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Friday 23 February 2018

Government accused of discrimination against Protestants over Bethany home

Michael McHugh

THE Irish Government has been accused of discriminating against Protestants by failing to pay compensation for mistreatment at a children's home.

Up to 219 mainly illegitimate children born at the Bethany mother and baby centre between 1922 and 1949 died.

Survivor and campaigner Derek Linster said many were victims of starvation and lack of care.

"Our Government is spending €1.3bn helping the Catholic abused. It is sectarian but it was done in a way that would not look like that," he said.

Irish Justice Minister Alan Shatter is considering calls for an investigation.

Former residents are angry that they have been excluded from an inquiry into allegations of abuse at the Catholic-run Magdalene Laundries. Last year a UN committee against torture criticised the Irish Government for refusing to acknowledge the pain and abuse suffered by women incarcerated in the laundries, the last of which closed in 1996, and called for a thorough investigation and compensation scheme.

Mr Shatter said there were no immediate plans to extend the McAleese probe to include Bethany.

Mr Linster, chairman of Bethany Survivor's Group, alleged that the government of the day ignored what inspectors of the Dublin home were saying.

"The state said because these children were born out of wedlock they were delicate. It was discrimination from day one," Mr Linster added.

The Dublin home was run by the Church of Ireland and closed in 1970. Mr Linster said it was a place where women, sometimes prostitutes or alcoholics, had their illegitimate daughters.

"The Bethany home was also a detention centre for adults convicted of anything from petty crimes to murder; it was also a maternity home," he added.

He said the children died from starvation and lack of care.

"Had they been given proper care a lot of those children would have lived a normal life, that was denied to them."

Mr Linster was committed to the home in the 1940s, aged three. He survived bouts of illness during his time there and represents around 24 people seeking compensation and recognition. They want a memorial built at the nearby Mount Jerome graveyard. In 2010, 40 infants from the home were discovered in unmarked graves in the cemetery.

Mr Linster said: "There are people in terrible poverty who have survived this ordeal but because of lack of education and what was done to them as children, a lot of them lack confidence and are on the breadline. They have never had a chance to make a secure living for themselves."

He added: "Just because we are a minority group does not mean they (the Government) need to treat us any differently. We are citizens of Ireland, all we want is to be treated exactly the same as other citizens."

Mr Shatter gave his assurance to William Irwin, a Co Armagh-based DUP member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, who wants Bethany included in the Magdalene inquiry. The ministers press office refused to comment.

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