Enda Kenny broke into tears as he made an historic and emotionally-charged state apology to survivors of the Magdalene laundries.
The Taoiseach received a standing ovation in parliament after he described the Catholic-run workhouses as the “nation’s shame” and accepted the state’s direct involvement.
“I, as Taoiseach, on behalf of the state, the Government and our citizens deeply regret and apologise unreservedly to all those women for the hurt that was done to them, and for any stigma they suffered, as a result of the time they spent in a Magdalene Laundry,” Mr Kenny said.
Twenty women who were locked up in one of the laundries watched with bated breath from the public gallery.
They held hands tightly and wept as the Taoiseach made his tearful apology.
Well good. It’s about time.
He had come under fire for failing to apologise two weeks ago when former Senator Martin McAleese’s 1,000-page report into State involvement in the Magdalene Laundries was published.
But in the Dail, Mr Kenny delivered a clear state apology to the 10,000 women who had been in the country’s ten Magdalene Laundries.
He said there never would have been any need for institutions such as the Magdalen Laundries in a society guided by the principles of compassion and social justice.
And he said that women kept in there were wholly blameless and were only described as “fallen women” due to prejudice.
And the church. Don’t forget the church.
Mr Kenny became emotional as he concluded his speech to apologise once more for the national shame.
“At the conclusion of my discussions with one group of the Magdelen Women one of those present sang ‘Whispering Hope’. A line from that song stays in my mind – “when the dark midnight is over, watch for the breaking of day”,” he said.
He had to pause in the middle of his final sentence, saying “Excuse me”, before regaining his composure.
“Let me hope that this day and this debate heralds a new dawn for all those who feared that the dark midnight might never end,” he said.