Northern Ireland’s First and Deputy First Ministers have said a forum should be established to acknowledge alleged mistreatment of young women at Catholic-run Magdalene workhouses.
Victims have been campaigning for an inquiry after investigations in the Republic of Ireland uncovered evidence of harsh conditions and callous treatment.
The laundries - institutions for single mothers detained through the courts or often moved in by their family or clergy for being sexually active - were run by Catholic religious orders.
A statement from OFMDFM said: “We recognise that there are women who were over the age of 18 when they entered the Magdalene laundry-type institutions and there is a need to provide them with a forum where their issues can be addressed and their experiences acknowledged.”
The Good Shepherd Sisters ran a laundry and home in Belfast from the late 19th century until 1977 and 1990 respectively. Thousands of girls and women passed through its doors. The same order of nuns ran two other laundries, one in Newry in Co Down which operated into the 1980s, and another in Londonderry.
Another Magdalene centre, including steam laundry, was operated by the Church of Ireland on Belfast’s Donegall Pass, with the home continuing into the 1960s, while the Presbyterian Church ran the Ulster female penitentiary.
The Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry led by retired judge Sir Anthony Hart, tasked with taking evidence from alleged victims and making recommendations to the Stormont Executive, covers any woman who may have entered a laundry before she was aged 18. But campaigners have called for the plight of older women to be recognised.
Senator Martin McAleese published a hard-hitting report into abuse in laundries in the Republic.
The OFMDFM added: “We are appalled to think that women in laundries here could have endured the same harsh conditions and callous treatment as was documented by Senator McAleese. Our thoughts and sympathies are with any women who suffered in these types of institutions.”
Amnesty International Northern Ireland director Patrick Corrigan said the OFMDFM response would disappoint victims.
“When we brought local Magdalene survivors to Stormont Castle last June, ministers told us that they were about to receive this options paper. That means eight months have now passed without any further progress,” he added.
“Victims in Northern Ireland are becoming increasingly frustrated that they can’t get a response from ministers to their call for an inquiry.
“Victims are not looking for sympathy - they are demanding truth and justice for what happened to them.”
Women in Northern Ireland have told Amnesty of abuse they suffered in Magdalene laundry-style homes. Mr Corrigan said they may involve serious crimes such as arbitrary detention, forced labour, ill-treatment, and the removal and forced adoption of their babies.
“The First Minister and Deputy First Minister must respond to the calls of victims for a separate inquiry for these cases, which could also lead to a state apology and reparation,” he added.
The OFMDFM written answer to Sinn Fein MLA Barry McElduff said ministers had received a report on potential action and were giving serious consideration to the options before deciding the way forward.
Mr McElduff said the institutional abuse inquiry needed to ensure nobody was left out.
“It is a very important step, it is very important that that abuse inquiry takes place and that victims gain truth and justice through these hearings,” he added.
“All I am concerned about is if anybody is missed in the net.
“It needs to be cast wider so that there is inclusivity and everyone is covered.”