Protestant institutions are still absent from redress proceedings

Background: Bethany Home survivors are excluded from the compensation scheme

People lay flowers in support of the Bethany Survivors Group, at Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin, in 2010. File photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

People lay flowers in support of the Bethany Survivors Group, at Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin, in 2010. File photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

 

Following the Tuam discoveries, attention has focused again on the moral and legal responsibilities of the State and of the Catholic Church, who actively colluded in a brutal, coercive and abusive regime.

With justification, many have blamed an intolerant confessional State dominated by a peculiarly puritanical strain of Catholicism for this system.

But what about those who suffered abuse and neglect without any Catholic involvement? Where are they?

This week’s Comptroller and Auditor General report details the cost of compensating victims of abuse in 18 Catholic-run institutions.

There is no mention of the similar treatment suffered by children in institutions such as the Bethany Home in Dublin 6.

Thanks to the work of Derek Leinster and the Bethany Survivors Group, there has been some recognition of their experience, with a memorial erected in Mount Jerome Cemetery three years ago at the unmarked graves of 222 Bethany children buried between 1922 and 1949.

It now seems that number is even higher. But, so far, there has been no explicit acknowledgment offered or redress given to survivors.

“We wouldn’t even have got that memorial from the State except for the fact that the minister, Alan Shatter, was from a Jewish background,” says Leinster, who was born in Bethany in 1941.

This week, Minister for Children Katherine Zappone told the Dáil she would undertake “a scoping exercise’’ to examine expanding the Commission on Mother and Baby Homes’ terms of reference to cover all institutions, agencies and individuals involved with Ireland’s unmarried mothers and their children.

Might this inquiry offer some hope for the Bethany survivors? Leinster is sceptical, predicting that it will take years and end up restating facts which he and his group have already fought to establish.

“What’s the purpose of that?” he asks. “It’s so none of us will be alive when it’s finished. I’m 76.”

He has good grounds for scepticism. Bethany was not among the institutions listed in the C&AG report, despite repeated attempts to have it included in the redress scheme.

At first, the State denied liability, saying the home had not been subject to its oversight or inspection.

When the survivors produced documents proving the contrary, the State asserted that Bethany was classified as a mother and baby home, and therefore fell outside the remit of the scheme, which was for reformatories and industrial schools.

Responsibility

The campaign has also struggled to get the Church of Ireland and other Protestant denominations to accept their responsibility for the treatment of the children in Bethany and other homes.

Consequently, survivors of Protestant institutions have been denied access to any redress, or even recognition.

“There’ve been seven commissions since 1970, and only one has included the Protestant experience,” Leinster says.

There still appears to be an official reluctance to engage with this issue as thoroughly as has happened with the Catholic institutions.

Leinster is critical not just of Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin Michael Jackson’s response but also of President Higgins’s failure to engage with the issue.

“I think the President is not so sure of his ground on this issue,” he says.

The number of affected people still alive is minuscule.

Derek Leinster estimates there are just five – so the costs are insignificant compared with the amounts spent on Catholic redress.

What needs to happen, according to Leinster, is for “the State to do something for the survivors, quickly and now”.

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