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Bethany Home survivors blame State for deaths

Abuse survivors of the Protestant Bethany Home care institution are to accuse the State of being complicit in the manslaughter of 63 children at the home when they meet Justice Minister Alan Shatter on Tuesday.

The manslaughter charge now being made by the Protestant survivors represents a major escalation in their battle with the Government for inclusion in the State's redress scheme for abuse victims.

Bethany Home was a Protestant evangelical institution for unmarried mothers to give birth, before being forced to abandon their children, and was a place of detention for Protestant women on remand, or convicted of crimes from petty theft up to infanticide.

In 2010 it was discovered that 219 Bethany children were buried in unmarked graves in Mount Jerome Cemetery.

The 15 remaining Bethany survivors have been campaigning for inclusion in the State scheme, which has to date run to almost €1.5bn, on the grounds the State had a role in the neglect and abuse they suffered during their stay in the Bethany Home in Rathgar, Dublin.

But previously, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn reviewed the papers on the home and found no basis to revisit a decision not to include it within the redress scheme.

Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act include inspection reports from the time that now reveal the appalling conditions children at the Bethany Home were in. Survivors had been told back in 2000 by the Departments of Health and Education that documents relating to the abuse suffered by victims at the Bethany Home didn't exist.

However, on foot of pressure from the survivors, documents have since emerged which reveal how reports were censored in the Forties to prevent some of the more damning findings from emerging.

It has been established how a report was altered to remove mention of a child that was dying. "This baby appeared to me to be in a dying condition. As I knew the baby was suffering I had the dispensary doctor telephoned to ask him to call to see the child," it had said.

The documents show how the reference to dying was amended later by an official to read: "The baby appeared to me in a very low condition. It was dirty and neglected and sore and inflamed from a filthy napkin, which cannot have been changed for a very long time."

Victims are adamant the State was complicit in the deaths of 63 children at the Bethany Home between 1940 and 1949 given it partially paid for their care, and paid for many children to be "nursed out".

According to records, 86 Bethany children died in the five years after 1935 but following a major public controversy in 1939, no child died from April 14, 1939, until April 21, 1940.

The documents show that Bethany children stopped dying when the Irish Independent published criticism of the home on April 17, 1939. As a result of the expose, sick children were removed to hospital.

Three-month-old George Egan was the last to die in 1939 on April 14. He was buried unmarked in a Mount Jerome Cemetery grave, just like 219 other Bethany children, the documents have established.

"The State's reaction to public exposure of hospitalisation of Bethany children in August 1939 was to stamp out the controversy that led to the removal of sick children, not the illness and death it exposed," survivors claim.

Following the scandal, an investigation of the Bethany Home was conducted by the deputy chief medical adviser of the Department of Local Government and Public Health, Dr Winslow Sterling Berry. The released documents show that Dr Berry "privately undermined reports" of neglect and "successfully covered up criticism", survivors say.

On foot of his report, the Bethany Home agreed to Dr Berry's demand that it pass a "No Catholics" resolution in order to continue its public funding, and within six months deaths were once again occurring at the Bethany Home.

"These deaths were avoidable because deaths that otherwise would have happened in 1939-40 were avoided by human intervention," says survivors spokesman Derek Leinster.

"The State is responsible for these deaths and for the severe illness of children like me who nearly died in 1944."

Irish Independent