Ministers for education, health and justice have historically and continually, deliberately misrepresented the true function of the Bethany Home, by claiming that it was primarily a mother and baby home. However, children who were born in Bethany stayed there; they did not leave the home with their mothers.
While one of its roles was that of maternity, Bethany was much more than simply a mother and baby home. It was very much a children’s home, which not only kept (from birth) children up to the age of four years and more, it also admitted children from institutions all over Ireland. When mothers gave birth in the Bethany, they deserted, and left their children in the care of the State. We note that Section 44 of the Public Assistance Act, 1939, stipulates: (1) This section applies to a legitimate child both of whose parents are dead or who is deserted by both of its parents or (where one of its parents is dead) by its surviving parent, and to an illegitimate child whose mother is dead or who is deserted by its mother.
(2) Every public assistance authority shall have, in relation to every child to whom this section applies who has not attained the age of 16 years and is maintained by such authority, all the rights and powers of the parents of such child.
The Bethany Survivors Group holds a great deal of documentary evidence which demonstrates that public assistance authorities funded the upkeep of children in Bethany. The same authorities were aware that children in Bethany were suffering the most appalling treatment, and, that right up to the level of the Minister for Local Government, the State knew that hundreds of children were dying, due to the dreadful conditions which prevailed in Bethany.
This evidence has been furnished with ministers, and it is imperative that the State now acknowledges that it shirked its responsibility to care for children in Bethany in the past. Former residents of Bethany still carry the physical and mental wounds and injuries, due to the State not exercising its legal right, responsibility, powers and duty to protect them, when they were children resident in Bethany.
Over the past number of years the State has confronted its past failings in relation to various other institutions; please do not treat us differently.
Chair, Bethany Survivors Group