Irish leader apologizes to women abandoned in Catholic laundries

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DUBLIN (AP) -- Ireland ignored the mistreatment of thousands of women who were incarcerated within Roman Catholic nun-operated laundries and must pay the survivors compensation, Prime Minister Enda Kenny said Tuesday in an emotional state apology for the decades of abuses in the so-called Magdalene Laundries.

"By any standards it was a cruel, pitiless Ireland, distinctly lacking in a quality of mercy," Kenny said, as dozens of former Magdalenes watched tearfully from parliament's public gallery overhead.

Kenny told lawmakers his government has appointed a senior judge to recommend an aid program for the approximately 1,000 women still living from the workhouses, the last of which closed in 1996.

A government-commissioned report published two weeks ago found that more than 10,000 women were consigned to the laundries after being branded "fallen" women, a euphemism for prostitutes, even though virtually none of them were -- and instead were products of poverty, homelessness and dysfunctional families. More than a quarter were directly referred by public officials, such as judges or truancy officers, and all spent months or years in menial labor without access to education.

Most did laundry for local hotels, hospitals and prisons, while others scrubbed floors or made rosary beads for the church's profit.

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