I recently received a letter from Justice Minister Alan Shatter’s office, following a query I made about the Magdalene Laundries and about financial contributions by the religious orders.
The letter stated: “The minister was disappointed that the religious congregations decided against making a financial contribution to the Magdalene Scheme. The minister is not in a position to compel the religious congregations to make a financial contribution.”
The letter said that it was “the Government’s view that they have a moral obligation to make a reasonable contribution to the fund required under the scheme” and that the minister had asked the four congregations involved to reconsider their response.
So far, all we have is a vow of silence.
This silence is delaying the most important issue here, which is that the Magdalene Survivors be swiftly and decently compensated.
Disgraced Cardinal Keith O'Brien blocked an independent inquiry into cases of historic sexual abuse a year before resigning over his own inappropriate sexual conduct, the Catholic Church has said.
The Bishops' Conference of Scotland commissioned a report into allegations of abuse in 2011 but it was halted the following year when Cardinal O'Brien, then president of the conference, withdrew his support.
The cardinal stepped down as Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh in February after three priests and a former priest made allegations of inappropriate behaviour against him.
He issued an apology, saying "there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me".
His opposition to an inquiry into Church-related abuse allegations was revealed by the retired archbishop of Glasgow, Mario Conti, in a letter to the Catholic newspaper The Tablet.
Mr Conti wrote: "It was the intention of all but one member of the Bishops' Conference to commission an independent examination of the historical cases we had on file in all of our respective dioceses and publish the results, but this was delayed by the objection of the then president of the conference; without full participation of all the dioceses the exercise would have been faulty."
A Church spokesman said: "This refers to a decision taken in 2011 by the Bishops' Conference of Scotland to commission an independent academic analysis of statistics relating to abuse and allegations of abuse over a 60-year period from 1952 to 2012.
"This project, with the cooperation of each of the eight dioceses in Scotland, started and ran until 2012, at which time, the then president of the conference, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, withdrew from the project. Without the participation of all the dioceses a 'national audit' was not possible so the analysis was stopped."
Following his resignation Cardinal O'Brien, 75, stated that he would play no further part in the public life of the Catholic Church in Scotland and has since left the country for a period of "spiritual renewal and reflection".
Monsignor Leo Cushley, who formerly worked on the Vatican's diplomatic team, was last month appointed his successor.
At a meeting in June, the Bishops' Conference of Scotland agreed to publish audits relating to the Church's eight dioceses since 2006.
The reports, to be published in the autumn, "will detail any complaints made about clergy, church workers, volunteers or anyone else and how these complaints were dealt with", the Church said.
The spokesman added: "Prior to 2006 there was no National Audit and so at present, renewed consideration is being given as to how the statistics which exist for the earlier years can be drawn together and published.
"The Church remains willing to engage in any process which allows lessons to be learned and survivors to be supported."
A police investigation is under way into allegations of historic sexual abuse at two Catholic boarding schools in the Scottish Highlands.
More than 20 people have come forward to say they were victims of physical and sexual abuse by a number of Benedictine monks who ran the Fort Augustus Abbey school and Carlekemp, its feeder school in East Lothian, from the 1950s to the 1990s. Both schools are now closed.
One of Scotland's most senior Catholics, Bishop of Aberdeen Hugh Gilbert, apologised to former pupils during mass at Fort Augustus church earlier this month.
He said: "It is a most bitter, shaming and distressing thing that in this former Abbey school a small number of baptised, consecrated and ordained Christian men physically or sexually abused those in their care.
"All that can be done should be done for the victims.
"The Catholic Church in Scotland has been addressing this issue increasingly effectively in recent years. We want to work with all public bodies who care for the young and vulnerable adults."
Chairperson of the Bethany Survivors Group, Derek Leinster told TheJournal.ie that the Taoiseach “must also take ownership of this problem”, adding that “up to now” Kenny has “ducked and weaved” on the issue of redress for Bethany Home survivors.
“I would appeal that he immediately sets up a small committee to do the right thing,” said Leinster. He said that “we feel if ever a Taoiseach in Ireland could solve this problem and would be brave enough to solve this problem, it would be him.”
