President Mary McAleese has offered the Irish people's heartfelt sorrow to the victims of institutional abuse.

Some 280 people and a number of family members were addressed by Mrs McAleese during a reception at Áras an Uachtaráin.

She described the experiences of the survivors as 'monuments to our failure to cherish our children'.

Mrs McAleese also praised the courage of her guests for taking a stand against abuse and said 'you have created a force that will in time bring much good to Ireland's children for you challenge our society to hold to account all those who engrave on their innocent and dependant little lives'.

Organisers say the meeting was a step in the right direction in their fight for justice.

Details of the meeting were announced at a march in solidarity with abuse survivors in Dublin earlier this month.

Following the publication of the Ryan report last month, President McAleese said that people should face criminal prosecutions for offences that took place in institutions.

She also described the abuse as 'an atrocious betrayal of love' and said the terrible injustice suffered was compounded by the fact that the victims 'had to suffer in silence for so long'.

John Kelly of Irish Survivors of Child Abuse said today's meeting was a significant one.

Mr Kelly called it an historic day and a step towards justice for all the tens of thousands of survivors who they represent.

Michael O'Brien, a former Fianna Fail councillor and a survivor of sexual abuse, described the event as 'emotional and enjoyable'.

The meeting comes days after the Government announced the appointment of an independent three-member panel to assess financial statements promised by the 18 religious congregations.

It is part of the Government's attempts to encourage the congregations to contribute more to those who suffered in their care.

The event also featured entertainment by high-profile acts and a choir made up of survivors.