin said he regretted the last government, of which he was a leading member, had not included the Magdalene women in previous inquiries, but in order to remove the remaining stigma towards the survivors a full apology by the Taoiseach was needed.
“The only effective way for the stigma to be removed by the State is to apologise with no ifs and no buts,” he said.
Mr Kenny said the Fianna Fáil government had “refused” to investigate the matter and he needed “space” to consider the report.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter refused to be drawn when asked on RTÉ if it was wrong for the State to collude with enslaving women and children.