The abuse of children in Irish church-run homes revealed by a landmark report this week was one of the "darkest chapters" in Ireland's history, the country's deputy premier said Thursday.
The comments came as an opposition leader called for Roman Catholic orders behind the abuse to pay more in compensation to victims of abuse dating back to the 1930s.
President Mary McAleese added that it was "shocking and shameful that so many children had to endure such appalling suffering and abuse in institutions whose obligation and vocation it was to provide them with safe and loving care.
"It was an atrocious betrayal of love. My heart goes out to the victims of this terrible injustice, an injustice compounded by the fact that they had to suffer in silence for so long," McAleese said.
Deputy Prime Minister Mary Coughlan told lawmakers: "The report of the Commission of Inquiry into Child Abuse describes one of the darkest chapters in our history."
The horrific litany of abuse revealed in the report Wednesday has caused widespread shock in the mainly Catholic country which has already been rocked by a series of abuse scandals involving clerics in the once powerful church.
Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore called for the government to renegotiate a deal with the religious orders that capped their share of the compensation bill for abuse victims at 128 million euros (177 million dollars).
A government body has already paid out almost one billion euros in compensation and legal fees to some 12,500 of more than 14,500 victims who claimed they were abused in the institutions.
Irish people now living in over 30 countries have sought compensation. The average award is about 65,000 euros, with those most severely abused getting up to 300,000 euros.
Gilmore said the deal meant that the taxpayer would be paying 10 times as much as the church and he said the deal was agreed "by a deferential and submissive" government. The largest-ever probe into Irish religious orders found rapes, beatings and humiliation in the childcare institutions dating back to the 1930s terrorized children.
It said sexual abuse was "endemic" in boys' homes and "children lived with the daily terror of not knowing where the next beating was coming from," lamenting a "culture of silence" among authorities.