Leinster said that survivors are due to regroup and meet with their solicitor on 6 August about what their next steps will be. “We’ve took what would have been the simplest route but they want us to take the longer and harder route. We are prepared to do that as well,” he said.
In the meantime we believe the political scene in Ireland is going to be changed. People in Ireland now cannot believe what is happening to a minority group.
Leinster said that the government never realised that the Bethany Home campaigners “were going to get so big” and that they are “getting bigger”, with supporters penning letters and emails about the issue.
“It’s amazing what’s happening in the background,” said Leinster.
He said the survivors are hoping to “find the quickest route to get justice” as they have already lost some members through age and ill health,
“i’m terrified that we could lose some more before we get it resolved,” said Leinster. “If we have to wait for another election it will be done by the next party.”
“We need people with courage and up to now we haven’t found something with courage. Up to now people have ran and put their heads in the sand.”
Leinster also described it as “devastating” and “unbelievable” that the group hasn’t received more support from the Church of Ireland.
THESE are the terrible words of a Bethany Home survivor to fellow survivor Derek Leinster, who has for many years led the campaign for redress.
There are only 20 known survivors of this all-purpose Protestant internment camp, in which some babies were born, some children were reared and some women offenders were held.
Most of the survivors bear emotional scars, many bear physical scars. Bethany was a kind of “Dying Rooms” facility for unwanted babies particularly between 1922 and 1949. Between 1935 and 1936, 40 babies died, an average of two a month from a baby population of 19.
In 2010 the unmarked graves of 219 Bethany babies were found in Mount Jerome cemetery by academic Niall Meehan. Other babies simply vanished, with no name and no trace. No, I don’t believe they vanished. I believe they can talk to us if we listen. I don’t believe these beautiful, innocent lives can just be snuffed out. Their voices tell us that every baby who is born deserves an equal chance of living a dignified life.
The overall infant mortality rate in the 1930s was 7%, though of course you would expect it to be far lower in an institution than in the homes of the poor. In Bethany it peaked at about 10%. The babies died of starvation, neglect and infectious disease. A good inspection would have found all this out and put it right..
But the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Winslow Stirling Berry, chose not to find against the home. He inspected it three times in 1939 and stated, “The institution is very well kept... It is well recognised that a large number of illegitimate children are delicate and marasmic.” Marasmic is another word for starved.
Derek Leinster just about escaped with his life. In 1944, when increased State funding finally ended the Dying Rooms regime, he was transferred to Cork Street Hospital with whooping cough, diphtheria and gastroenteritis. He struggles with life-long illness, not helped by a brutal “adoption” regime, which saw him working as a child labourer on the land. His arms are still scarred by the marks of the bushsaw.
Fellow survivor Noeleen Belton was “adopted” by elderly rural Protestants who worked her like a slave but never told her she wasn’t their child. Survivor Patrick Anderson McQuoid crafted his own escape from his “adoptive” home by living in a tree house. And by the way, his real name was Cecil but he was always described as “Paddy from the home”.
These are stories which make me feel physically sick. How dare the Government decide, as it did last week, that Bethany Home survivors do not deserve redress, “a decision based on an examination of the human suffering involved and no other criteria.” How dare they examine the level of human suffering involved here and find it lacking? They have not “walked the walk”. They can’t imagine what it is “not to be loved as a child.”
How can they hear these tales of children suffering and not want to reach out and help? How can they hear of babies dying needlessly and not want to honour their tiny lives with a formal apology and redress? This is why: they’re scared to because they think it would cost too much. The Government fears that granting the Bethany redress would open the door to the survivors of mother and baby homes.
Bethany was not a mother and baby home.
Eileen Macken was born in another home and came to Bethany to be reared. There were often twice as many babies as mothers at Bethany and it was described by the State as a “children’s home” in 1938.
Bethany kids did not go to industrial schools. This was because they were Protestants and there were none for them. Bethany was a multi-purpose Protestant institution and the slave trade designated “adoption” was just a cheaper form of industrial school for Protestants.
