Protestant survivors of mother and baby homes await justice

‘We missed out because of our religion ... we’re still being discriminated against’

Derek Leinster, founder of the Bethany Home Survivors Group, at a memorial ceremony for the children and babies who died at the home, at Mount Jerome cemetery in July 2015.   Photograph: Sara Freund/The Irish Times

Derek Leinster, founder of the Bethany Home Survivors Group, at a memorial ceremony for the children and babies who died at the home, at Mount Jerome cemetery in July 2015. Photograph: Sara Freund/The Irish Times

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It has been 200 days since the publication of the report from the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes.

Bethany Home survivor Derek Leinster doesn’t know how many more days he has left to wait for a semblance of justice.

Having devoted over two decades to the fight for recognition of what happened to survivors of Protestant-run institutions, he fears now that he may not live long enough to benefit from any redress that might eventually come their way. “The people who told me 22 years ago I’d never get justice were right.”

Speaking over the phone from his home in Rugby in England, Leinster sounds uncharacteristically deflated and exhausted. He turned 80 on July 3rd, and has been having treatment for ongoing health problems in recent weeks.

The last 6½ months have had a “devastating effect” physically and psychologically, he says. Entering into the commission, “we thought [the State] recognised they had done wrong, and were going to do right by us.”

Following the report’s publication, it had initially been promised that a redress scheme would be announced by the end of May. This was extended to the end of July. Then this week it was announced that it won’t be approved until September at the earliest. It is understood that an inter-departmental report on the proposed scheme has yet to be completed.

Kicking the can

Leinster believes the Government is kicking the can down the road. What has happened in the 200 days since the publication of the mother and baby homes report is “a re-run of 2002” when survivors of the Bethany Home were excluded from the Residential Institutions Redress Act, he says.

“It’s ‘we might do this; we might do that; we’re going to do the other’. In the meantime, we’re getting older, sicker and running out of space. I don’t have much time left, that’s for sure. I’ve had too much of a hard life. Being left to rot as a child isn’t something that does you any good.”

He says he will not be part of any redress scheme that offers less than was given to survivors of Catholic institutions in 2002.

For him now, this fight is not about compensation, but about equality and the State and Church of Ireland taking responsibility for the wrongs that were done to him and other survivors. “I will not accept one penny less. I’m not prepared to be treated as a second-class citizen because I’m a Protestant.”

What he wants is a fast-track approach for survivors of the Protestant homes excluded from the earlier scheme to begin without delay. “My plan is to try and get support that we should get a fast-track redress now – not tomorrow, not next year, but today – so that the few people who missed out and are still left alive can benefit.

Members of the Bethany Survivors’ Campaign and Survivors of Protestant Children’s Institutions Niall Meehan, John Hill, Derek Leinster, Colm Begley and Victor Stevenson at Leinster House in November 2014. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times
Members of the Bethany Survivors’ Campaign and Survivors of Protestant Children’s Institutions Niall Meehan, John Hill, Derek Leinster, Colm Begley and Victor Stevenson at Leinster House in November 2014. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

“We missed out because of our religion. We were discriminated against and we’re still being discriminated against. Even in 2002, you were only talking about a handful [of survivors], but they’ve done everything they could to stop us getting that redress. I know they want me dead because once I’m gone they won’t have to worry about the Protestant issue,” he says.

Twin-track approach

When the anger fades from his voice, he mostly sounds tired. He believes the commission’s twin-track approach was fundamentally flawed from the outset.

Its investigations committee held 195 hearings involving 64 former named residents of the institutions, including Leinster. A further 550 people appeared before the controversial Confidential Committee.

Two lead challenges to the commission’s final report have been fixed for hearing later this year. Those challenges centre on section 34 of the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004, and claims that individuals who were unnamed but allegedly identifiable in the final report should have been given the opportunity to see the draft and make submissions on it.

Leinster continues to explore legal options himself. But he is acutely conscious of time running out since his wife died a few years ago. “For my wife’s sake, I want to think I haven’t wasted 20 years doing this and getting nowhere.”

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