Remarks on receiving survivors of the Magdalene Laundries
Áras an Uachtaráin, 3rd July 2013
You are very welcome here today to Áras an Uachtaráin.
I wish to thank Steven O’Riordan for requesting this visit for the Magdalene Survivors. While each of you has her own unique story of a great wrong, as a group is it important that the overall story of the Magdalene women is recognised.
Mar Uachtarán na hEíreann I am pleased to mark with you what I hope is an important milestone in a long and difficult journey for you. As President of Ireland I acknowledge this point in the journey, your bravery and commitment, and I am pleased that the justice of your cause has led to the public acknowledgment of the enormous wrong that you suffered at the hands of this State.
For many years, the story of the Magdalene Laundries went unheard and was the subject of an unacceptable silence in an area of rights. I recall Patricia Burke Brogan’s efforts and Frances Finnegan’s efforts, the efforts of others to break that silence, and the response, all too clearly. By combining your voices in a display of considerable courage and painstaking perseverance, you have ensured that such a wrongful silence was broken and that society eventually not only heard, but was made to listen to, your story. That story was a story of a terrible wrong; a failure to recognise and to respect the dignity and human rights of some ten thousand women and girls who, over a period of seventy years, were placed in the Magdalene laundries.
That failure has now been recognised by a state and society who once were willing to look the other way. That recognition was achieved largely due to your own indefatigable efforts and the efforts of those who assisted you in advocacy. The injustice that had caused so much personal hurt has drawn a response including that of Dr. Martin McAleese and his Committee which reported a figure of 10,012 women who spent time in the Magdalene laundries with 2,124 of these referrals made and facilitated by the State and that of Mr. Justice John Quirke, who published his report to Government on 26th of June 2013.
Your story has caused important questions to be asked so as to ensure that such mistakes of the past are never repeated. The lessons from your experience must be learned if we are to create a just and inclusive society, one that is truly participatory, allowing all of its citizens a voice and the right to be treated with respect and decency.
You have shown Irish citizens the value of working together, of harnessing the strength that lies behind a collective will to change things for the better.
Your actions have demonstrated the transformative potential of challenging and changing long held attitudes and mind sets. Your courage shows that there are no inevitabilities in life that cannot be transformed by the justness of a cause and the strength of a conviction.
As you continue now, on your personal paths through life, my wish for you is that it is with a sense of peace and resolution; and a reassuring knowledge that a society that once let you down so badly has now embraced you, and the many other brave women who are part of the Magdalene story, in their hearts, and in their conscience, too.
It has been a true privilege to meet with you here today as citizens who represent a period when the rights of womanhood were not fully recognised in Ireland; also citizens who represent the dedication, commitment, tenacity and courage that is always so essential to creating real and positive change in societies across the globe.
Earlier this year, Sabina and I hosted a reception here in the Áras to mark International Women’s Day; a day which celebrated the advances for women in our world. I stated then, and I will state again now, that such advances are advances for all of us – men and women – as we work to create a humane and equal world.
I thank you for all you have done to help create that better world. It has been a great privilege to meet with you all today and I wish you deserved happiness and contentment for the future.