As the journalist Mary Raftery wrote in 2004, the Bethany survivors have been discriminated against twice: once in their care are babies and children and again, in terms of redress. But there is more to it than that. There is also a huge problem in the whole concept of redress. Because full redress there can never be. The huge gaping holes in these survivors lives can’t be filled with money.
They need and deserve care. The best medical care money can buy. The best psychiatric care, if they need it. They often need and always deserve housing and proper pensions. Then again, is there any elderly or medically disabled person in our society who does not deserve all of these?
But survivors of abuse need something more. They need their hurt to be understood. They need their hurt to be felt. This is why the Taoiseach’s apology to the Magdalenes — so long in coming — mattered so much. The problem is that we started to see money as the metric of how much the State felt survivors’ pain. Because that’s how we started the demeaning carry-on of working out who was hurt most. And that is why the Bethanys were so grossly insulted last week by a Government spokesman saying they hadn’t suffered enough to deserve redress.
That is why Victor Stevenson, a survivor of the appalling Westbank Home in Greystones, may get no apology from the State, which at least knew he was there. The home was run by the Plymouth Brethren and hope of getting redress from them is faint. So he is deemed not to have suffered at all. Although he was suffering so much that as a tiny child he jumped off a stage in a Gospel Hall in the North, ran into the crowd and gripped the trousered leg of the stranger who, by a miracle, became his adoptive father.
Even if the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Ireland liquidated all their property, the hard truth is that the present does not have enough money to repay every single debt from the past. Think of all the groups of people whose lives were blighted by State neglect.
Think of the girls forced to give up babies for adoption. Think of those babies, denied the love of their birth mothers. Think of the women who are destitute now because the Marriage Bar forced them to give up jobs they loved. Think of the thousands and thousands of elderly Irish citizens whose lives are blighted now by poor healthcare and poor education when they were children.
I know this is controversial, but I think we need to move away from confusing redress with apology. What there must be, instead, is total respect. Let no Irish government ever again say to people who have suffered as the Bethany survivors, that, on balance, they have not suffered enough.
They need a full and sincere apology from this State. They need good State pensions, housing, if necessary and the best medical care available.
All the Protestant denominations who were involved in the running and use of Bethany — led by the Church of Ireland — need to get off the fence. And those poor dead babies buried in Mount Jerome deserve a memorial which is not “modest” as the Government suggests, but so beautiful and striking that it ensures we never, ever forget them.
At 31, Paul Graham found out he was adopted. Years later he found out more. Today he’s an angry man, writesDanielle McGrane
By Danielle McGrane
PAUL GRAHAM is angry: “I was born in that home through no fault of my own. I was abused in that State and the State was supposed to be regulating that, and they didn’t.”
Graham was 31 when he learned he had been adopted, but it was years before he knew the circumstances. was able to put all the pieces of his life’s puzzle together. “I used to cry when I saw kids being abused on the TV and I couldn’t understand why it affected me so much. My doctor also said my leaking heart valve was a sign I’d had malnutrition as a child, and my yellow teeth were a sign I hadn’t been getting the right stuff,” he says.
After Paul had emigrated from his native Belfast to Sydney in Australia, he began investigating his past. He had been born to a single mother in Dublin’s Bethany House.
“I was told, when I was applying for my passport to come to Australia, that I wasn’t a British citizen, just a British ‘subject’. It wasn’t until I found out I had been born in Bethany House that this made sense,” he says.
Graham, 74, is in the early stages of dementia, but recounts lucidly his childhood and the many awakenings he experienced along the way throughout his life. “My long-term memory is fine, I just can’t tell you what I had for dinner last night,” he says.
Paul’s journey of discovery began when he joined Alcoholics Anonymous. He drank to enter a sort of fantasy world, as a form of escape. “I wasn’t like other kids. I was always frightened. My adopted mother was a terrible woman. She ran a flower shop and had a car — a big deal in those days — but spent her time drinking. She used to get drunk all the time and she would beat me. At about 12 years old, she would wake me up at 1am to go out and get her whiskey. My father was bedridden, but my mother was about 30 years younger than him.”
Like many others who began their life in Bethany House, Paul was sexually abused as a child after he was adopted, Before he joined the Navy, he was sexually abused by an acquaintance of his mother’s. “He was a strong Protestant, went to his church every day, but that didn’t stop him doing what he did to me.”
