As an inquiry found 2,124 of those detained in the institutions were sent by the authorities, Taoiseach Enda Kenny expressed his sympathies with survivors and the families of those who have died.
“To those residents who went into the Magdalene laundries from a variety of ways, 26 per cent from state involvement, I’m sorry for those people that they lived in that kind of environment,” he said.
Records have confirmed that 10,012 women spent time in Magdalene laundries across the country between 1922 and 1996.
More than a quarter of all official referrals were made by the state, an 18-month inquiry chaired by Senator Martin McAleese has found.
The inquiry identified five areas where there was direct state involvement in the detention of women in 10 laundries run by nuns.
They were detained by courts, gardai, transferred by industrial or reform schools, rejected by foster families, orphaned, abused children, mentally or physically disabled, homeless teenagers or simply poor.
Inspectors, known as “the suits” by the women, routinely checked conditions complied with rules for factories.
Government paid welfare to certain women in laundries, along with payments for services.
Women were also enabled to leave laundries if they moved to other state-run institutions such as psychiatric hospitals, county and city homes and in the company of police, probation, court or prison officers.
The state also had a role in registering the death of a woman in a laundry.
Survivors have been campaigning for the last 10 years for an apology from state and church and a transparent compensation scheme.
Religious orders the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity ran laundries at Drumcondra and Sean MacDermott Street in Dublin, the Sisters of Mercy in Galway and Dun Laoghaire, the Religious Sisters of Charity in Donnybrook, Dublin, and Cork, and the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in Limerick, Cork, Waterford and New Ross.
The last laundry, Sean MacDermott Street in Dublin’s north inner city, closed in 1996.
Justice for Magdalenes (JFM), an advocacy group, said it is aware of at least 988 women who are buried in laundry plots in cemeteries across Ireland and therefore must have stayed for life. The inquiry could only certify 879.
The Taoiseach said action should have been taken before to clear the names and reputations of the women put to work in the institutions.
“That the stigma, that the branding together of the residents, all 10,000 needs to be removed and should have been removed long before this and I’m really sorry that that never happened, and I regret that never happened,” Mr Kenny said.
“I’m sorry that this release of pressure and understanding of so many of those women was not done before this, because they were branded as being the fallen women, as they were referred to in this state.”
Survivors quickly rejected the Taoiseach’s apology, and demanded a fuller and more frank admission from government and the religious orders involved.
Maureen Sullivan, Magdalene Survivors Together, said: “That is not an apology. He is the Taoiseach of our country, he is the Taoiseach of the Irish people, and that is not a proper apology.”
Mary Smyth said she endured inhumane conditions in a laundry, which she said was worse than being in prison.
“I will go to the grave with what happened. It will never ever leave me.”