Despite the horrific amount of deaths from neglect at the home, Minister Mary Couglan, speaking in Cork yesterday, said she believes that Bethany House in Rathgar was “in the main a voluntary place of detention”. It has emerged that in the 1930s and 1940s, 219 children died at the home for Protestant children and were buried in unmarked graves at Mount Jermome.
Of the children that died, it is believed that at least 54 died from convulsions, 41 from heart failure and 26 from “marasmus”, a form of malnutrition. During one period between 1935 and 1939, 86 children died. The research, by Niall Meehan from DIT, shows that one child died every three weeks at the Bethany Home in Rathgar from 1935 to 1940.
As part of his research, Mr Meehan said he received a letter from Minister Dermot Ahern’s secretary stating that in 1945, the Department of Justice designated the home as a place of detention for female Protestant children and young persons – a move which would seriously undermine the concept of the homes as place of “voluntary” entry.
Furthermore, inspectors at the Department of Local Government and Public Health recorded the high sickness and mortality rate and highlighted the above- normal figures to their superiors, documents show.
While Ms Coughlan described the deaths as “upsetting”, she said she did not believe that all of its survivors would be able to avail of redress.
“It’s very upsetting that we have found that there have been so many children that have passed away. I am advised that on occasions, some people were sent to the home under a different direction but in the main, it was a voluntary place of detention as opposed to a place of detention,” she said.
“I just would be reluctant to move on with this until such time as I have had time to examine the report... There were others who wish to be included in the redress board but they couldn’t be included on the basis of the reasons whereby those people were in these homes. But on the basis of what has been said to me by the Department of Justice, and the minister, I’d prefer to speak to him on the matter”.
The Labour Party has said the Government “can no longer stand idly by in the face of new revelations about the appalling conditions and the startling number of deaths of children that occurred in Bethany Home”. Deputy Joe Costello accused the state of trying “to regulate sectarianism as between Catholic and Protestant Homes for unmarried mothers rather than addressing the health needs of small children who died there in record numbers”.