The man has since died and Paul says it would be unfair to do anything about it now. “It wouldn’t be fair on his family. I often thought about it throughout my life. It ruined my life. It was always there. But I just thought ‘what do you do with these people?’ I haven’t spoken about it with my wife and kids. I think it would be hard for them, too,” he says.
At the age of 14, Paul sought his escape and joined the navy. His wife, Hilary, was a cigarette packer and they began as penpals, when Paul was 17, eventually marrying when he was 21. “She was the only person who ever loved me,” he says. They lived together in Belfast and had three children, but struggled. Drink had taken hold of his life.
“By the time we came out to Australia, with our three kids, I was 31.”
Paul worked in a sawdust factory, but spent his free time drinking, to shut out the horrors of his childhood.
“I kept getting picked up by the police and I dried out in the hospital on a fair few occasions. But, on one hospital visit, I met a guy, who got me going to AA,” he says.
Paul sobered up, got a well-paid job in a chemical factory and focused on doing work within his community. He was elected to the local council, in Mascot, a suburb of Sydney.
“I got elected as deputy mayor here — and I was the first non-Australian elected to the local council,” he says.
While it seemed on the outside that things were going well for Paul, his feelings of emptiness hadn’t subsided. “I just kept crying if I saw children being abused on TV. So I went to my doctor and he told me to see a psychologist. The psychologist said to me ‘I’m going to tell you now, you were abused as a baby, whether sexually or physically, I don’t know’.” His doctor backed this up, saying his leaking heart valve was probably a sign he had malnutrition or consumption as a child.”
In 1986, Paul hired a lawyer in Sydney who began delving. Through an organisation called PACT, Paul found out about his family. “My mother was 24 and employed in domestic service when she was sent down south to Bethany House to have me. It seemed, at the time, Bethany House was the kind of place where you could just pick up any baby if you wanted to adopt one,” he says.
PACT said Paul’s then found out, through the agency, that he had an aunt who wanted to meet him, though his birth mother was dead, and that his aunt wanted to meet him. “I travelled to the offices of PACT in Dublin, and they told me I could pick up the phone to my aunt straight away. It was great.”
Paul began to find out who he was, and where he came from. “I knew I was born in a place called Bethany House, so when I was researching it on the internet, I came across Derek Leinster, the chairperson of the Bethany Survivors Group, who had also been born there, around the same time as me.”
“Derek started to write to me and I started to remember some things about the place — about feeling starving — and I kept having flashbacks. I reckon I spent four years there now, because I can remember, briefly, flashbacks to the long rooms with rows of beds. Something happened in the Bethany Home, which I couldn’t remember, but my doctor told me that and my psychologist told me that — it made me understand why I was the way I was. I ended up in a bloody mess — there had to be a reason for it,” he says
Paul found out more about Bethany House and the fact that 219 babies born there were found buried in unmarked graves in Mount Jerome cemetery three years ago.
“I want the Government to build a memorial for those kids. We were under the care of the State,” he says. “It was supposed to be regulated. This man came out from the Department of Social Services every month and wrote glowing reports, yet 219 kids died. I was born in that home, through no fault of my own. The State was supposed to be regulating that and they didn’t.”
The government offer of modest funding for a memorial for the victims of Bethany House, and the decision not to introduce a redress scheme for survivors, has incensed Paul. He isn’t looking for compensation, but an acknowledgement, and justice for Derek, who has been championing their cause. “I thought the language was absolutely disgusting to say the word ‘modest’. It really upset me,” he says.
“I really think it’s the Protestant/Catholic thing again. It’s the Government saying ‘We’ll do it for the Catholics, but not for the Protestants’. We should probably start a class action against the State and the Church,” he says.
“Even if they said ‘yes, there were problems there, we will erect a memorial’ ... it’s just that word ‘modest’.”
Paul knows he was one of the lucky ones, having survived, but he wants recognition that he was failed by the State and acknowledgement for those who tragically lost their lives. “I thought I was part of the State of Ireland,” he says.
“It’s very upsetting, and upsetting for Derek, who has worked all these years on this.”