I am very pleased to have the opportunity here this evening to discuss with you the Final Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee set up to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen Laundries which was published on 5th February last.

Much has been said since then and much has happened. For me personally, it has been the culmination of a long journey going back more than ten years when I first had an involvement with the issues of women who were admitted to and who worked in the Laundries. I know what they went through and I am delighted that the reality and harshness of living and working in those institutions and what it meant for the women themselves is now there for all to see.

As I recounted in the Dáil only a few weeks ago, I visited with them in the UK on a regular basis and tried to offer whatever advice and support I could. As an indication of how far we have come, it is worth re-capping again a particular meeting that I had with them in 2003 at the Lazy Daisy Cafe in Notting Hill where a number of concerns were expressed in terms of the provision of services to Irish victims of abuse now living in the UK.

I wrote to the then Minister for Education in November 2003 outlining the simple and reasonable requests of these people and what could be done to improve their lot. These were just straight-forward matters such as the extension of a Freephone helpline to the UK; updates in the form of a newsletter; the provision of a fax and computer; the right to choose one’s own counsellor/therapist (it was proposed that nuns and other clergy would be involved in providing counselling which is somewhat incredible); assistance with the phone; a speedier response to queries; and a comprehensive media/information campaign. It was almost impossible at the time to advance or progress those simply requests.

Shortly after this Government took office in March 2011 I had discussions with Minister Shatter about what we could regarding the Magdalen Laundries and we agreed to establish an inter Departmental Committee to look into the matter. That policy decision was made in May 2011. The day before the Memorandum was circulated to Government, the UN Committee against Torture (UNCAT) published their observations which included at paragraph 21 a recommendation that

"the State party should institute prompt, independent and thorough investigations into all allegations of torture, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment that were allegedly committed in the Magdalene Laundries ...".

While that UNCAT non binding recommendation was taken into account by the Government, it certainly was not the driving force behind the decision to launch the investigation.

We have all come along way since then and particularly so the women involved, many of whom are now elderly, and never thought they would see the day when the leader of this country would stand up in the Dáil and deliver an apology on behalf of the people of the State. In that context, the apology given by the Taoiseach on the 19th February last on behalf of this State and the citizens of this State was both historic and heart-warming.

I believe it was warm, it was generous, it was sincere, and I know only too well how greatly it was appreciated by the most important people of all – the women who survived these institutions. It underlined again the determination and steel of this Government to deal with this issue from the moment we took office, to right the wrongs done to these women in our name, and to put a process in place which will now address those wrongs and hopefully bring the much longed for closure these women have so desperately wanted for so many years.

I would like too to thank former Senator Dr Martin McAleese for agreeing in the first instance to independently chair the Inter-Departmental Committee to examine the extent of State involvement with the Magdalen Laundries. Most of you of course worked alongside Dr McAleese in this House and appreciate only too well his dedication and commitment to whatever task he sets himself. I believe he was an inspired choice. We owe him a great debt of gratitude for the report which he produced and which for the first time laid bare the facts and extent of State involvement with the Laundries, the lives of the women who resided there, and the traumatic effects it subsequently had on them and their families too.

I also want to thank the women who came forward to tell their stories of their experiences in a Magdalen Laundry and the effect this had on their lives. Their stories were told with great dignity and, most importantly of all, they have been believed. They have been believed by this State, by the people, and that too has been acknowledged.

I would like to thank the representative groups who so actively and for many years campaigned diligently on their behalf. I know only too well the work involved – I long campaigned on their behalf - and I appreciate fully the difficulties faced but which thankfully were eventually overcome.

We should also thank and acknowledge the co-operation given to Dr McAleese’s Committee by the religious congregations who ran these institutions. They fully co-operated with the Committee, provided full access to their records, and assisted the Committee in every way possible. While the last few weeks have undoubtedly been difficult for them, and there has been much criticism - and rightly so - of the harshness and bleakness of life in the Laundries, I think it is only right and proper that we recognise their contribution to this process. Their co-operation was essential in enabling Dr McAleese to produce his report and ensuring the Government was in a position to take the next steps.

