State barring the way to restitution for Bethany victims

I APPRECIATE Eric Conway’s reply to my criticism of his letter (December 23 and January 7).

He accused the media of blocking coverage of what happened in the Protestant evangelical Bethany Home. I pointed out that when evidence of large-scale neglect and child mortality was produced it was published and that politicians form all parties and none spoke out on the issue.

To take up Mr Conway’s general point, one reason why there has been more attention paid to Roman Catholic institutions is because the Catholic population is 20 times larger than the Protestant one. For historical reasons, there are differences in the socio-economic profile of the two groups, which possibly affected the number of ‘problematic’ Protestants coming to official attention. A smaller Protestant population meant that more from the Protestant community may have been amenable to internal management, something promoted by the state. It is clear that there are similarities in the experiences of groups such as unmarried mothers and their “illegitimate” children, irrespective of denomination.

These experiences stemmed from prejudicial social attitudes that were not peculiarly Irish. But Irish society stayed institutionally conservative longer than others and retains a haphazard and underdeveloped welfare and health system. This is a state failure and derives fundamentally from economic conservatism rather than from Catholicism or Protestantism. The state ensured an equality of sectarian provision of health services that masked general inequality.

It was an abdication of responsibility by the state (and by society generally) to allow sectarian disposal and definition of social problems.

A particular problem for the Roman Catholic Church today is that it assumed responsibility for provision that was morally corrupt and intellectually barren. That issue attracts public and therefore media attention. The Church of Ireland gives the impression of being worried that acceptance of moral responsibility for Bethany Home shortcomings, through its clergy’s involvement, may lead to the legal kind. Hence, a somewhat spin-doctored approach to the issue.

But that is not the main issue for Bethany victims. During the Celtic Tiger years the state threw money at the abuse problem and hoped the victims and its own responsibility would go away.

However, the scheme was not thought through properly. Some victims cannot go away because, like the former Bethany and Magdalen residents, they were barred from consideration in the first place.

The state is barring the way to restitution, not the media or Catholic or Protestant churches. That said, there is nothing stopping media organisations from commissioning a documentary on the story of the Bethany children and others whose stories should be heard.

Niall Meehan

Griffith College


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