By Padraic Halpin
DUBLIN (Reuters) - Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny was criticized by his government's junior coalition partner on Wednesday for not issuing the state apology sought by ex-inmates of the notorious Magdalene Laundries following a damning report.
More than a quarter of the women and girls subjected to harsh discipline and unpaid work at the 10 laundries, run by Catholic nuns, were sent there by the Irish state, an official report that ran to almost 1,000 pages said on Tuesday.
The laundries have been accused of treating inmates like slaves for decades of the 20th century, imposing a regime of fear and prayer on girls sometimes put in their care for falling pregnant outside wedlock. One in 10 inmates died in care, the youngest at 15.
Kenny said on Wednesday that he was sorry for the women who had to live in such conditions but again stopped short of a full state apology, angering groups representing women who were housed in laundries as recently as 1996.
The Labour party, which partners Kenny's Fine Gael party, issued a statement calling on the government to issue a formal apology to honor and vindicate the women of the Magdalene Laundries.
"As far as the Labour party is concerned, the treatment inflicted on these women was an historical wrong that has to be put right," it said.
Kathleen Lynch, a Labour junior minister said: "The stigma that has been attached to these women, the blight it has been on their lives, there's nothing to be proud of here. You can say that everyone suffered in the 50s, yeah, but some suffered more than others."
Lynch was referring to Kenny's comments in parliament on Tuesday when he said the laundries, described in the report as lonely and frightening places, had to be seen in the context of an Ireland that was an uncompromising and authoritarian place.
"STUFF YOUR APOLOGY"
Criticism of Kenny also dominated the front pages of Wednesday's newspapers. The Irish Sun's headline read: "Stuff Your Apology", while the Irish Daily Mail asked: "Why Can't You Say Sorry?"
Irish governments had in the past denied blame, emphasizing the laundries were private institutions, but the report concluded there was "significant state involvement".
One Labour member of parliament, Dominic Hannigan, said: "I think it's time for an apology, people have been waiting a long, long time for this."
Labour leader and Deputy Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore is likely to come under pressure to apologize in parliament when he takes leaders' questions on Thursday, with opposition parties also calling on the government to meet survivors' appeals for compensation for their treatment in the laundries.
Unlike other reports where priests were found to have beaten and raped children in Catholic-run institutions, no allegations of sexual or physical abuse were made against the nuns at the laundries, Tuesday's report said.
But former inmates spoke of an uncompromising regime of physically demanding work and prayer enforced by scoldings and humiliations.
The report's findings follow investigations into clerical sex abuse and state-abetted cover-ups that have shattered the authority of the church in Ireland and rocked the Catholic Church's reputation worldwide.
(Additional reporting by Stephen Mangan; Editing by Pravin Char and Robin Pomeroy)