As part of its new hierarchy, the Irish government gave religion a very prominent role in handling the populous.
Maybe it was because of the deeply ingrained religious beliefs of the region. Maybe it's because they just didn't think they could manage everything and were taking any help they could find.
No matter what, pure evil was the result.
One of the products of this unholy union of church and state was the Magdalene Laundries. When Christians talk about suffering being good for the soul, they mean accepting you can't get everything you want. The nuns in charge of the Magdalene Laundries took this philosophy and pumped it full of steroids. Women sent to their care were condemned to a regime of prayer, fear, and humiliation. They were treated like slaves, forced to do physically grueling work. They got no pay, and were often not told why they were there or when they would be able to leave.
What had these women done? Among the heinous crimes were living in poverty, having a child out of wedlock, petty crime, disability, or even just orphaned. From 1922 until 1996 when the last one was finally closed (and hopefully with an Elder Seal on the gates), 10,000 women and girls, some as young as nine, were put into Hell on Earth. 10% of them died, the youngest victim being 15.
Why didn't the government do something about it? Turns out the government was complicit in it. According to a study whose results were just released two weeks ago, 24% of the women were sent over by the Irish government. When survivors said the government owed them big, the government said the Magdalene Laundries were private institutions instead of government, we don't owe you anything, go suck an egg.
That changed today. Today, the Irish Catholic Prime Minister of Ireland, Enda Kenny, apologized publicly. In Parliament. In front of other elected officials, the press, and twenty survivors of the Magdalene Laundries. No dodges, no soft pedaling. "The Magdalene Laundries have cast a long shadow over Irish life over our sense of who we are. This is a national shame, for which...I am deeply sorry and offer my full and heartfelt apologies."
I can't help but wonder how sincere his apology is or if it's just damage control. The standing of the Catholic church in Ireland has gone Hindenburg thanks to priest sexual abuse scandals. This has also effected the standing of the Fine Gael party that Kenny is a part of (center right in its politics). Still, as V pointed out, it's never too late to apologize. Kenny is setting up compensation funds for survivors, counseling, medical cards, and there is talk of a national memorial.
It's just too bad it took ninety years for anyone to say something. Sixteen years after the last one was closed.