Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has welcomed the news that congregations of nuns who ran the Magdalene laundries have given an undertaking to participate in any inquiry.

It followed a call from the UN Committee against Torture for a statutory inquiry into abuse at the institutions.

The conference of the Religious in Ireland issued a statement on behalf of the four bodies last night which said they believed an inquiry will bring greater clarity, understanding, healing and justice in the interests of current and former residents.

Mr Shatter has said the facts surrounding the controversy must be established and is expected to bring his proposals for addressing it to cabinet within the next two weeks.

The four congregations are the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, the Religious Sisters Charity, the Sisters of Mercy and the Good Shepherd Sisters.

The statement said: ‘The Magdalene homes issue is a sad, complex and dark story of Irish society that extends over 150 years.’

It added that the nuns had taken over and run the ten homes during part or most of that time and noted that they maintain relationships with many current and former residents.

The four groups of sisters say they are willing to participate in any inquiry that will bring greater clarity, understanding, healing and justice in the interests of all the women involved.

A spokesperson for the 'Justice for Magdalenes' group, has said the statement issued yesterday on behalf of the religious congregations who ran Magdalene institutions, is ‘a positive first step’.

James Smith said the group would welcome any participation of the congregations in an inquiry that would bring about restorative justice for all survivors, especially an apology, reparations and access to records.

However, Mr Smith also expressed disappointment that the congregations' statement did not include an apology to survivors.

Acknowledging the statement from the Minister for Justice, Mr Smith said JFM hoped that the congregations' statement would help the discussion of the issue at cabinet level.