Ireland’s Premier Enda Kenny has issued the government’s first apology to women imprisoned and forced to work for no pay at the Roman Catholic Church’s Magdalene Laundries.  The Taoiseach had been under fire for his silence in the two weeks since a report on the State’s involvement with the scheme.

More than a dozen former Magdalene workers were in the Parliament’s gallery when Kenny said all 10,000 of those forced to work were not “fallen women” as judged, and are completely blameless.  The laundries were in operation from 1922 through 1996 when the last one closed.  1,000 surviving women have been demanding this apology plus compensation from the government.  One now-famous inmate was the singer Sinead O’Connor who was imprisoned there after being caught shoplifting.

Although PM Kenny’s delay was seen as intransigence, it’s now believed that the Taoiseach will present compensation to the women, expected to include counseling services, healthcare, as well as individual payments. 

The apology is the latest sign of the erosion of the Roman Catholic Church’s influence in Ireland, which in addition to the Magdalene laundries has been shocked by the widespread Clergy Sex Abuse Scandal.