From the BBC

Magdalene laundries: Irish Prime Minister issues apology

Enda Kenny made the apology in the Irish parliament on Tuesday

The Irish Prime Minister (Taoiseach), Enda Kenny, has formally apologised on behalf of the state for its role in the Magdalene laundries.Some 10,000 women and girls were made to do unpaid manual labour in laundries run by Roman Catholic nuns in Ireland between 1922 and 1996.More than a quarter of those who spent time in the laundries had been sent there by the Irish state.Mr Kenny apologised to all the women affected.

He said their experiences had cast a "long shadow" over Irish life and that it had been "humbling and inspiring" to meet them.

"For 90 years Ireland subjected these women, and their experience, to a profound indifference," he said.

"By any standards it was a cruel and pitiless Ireland, distinctly lacking in mercy.

"We swapped our public scruples for a solid public apparatus."

An emotional Mr Kenny concluded his speech to a standing ovation in the Irish parliament.Earlier this month, Mr Kenny expressed regret for the stigma and conditions suffered by women who were inmates in the laundries, but he stopped short of a formal government apology.In the two weeks since, Mr Kenny has held face-to-face meetings with some of those who worked in the laundries.It is believed that move could open the way for the women involved to seek redress or compensation.

Magdalene Laundries

An inquiry chaired by Senator Martin McAleese found more than 2,000 women and girls were sent to the laundries by the state authorities, and many Irish institutions, such as the army and some government departments, had contracts with the laundries. Women were forced into Magdalene laundries for a crime as minor as not paying for a train ticket, the McAleese report found.The report also confirmed that a police officer could arrest a girl or a woman without warrant if she was being recalled to the laundry or if she had run away.Fianna Fail has called for the establishment of a dedicated unit within the Department of Justice to co-ordinate the Irish Republic's response to the McAleese report, including all forms of redress for the survivors.

The system was the subject of a 2002 film, The Magdalene Sisters, which starred Geradline McEwan and Anne-Marie Duff, whose director said at the time he believed the former inmates should have received an apology.On Tuesday, Amnesty International accused the Irish government of ignoring women who were exploited in laundries that operated across the border in Northern Ireland. Patrick Corrigan, the human rights charity's Northern Ireland director, said: "Magdalene laundries operated in Northern Ireland into the 1980s.

"I have spoken with women survivors of these institutions who now fear being left behind, with no inquiry in place - north or south - into their suffering."

The Good Shepherd Sisters ran a laundries in Belfast, Newry and Londonderry. Another Magdalene asylum, including steam laundry, was operated by the Church of Ireland on Belfast's Donegall Pass.