Given that he was cutting such a sorry figure in the Dáil, Enda Kenny’s reluctance to actually apologise seemed even stranger.
Mr Kenny looked decidedly uncomfortable as he stood
there reciting dry statistics as if this was a story about numbers, not
the individual stories of lifelong damage and harm from being
rail-roaded into effective incarceration.
The Taoiseach was
sorry for the hardship they had suffered, and was sorry it had taken
the State so long to try and unburden them of the stigma of being
branded “fallen women”. But he was not sorry on behalf of the nation. He
was not sorry for the thousands of women pushed into jail-like
laundries by the State.
In a bizarre ramble down through the
decades of what he called a “harsh, uncompromising, and authoritarian”
Ireland, Mr Kenny’s clumsy historical overview could be summed up as:
“Sure, weren’t they all at it? It was a funny old country then —
symphysiotomies, Thalidomide victims, mental hospitals, or lunatic
asylums as they were referred to in those days — not a good place. Could
have been worse for these ladies though — the numbers were not as high
as we thought — only 10,000 — and hey, some of them liked it so much
they kept coming back! It must have been quite peachy for them — it
couldn’t have been because they were institutionalised, broken victims
of an appalling State conspiracy — oh, no, of course not! And aren’t we
just a great little Government for having this report at all? I won’t
mention it was because the UN commission on torture made us do it — no,
forget them, aren’t we just great altogether?”
unfortunate attitude was compounded by the drive-by condescension the
Taoiseach directed towards Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald, who put in a
strong performance when raising the matter in leaders’ questions. Again,
she managed to command the attention of the Dáil far better than Gerry
Ms McDonald compared the Magdalene system to a form of
“Irish slavery”, but the Taoiseach just kept telling her to go away and
read the report. Silly Ms McDonald, she only recited the testimony of
survivors — what did they know?
So why was Kenny, who had
been so in touch with the public mood after the Cloyne Report, so cold?
Because it is all down to cold hard cash. He offered “support” to the
victims, but no offer of compensation was mentioned. His spokesman was
later asked if Mr Kenny had been advised by the Attorney General or
others to avoid the apology in order to try and stall a payout. “We
don’t comment on how the Taoiseach arrives at what he says,” came the
And while it is often difficult to figure out exactly
how Mr Kenny arrives at some of the more unusual things he comes out
with, this time it was simple — shamefully cutting the compensation
claims of the one thousand surviving victims.
It was a
surprisingly shabby performance from the Taoiseach, and the hurt caused
to the laundry victims will not be easily washed away.
The exploited women were abandoned once more — and all in the name of money.