DUBLIN – Ireland will pay several hundred former residents of Catholic-run Magdalene laundries at least 34.5 million euros ($45 million) to compensate them for their years of unpaid labor and public shame, the government announced Wednesday following a decade-long campaign by former residents of the workhouses.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter apologized to the women — an estimated 770 survivors out of more than 10,000 who lived in the dozen facilities from 1922 to 1996 — that it had taken so long for them to receive compensation. The move marked the latest step in a two-decade effort by Ireland to investigate and redress human rights abuses in its Catholic institutions.

Shatter’s decision came four months after a government-commissioned probe found that women consigned to the laundries were broadly branded “fallen” women, a euphemism for prostitutes. The investigation found that few actually were, while most instead were victims of poverty, homelessness and dysfunctional families in a state lacking the facilities to care for them.

In remarks to former Magdalenes, some of them in the news conference audience, Shatter said he hoped they would accept the compensation plans as “a sincere expression of the state’s regret for failing you in the past, its recognition of your current needs, and its commitment to respecting your dignity and human rights as full, equal members of our nation.”

And in a challenge to the four orders of nuns that ran the workhouses, Shatter called on them to help pay the bill.

The orders — the Sisters of Mercy, the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge, the Sisters of Charity, and the Good Shepherd Sisters — all issued statements welcoming the payment plan. None offered any pledge to contribute and insisted their staff had done the best they could at the time, given the state’s own inability to care for the women.

The nuns noted that they still were providing homes to more than 100 former laundry workers who chose to remain in church care when the last of the laundries closed, while virtually none of the nuns involved in running the workhouses was still alive today.

“We wish we had provided a better and more comprehensive service and shown more empathy, but we were also part of a system that had little comprehension or understanding of how to truly care for these women,” said the Good Shepherd Sisters, who ran four laundries, in Cork, Limerick, Waterford and Wexford. “We always acted in good faith and many of our sisters dedicated their entire lives to this work.”

Shatter said the total cost of payments could reach 58 million euros ($75.5 million) if the maximum number of eligible women worldwide applies. The tax-free payments would range from $15,000 to up to $130,000.