Bethany survivors deserve redress

The Taoiseach or perhaps his civil servants and those in the Department of Justice appear worried that including Bethany Home in a redress scheme similar to that offered to Magdalene women opens up the state to further claims from broadly comparable Roman Catholic institutions.

There is one difference.

Bethany Home was treated differently because it was a Protestant institution and instructed by the state to confine its activities to that community.

The instruction, on pain of refusal of funding, was delivered in 1939 by Dr Winslow Sterling Berry, Deputy Chief Medical Adviser at the Department of Local Government and Public Health.

It arose because allegations of neglect occasioned three visits to Bethany by Berry in 1939. More Bethany children suffered and died from 1935-1939 than in any other five-year period.

The medical adviser’s response was to note that, “The institution is kept very well... it is well recognised that a large number of illegitimate children are delicate and marasmic [starving]”. He then indicated the state’s fundamental problem with Bethany, its ‘proselytising activities’.

By way of contrast some years later, James Deeney as Chief Medical Adviser from 1944 inspected the Roman Catholic Bessborough home and observed that it, “seemed to be well run and spotlessly clean. I could not make out what was wrong; at last I took a notion and stripped all the babies and, unusually, for a chief medical adviser, examined them.

“Every baby had some purulent infection of the skin and all had green diarrhoea, carefully covered up … without any legal authority I closed the place down and sacked the matron, a nun, and also got rid of the medical officer. The deaths had been going on for years. They had done nothing about it”.

The 1939 medical adviser’s priority was regulating sectarianism. Deeney’s was regulating welfare.

Bethany children continued to die, martyrs to the cause of the State’s privatised sectarian welfare and detention system.

The survivors, because of this system, suffered illness, neglect, abuse and exclusion, and therefore deserve redress.

Niall Meehan

Secretary Bethany Survivors

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