One of the Roman Catholic orders at the
centre of a child abuse scandal in Ireland has apologised unconditionally to those who suffered in its care.
The Sisters of Mercy ran asylums depicted in the controversial film, The Magdalene Sisters
In a statement, the Sisters of Mercy said it accepted unreservedly that many children had been "hurt and damaged while in our care".
A 1996 TV documentary exposed the scale of abuse at one of their orphanages in Dublin in the 1950s and 1960s.
In recent years, dozens of cases at religious schools have come to light.
The Irish state formally apologised to victims in 1999 and set up a commission to compensate them for their suffering.
Survivors groups welcomed the nuns' statement.
"Today a little bit of light has come," said Christine Buckley, the woman whose
testimony formed the core of the 1996 documentary.
"I have to state I admire their bravery," she added.
In the 1996 documentary, former residents of the Dublin orphanage revealed that they were beaten with wooden chair legs and whipped with rosary beads.
The programme prompted an apology from the Sisters, but this week's statement went further.
"We know that you heard our apology then as conditional and less than complete," the Sisters said.
"Now without reservation we apologise unconditionally to each one of you for the suffering we have caused."
The spokeswoman said the nuns had spent years coming to terms with growing public anger at the abuse scandals being unearthed within the Catholic Church in Ireland and several other western countries.
The order, which has 3,000 members, was founded in 1831 in Dublin.