The publication of a report into the appalling conditions in the religiously-run Magdalene Laundries for "fallen" women in 20th century Ireland and the extent to which the Irish State funded, aided and supported those institutions has led to a public, and very moving, apology from Ireland's Taoiseach (prime minister), Enda Kelly, in which he excoriated the rose-tinted view of Ireland's past as a place of proper values and said that the Magdalene Laundries stand as a grim testament to the difference between being prim and being good. Many of the women incarcerated in the Magdalene laundries, where they were forced to work without wages in cavernous fee-charging laundries for weeks, months or years, were children, victims of rape, unwanted daughters and the mentally handicapped. They were abominable institutions, but when the 2002 movie The Magdalene Sisters (trailer above) first came out a decade ago, it was decried by some of the institutional Church's most zealous defenders as nothing more than secuarlist propaganda. As the McAleese report makes clear, in fact the fictionalized account of the Magdalene sisters, which was part of the first wave of Ireland beginning to look at the less-attractive side of the laundries, barely scratched the surface. The Taoiseach's apology and statement is moving, intelligent, carefully-worded and it avoids, I think, inflammatory rhetoric. It places the blame as much on social attitudes as the Church hierarchy and does not seek to foist the blame onto any one institution. His full and frank apology for the government's role in sustaining the laundries has long been campaigned for by the survivors of the Magdalene system.
The Taoiseach's full speech can be watched below. I realize now everyone may share my opinion of it, but I think it was long overdue and a tribute to Ireland - most especially the women it was speaking of.