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Bethany Home Survivors welcome Taoiseach's apology to Magdalen survivors

category dublin | rights, freedoms and repression | news report author Wednesday February 20, 2013 10:34author by Niall Meehan - Bethany Home Survivors , secretaryauthor address phone 00353894716048 Report this post to the editors

After the McAleese Report sort out Bethany Home survivors


Survivors of the Dublin's Protestant run Bethany Home today welcomed Taoiseach's apology to Magdalen survivors and the plan to institute a system of compensation and redress. They especially welcomed the government's decision to include Stanhope Street Magdalen laundry that had been excluded from consideration by the Martin McAleese enquiry into the laundries.

Bethany Survivors Chairperson, Derek Leinster said he "hopes the Minister for Justice Alan Shatter will act on his long-expressed promise to TDs, senators and northern MLAs to give justice to Bethany survivors". Mr Leinster noted, "Alan Shatter's first response to publication of the McAleese Report was to apologise for the delay in recognising the injustice done to the Magdelen women. We now suffer the same delay. Now would not be too early to give Bethany survivors the same apology and consideration as the Magdalen women".

Bethany Home Survivors, family and supporters, gather at Mount Jerome Cemetery September 2012 - at site of 40 unmarked graves of Bethany children - cemetery contains unmarked graves of 219 Bethany children (one third died 1935-9, three fifths 1935-44)
Bethany Home Survivors, family and supporters, gather at Mount Jerome Cemetery September 2012 - at site of 40 unmarked graves of Bethany children - cemetery contains unmarked graves of 219 Bethany children (one third died 1935-9, three fifths 1935-44)

Bethany Home survivors Chairperson Derek Leinster is in Dublin until next Monday. He may be contacted at 00353 89 4716048 - Derek features in a documentary in the Dublin Film Festival tonight 20 February 2013


After the McAleese Report sort out Bethany Home survivors

The Irish governments next step after the McAleese Report should be determining responsibility for death, neglect and abuse in Dublins Protestant run Bethany Home (Orwell Road, Rathgar, closed 1972) for unmarred mothers, that was also a female prison.

219 Bethany children lie in unmarked graves in nearby Mount Jerome cemetery, while another 17 may be buried elsewhere. Most died in the decade after the 1934 Maternity Act mandated state inspection. 86 entered Mount Jerome during 1935-39, while 132 died between 1935-44.

In 1939 the Department of Local Government and Public Health responded internally to mounting concern with,

'it is well recognized that a large number of illegitimate children are delicate and marasmic [starving] from their birth.'

The states Deputy Chief Medical Advisor, Dr. Winslow Sterling Berry, wrote this in a 'confidential' memo after the second of three 1939 Bethany Home visits. He earlier altered a damning inspectors report on a nursed-out Bethany child in a dying condition, by changing dying to very low. He wrote omit beside a Garda commentary critical the nurse-mother responsible.

Disquiet was acknowledged by Sterling Berry, but only due to Bethanys proselytising activities. At a Bethany Managing Committee meeting he attended in October 1939 Sterling Berry persuaded the home to cease admitting Roman Catholics (most admissions appear to have been Protestant). A reported threat of refusal to fund the Bethany Home under the 1939 Public Assistance Act ensured acceptance of the restriction.

The Irish state at that time regulated sectarianism, not welfare, and did so in a sectarian manner. The largely privatized welfare and detention system was undisturbed if competing Christians stuck to their own patch. Beneath it lay ignored Bethany children who continued to die.

Despite continual application, Bethany Home was denied recognition and funding under the 1939 Act until 1949. However, during the 1940s local authorities granted per-capita payments to women from Cavan and Monaghan.

After 1949 no dead Bethany children entered Mount Jerome cemetery. However, children dispersed in Ireland, Britain and the US were still in harms way. They were exposed to emotional, physical and sexual abuse. The state knew of the export of children into harm's way, including over the border, and did nothing.

Bethany Home Survivor Derek Leinster was born there in 1941. Unlike 16 children who died in 1944, Derek was hospitalized for five months over 1944-45. He was then adopted by a dysfunctional couple in Wicklow where Derek was starved and neglected. After emigrating to England in 1959 Derek learned to read, initially comics. He became a trade union convener in his workplace and also a successful amateur boxer. He remained determined to discover why Irish society had discarded him. Derek believed he would find out when in 1999 Taoiseach Bertie Ahern apologised for institutional abuse.

Appallingly, Bethany residents were denied access to the 2002 Residential Institutions Redress scheme. The state's case is that its residents were there voluntarily and therefore did not qualify.

Due to persistent lobbying from Derek (including an Irish Times article on the subject by the late Mary Raftery), some Protestant-ethos institutions were included in 2004, but not Bethany Home. This included the Church of Ireland associated Smileys Home in Dun Laoghaire. Most Smileys residents, including the former Irish soccer player Paul McGrath, entered that home on the same so-called 'voluntary' basis as did Bethany residents. Dun Laoghaire councillor Victor Boyhan, a former Smiley's resident, supports Bethany's case. The refusal to admit Bethany was irrational.

In July 2011 the small band of about twenty Bethany survivors were encouraged to apply for inclusion in Martin McAleese's Magdalen inquiry. However, the government refused to extend its mandate. This is despite the report listing under 'Magdalen asylums in Ireland the 'Dublin Midnight Mission' and the 'Prison Gate Mission'. The first sentence of a May 2011 Bethany Survivors submission to the Minister for Education noted:

"Bethany Home was opened by the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin in 1922 as a door of hope for fallen women. It was formed from two organisations, the Prison Gate and Midnight missions, as part of an attempt to divert women from evil ways."

The submission to the Minister for Justice also noted Bethany Home's continuing reception of 'Midnight Mission' cases. Management Committee minutes called Bethany the Mission and also reported attempts to save residents.

According to Kurt Bowens history of the Church of Ireland post-partition, Bethany was the major facility for Protestant women in need of institutional care. In that capacity Bethany incarcerated Protestant females convicted of crimes from petty theft to infanticide, remand prisoners, prostitutes, as well as unmarried mothers and their children. In addition, the garda sent 'homeless Protestant girl[s]' into this environment. Women and children were also referred by hospitals and health boards, as well as by Protestant clergy.

The continuing denial of restitution smacks of double standards. It also seems sectarian if former Bethany residents claims are ignored, while those of Magdalene residents are addressed. The states officially agnostic, though actually sectarian, attitude toward problematic Protestants needs to end.

Alan Shatter TD, Minister for justice, has replied to parliamentary questions and representations from elected representatives north and south by promising consideration of the Bethany survivors case. His first response to the McAleese Report was to apologize for the delay in giving consideration to Magdalene survivors. Former Bethany residents suffer precisely the same delay.

This issue should be sorted once and for all, in a just manner.

Bethany Home survivors Chairperson Derek Leinster is in Dublin until next Monday. He may be contacted at 00353 89 4716048 - he features in a documentary in the Dublin Film Festival tonight 20 February 2013

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