The Government is now addressing the needs of those still with us arising from the hurt they experienced during and due to their time in the laundries. We are not wasting time and we want to this as quickly as possible. Since this process began, myself and Minister Shatter have met and will continue to meet with the representative groups and many of the women involved. This includes women represented by the Irish Women's Survivors Network based in the UK, and women currently living in nursing homes or sheltered accommodation under the care of the Religious Congregations.

I am glad to say that the women themselves are very pleased with what is being proposed and progress been made so far. There is an end in sight and their ordeal is near over. While we may not necessarily agree on everything, I can assure you that they are being listened to and their views are being taken into account. Like the Government, their clear wish now is for a non-adversarial approach – no lawyers or expensive legal fees – but a fast practical and effective solution which meets their needs and goes some way to righting the wrongs of the past.

As you will know, the Government is putting a comprehensive scheme of supports in place to underpin a process of healing and reconciliation which we want to encourage and promote. This scheme, the detail of which is being examined by retired High Court Judge and current President of the Law Reform Commission, Mr Justice Quirke, will be established soon. Judge Quirke has been asked to examine how, taking into account the McAleese Report, the Government might best provide supports (including health services such as medical cards, psychological and counselling services and other welfare needs) for the women who need such supports as a result of their experiences.

Judge Quirke has also been asked to advise on the establishment of a scheme under the Fund including identifying the criteria and factors to be taken into account (such as work undertaken in the Laundries for no remuneration). He will advise on the operation of the Fund and, in particular, the nature and amount of payments to be made out of the Fund. A decision will be made on its detailed operation when he reports back in 3 months time.

I am confident this will make a difference for the women involved and I can assure you the Government will not be found wanting in considering his report. I can also assure you that the scheme will be for the benefit of eligible applicants and not on legal fees and expenses. We have learnt from the mistakes of the past and we will not be repeating past failures with which we are all well familiar with.

I also want to be clear that women who have already received payments under the Redress Scheme are not being excluded in any way. There is one small area of possible overlap. I understand that under the Redress Scheme a women who went straight from an industrial school to a Magdalen laundry may have received a redress payment for the period in the Magdalen laundry up to the age of 18. Judge Quirke has been asked to keep this in mind but the Government certainly do not envisage that it will exclude such women.

The process of identifying the numbers involved and inviting expressions of interest has already begun. Since last week, the 20th February to be precise, the Department of Justice and Equality has received over [INSERT NUMBER] contacts from people wishing to register their preliminary expression of interest in being considered to receive benefits or supports from the scheme when it enters into operation. As well as giving some indication of the likely numbers involved, this process will also allow people time to gather the necessary basic documentation that will be required to verify their identity and their stay in one of the relevant institutions.

As I said already, I had a lot of contact going back many years with the women who now live in London and the various support networks that operate there often with limited resources and little practical funding. I know only too well the admirable work undertaken by such organisations with little or no financial support. To that end, I am very pleased that the Government was able to make some provision to assist the UK Step by Step Centre for Irish Survivors of Industrial Schools and the Laundries. This will be made as soon as the legal technicalities have been clarified.

The women themselves have been asked to consider the nature and location of a memorial they would deem suitable. I believe it only fitting that we do so, and that we have a memorial which tells their story and to which we can all subscribe.

I can also say that myself and Minister Shatter will be meeting the four religious congregations shortly to invite them to make a contribution to the Fund being established by Government. We be discussing the need to have a process in place for survivors to obtain their records in order to avail of the scheme being put in place. That will of course be essential to the process of identifying eligible participants for inclusion in the scheme and ensuring their claims will be dealt with promptly and efficiently.

Finally, I would like to assure the House of this Government’s determination to continue to meet the needs of these women. It has been a long journey for these women and it has not been easy. It behoves us all to ensure we have a an effective process in place as quickly as possible, one which meets their needs, and which provides the fullest range of supports possible. I am confident that we can do this and, with the support of everyone involved, we will not be found wanting.

Thank you.