The Irish prime minister has issued a formal apology on behalf of the Irish state to the survivors of workhouses known as the Magdalene laundries.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny broke down yesterday as he made an emotionally charged speech in which he described the Catholic-run workhouses as the "nation's shame," and conceded that the state was directly involved.
"I, as Taoiseach, on behalf of the state, the government and our citizens deeply regret and apologise unreservedly to all those women for the hurt that was done to them, and for any stigma they suffered, as a result of the time they spent in a Magdalene laundry," Mr Kenny said.
"We forgot you or, if we thought of you at all, we did so in untrue and offensive stereotypes. This is a national shame, for which I again say, I am deeply sorry and offer my full and heartfelt apologies."
At least 10,000 women were housed in the laundries over a 70-year period for reasons from petty crime to poverty, disability or pregnancy outside marriage. Ten laundries operated in the Irish Republic between 1922 and 1996, with a quarter of the 10,000 inmates placed there by the state. The youngest person was aged 9 and the oldest 89.
The apology comes two weeks after an official report painted a harrowing picture of the exploitation suffered by Irishwomen and girls in the laundries.
The report found they were given poor food, often became infested with lice and fleas and forced to do "harsh and physically demanding work" which was both compulsory and unpaid.
Survivor Ms Maureen Sullivan said the Taoiseach's apology removed the stigma attached to all those detained in the Magdalene laundries, who were often considered "fallen women".
"I'm proud now of the leader of our country. I can say that for the first time," she added.