Bethany Survivors Group said the state is as culpable for scores of deaths and abuse that went on in the home as it is for similar Catholic Church-run institutions and they should be included in the Residential Institutions Redress Scheme set up in 2002. In an open letter delivered to Government ministers yesterday, the group said officials ignored high infant mortality rates at the home in the 1930s and instead deflected complaints by turning the issue into a religious squabble. This was despite evidence that Maternity and Children’s Act inspectors warned the authorities about medical neglect in Bethany Home on several occasions following 1934 when the state passed legalisation which brought such institutions under its remit.
One of the survivors, Derek Leinster, said survivors of the institutions had only recently organised because of the extra difficulties they encountered due to the practice of the institutions in dispersing children across the British Isles and the US.
He said: “We demand the rights that should be accorded to all Irish citizens, the right to equality of treatment and the right to redress for failings that are the responsibility of the state.”
He added that unlike some survivors of other religious institutions, the experience had not turned him against Ireland. “I don’t blame Ireland... for my experience. I blame mad religious people and the press of those days as what was going on in these homes should have been front page news.” Bethany Evangelical Protestant Institution in Rathgar, south Dublin, was open from 1921 until 1972.
As well as unmarried mothers and their children, it also took in prostitutes, alcoholics and prisoners and was used as a detention centre for female offenders, non-Catholic children and young people under 17.
Researcher Niall Meehan, Griffith College Dublin, discovered about 220 unmarked graves at Mount Jerome Cemetery in Harold’s Cross for forgotten babies who had died at the home. His trawl of cemetery records uncovered the shocking number of infant deaths over a 47-year period.
The group’s letter claimed Bethany facilitated the removal of children from the state into institutions in England, including Barnardos, The Salvation Army and Mr Fegan’s Home for Boys. It also claimed state papers show the Government facilitated the removal of children from Bethany to families in America during the 1950s and officials guaranteed the babies were white and Protestant.
Labour TD Joe Costello said his party supports the survivors’ demands. “The hard work of these people has uncovered... startling information that Bethany Home was a place of detention and the state deliberately ignored warnings from its own... inspectors about medical neglect [there].
“The Government’s objections to placing Bethany Home on the schedule of the redress scheme for victims of institutional abuse are now totally undermined. The Government must do the decent thing and end this outrage.”