In an extremely emotional speech, Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Enda Kenny apologized to the generations of women who were kept as slaves in laundries run by religious orders. These women knew only cruelty, suffering, and torment, supposedly in the service of God. This was the rotten fruit of a Jansenist culture. The speech is worth watching in full. Kenny breaks down at the end.
The full text is here. Here are some highlights:
“Yes by any standards it was a cruel, pitiless Ireland, distinctly lacking in a quality of mercy. That much is clear, both from the ages of the report, and from the stories of the women I met.
“As I sat with these women, as they told their stories, it was clear that while every woman’s story was different, each of them shared a particular experience of a particular Ireland – judgemental, intolerant, petty and prim.
“In the laundries themselves some women spent weeks, others months, more of them years. But the thread that ran through their many stories was a palpable sense of suffocation, not just physical in that they were incarcerated, but psychological, spiritual, social.
The Magdalen Women might have been told that they were washing away a wrong, or a sin, but we know now, and to our shame they were only ever scrubbing away our nation’s shadow.
Today, just as the State accepts its direct involvement in the Magdalen Laundries, society too has its responsibility.
I believe I speak for millions of Irish people all over the world when I say we put away these women because for too many years we put away our conscience.We swapped our personal scruples for a solid public apparatus that kept us in tune and in step with a sense of what was ‘proper behaviour’ or the ‘appropriate view’ according to a sort of moral code that was fostered at the time particularly in the 1930s, 40s and 50s.
We lived with the damaging idea that what was desirable and acceptable in the eyes of the Church and the State was the same and interchangeable.
Is it this mindset then, this moral subservience that gave us the social mores the required and exclusive ‘values’ of the time that welcomed the compliant, obedient and lucky ‘US’ and banished the more problematic, spirited or unlucky ‘THEM’?
And to our nation’s shame it must be said that if these women had managed to scale the high walls of the laundries they’d have had their work cut out for them to negotiate the height and the depth of the barricades around society’s ‘proper’ heart. For we saw difference as something to be feared and hidden rather than embraced and celebrated.
But were these our ‘values’? Because we can ask ourselves for a State, least of all a republic. What is the ‘value’ of the tacit and unchallenged decree that saw society humiliate and degrade these girls and women? What is the ‘value’ of the ignorance and arrogance that saw us publicly call them ‘Penitents’ for their ‘crime’ of being poor or abused or just plain unlucky enough to be already the inmate of a reformatory, or an industrial school or a psychiatric institution?
We can ask ourselves as the families we were then what was worthy, what was good, about that great euphemism of ‘putting away’ our daughters, our sisters, our aunties ?
Those ‘values’, those failures, those wrongs characterised Magdalen Ireland. Today we live in a very different Ireland with a very a different consciousness awareness.
An Ireland where we have more compassion, empathy, insight, heart. We do because at last we are learning those terrible lessons. We do because at last, we are giving up our secrets
We do because in naming and addressing the wrong, as is happening here today, we are trying to make sure we quarantine such abject behaviour in our past and eradicate it from Ireland’s present and Ireland’s future.”