Inquiry into 'exploitation' of orphans
Sir, – We welcome moves to include Westbank Orphanage, Greystones, in inquiries into institutional abuse in Northern Ireland (Pamela Duncan, Home News, May 14th). Children from Westbank were moved illegally over the Border and placed with unregistered foster carers. Children in the home and in fostering arrangements suffered physical, emotional and/or sexual abuse.
The orphanage was unique in that children were hardly, if ever, adopted. Some “children” remained in the home into their early 30s. The orphanage appears to have operated without proper supervision from the 1950s until it closed in 1998. In 2011 residential records were removed from the PACT counselling service by the Trustees of Westbank in Bray Gospel Hall.
Children whose mothers were from Northern Ireland gave birth in Dublin’s Bethany Home, Rathgar, before being transferred to Westbank Home. Bethany Home should, therefore, also be included in the Northern Ireland process.
219 Bethany children are buried in unmarked graves in Mount Jerome Cemetery in Dublin, while many who survived suffered lifelong illnesses and/or were sent into dysfunctional and abusive situations (including Westbank). Derek Leinster is one of those children. The State sanctioned neglect and death in Bethany when the deputy chief medical adviser, who was investigating reported abuse, stated in his report, “It is well known that illegitimate children are delicate and marasmic”. (“Marasmic” is another word for starving).
Mothers of three of the undersigned had children born in the Bethany Home.
Sydney in 1964 and Colm in 1967 were sent to Westbank. They were sent back and forth over the Border, sometimes on fundraising trips to perform for church groups. Sydney’s mother was from Northern Ireland. Three of her children were sent to Westbank, one of whom was born in Bethany.
Colm’s mother gave birth to two children in Bethany who were sent to Westbank. As it was policy in Westbank, children were not told their siblings were also there.
A number of religious denominations large and small, from the Church of Ireland to Presbyterians, Methodists, Free Presbyterians, Baptists, Plymouth Brethren, gospel halls, and the Orange Order, were involved in directing unmarried mothers to, and/or raising funds for, Bethany and Westbank.
This diffuse association makes it possible for churches to deny specific responsibility for what went on in institutions run by evangelical Christians. Leaders of the Church of Ireland, Presbyterian and Methodist congregations twice met privately to discuss Bethany, but did not issue a statement.
The Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, has given written commitments to TDs and MLAs from the Democratic Unionist Party, the Ulster Unionist Party, the Labour Party and from Sinn Féin, to do something, some time, about demands of former Bethany children for official recognition and for justice.
Bethany and Westbank operated in the Republic of Ireland. Perhaps an inquiry into their activities will begin in Belfast while Justice delays in Dublin. – Yours, etc,