Northern Ireland

Bethany Home children angry at Irish authorities

Image caption Bethany House is now a private nursing home

Next month voters in the Irish Republic will go to the polls in a referendum on childrens' rights. But the state and Christian churches have all been accused of child neglect and some Protestants feel discriminated against in the area of compensation.

Near a busy road in the well-to-do Rathgar area of south Dublin is what was until the 1960s the Protestant-run Bethany Home.

The building is now an independent private old folks home and has no religious link, but decades ago it was a place for unmarried Protestant mothers, described at the time as "fallen women", and their children.

Among the children was 71-year-old Derek Leinster.

Now living in Rugby, in the English Midlands, he describes Bethany as a "place of hell", but not as bad as the home of the dysfunctional adoptive parents in County Wicklow he was sent to when he was nearly four.

He said he left them unable to read, write or tell the time of day.

"I grew up with starvation, was treated more or less as a dog," he said.

"I was that hungry that I remember going into a farmer's field and picking spuds so that we could have a meal and putting the roots back in. Well-off people in the area knew the state we were in but they walked around as if it never happened."

Sixty-five-year-old Patrick Anderson-McQuoid also spent his early days at Bethany.

Recently recovered medical notes suggest that as a child he was malnourished, had soft bones because of rickets and needed sunlight.

Now living in Drumshambo, County Leitrim, he was adopted by a Church of Ireland family at Milltown near Belfast when he was three and they were in their 50s.

As an adult he twice made contact with his birth mother who had since married and had other children but she did not want to know.

That caused a deep depression that lasted two years and required counselling.

He said: "That was very very painful to the point where I had to go back and dig out from within all the heartache and all the pain that I had hidden away and hadn't come to terms with about who I was, why I was here, who did this.

"I was angry, I was angry with my birth mother, I was angry with my adoptive parents for what they had done to me head-wise. They meant well but they didn't know how to look after a three-year-old child."

Both men survived, but more than 220 children died in Bethany between 1922 and 1949: that's one death every six weeks.

Niall Meehan, the Head of Journalism at Griffith College found the unmarked grave of 219 Bethany Home children at Mount Jerome cemetery near Harold's Cross in south Dublin.

He said none of the children had been hospitalised and they died mainly from neglect, malnutrition and tuberculosis.

Compensation

"There are 219 nameless, faceless unwanted so called illegitimate children in this graveyard," he said.

"And they need to become recognised by the state in which they lived, and the churches they were members of. They suffered abuse and they suffered neglect. This was avoidable at the time and this needs to be recognised now."

Those who survived Bethany said they feel discriminated against by the Irish government.

After the many revelations of child physical and sexual abuse over decades in various Catholic-run institutions the Irish government set up a compensation scheme for the survivors of, amongst others, industrial schools and orphanages.

Image caption The graves of Bethany Home children were found in Mount Jerome cemetery

The Irish government denies there is discrimination on grounds of religion.

A spokeswoman at the Department of Education, which is overseeing the compensation process, said Bethany was excluded because it was deemed "not to qualify" since it was a home for mothers and children.

An emotional Derek Leinster is far from impressed.

He said: "Everybody can feel the pain. Why doesn't the Irish government and the Irish civil service do the same. Our pain is no different from being a Catholic.

"We're all human beings. Let's be fair about it, whether you were a Catholic or a Protestant, nobody is ever going to be compensated to the full extent for what happened to them in their lives."

The survivors, who want support in their fight for compensation and to erect a memorial in Mount Jerome for the forgotten children, also say they feel ignored and rejected by the Protestant churches.

The Church of Ireland disputes that.

A spokesman said that the Archbishop of Dublin, Michael Jackson, had met survivors and afterwards had written to Ruairi Quinn, the Irish education minister, asking him to reconsider "as a matter of urgency" the group's plea for access to compensation.

He also said the archbishop "was open" to supporting their request for a memorial and had personally sought to make people in his dioceses aware of the memorial fund.

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