'Church hasn't yet said it's sorry to Magdalene women', says survivor
A survivor of the Magdalene laundries has said the Catholic Church has never apologised to the thousands of women subjected to what President Michael D Higgins called "abuse and degradation" in the institutions run by nuns.
Speaking after Mr Higgins apologised to women who were forced to work in the laundries, Mary Merritt (87), from Tunbridge Wells, Kent, said: "The Church has never apologised to us.
"Without the press, the stories would never have been told.
"We also have to remember the women who cannot be with us today and were buried in mass graves."
More than 10,000 women are thought to have passed through the laundries between 1922 and 1996.
Unmarried mothers, girls considered troublesome or wayward and those with learning difficulties were forced into unpaid manual labour in the laundries.
In a speech to hundreds of women at Aras an Uachtarain on Tuesday afternoon, the President said stories of "forced labour and injustice" left a "deep stain" on society.
Describing the women as "inspiring", Mr Higgins said: "I apologise to you, survivors of the Magdalene regime."
He also said he hoped the visit was a chance to "heal" and "come into the light from the darkness".
"Stigma, shame and an unreceptive society condemned so many women to concealing their experiences, their trauma, their hurt," Mr Higgins said.
"You have presented us with a harrowing and deeply un- comfortable reflection of an Ireland some would prefer not to be able to recognise, but which has to be acknowledged and to which a response must be made.
"You were failed by the State. You were also failed by a society that colluded by their silence in your incarceration and treatment, or chose to look the other way as vulnerable girls and women were subjected to abuse and degradation. Ireland failed you."
In the culmination of the two-day event organised by voluntary group Dublin Honours Magdalenes (DHM), the women yesterday discussed in private meetings how they would like to be memorialised by the State.
The Department of Justice and Equality is understood to have paid for flights and hotels for the women.
Many were returning to Ireland for the first time since leaving the laundries, DHM said.
Mary Smith sobbed as she told reporters how she and her mother, Eileen, were both "locked up" in the laundries, adding: "This has left me shattered for the rest of my life.
"I've come here for justice for the people who suffered."
Campaigner Norah Casey said: "This event is not about celebration. It's about dignity and respect."
The events come as the Government's redress scheme was widened to reach women originally excluded because they worked in the laundries but lived elsewhere.
Academics in Northern Ireland have also said their investigation into records of mother and baby homes and Magdalene laundries north of the border could help determine whether a public inquiry into the treatment of residents there will take place.