Northern Ireland

Bethany survivors want justice after Magdalene apology

Media captionBBC Newsline's Dublin correspondent Shane Harrison reports

The Irish government's decision to apologise to the women who worked in the Magdalene Laundries - workhouses run by nuns - has prompted members of the Bethany Home Survivors Group group to say they also want justice.

Magdalene laundries were places for what were described as "fallen women".

They were workhouses to where the Irish authorities sent Catholic girls and women considered "troubled" to do unpaid manual work.

The last one closed in 1996.

Bethany Home was a Protestant place for "fallen women" and unmarried mothers. It closed in the 1960s.

The building, in the well-to-do area of Rathgar in south Dublin, is now an independent private old folks home and has no religious link, but it still casts a shadow over the lives of the 20 or so still alive who were born and spent their early years there.

Among them is 71-year-old Derek Linster.

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.

Hunger, he adds, was ever present: "I often remember going into a potato field at night and taking the potatoes but placing back the stalk to make it look as if they hadn't been disturbed."

More than 220 children died in Bethany between 1922 and 1949 - 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 other conditions associated with poverty.

"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."

Derek Linster is back in Ireland this week campaigning on behalf of the Bethany Survivors Group.

He is delighted that the Magdalene women have got the apology they sought; now he says he wants justice for people like himself.

Earlier this week in the Dail, the Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny told Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams that Alan Shatter, the minister for justice, "is looking at the question of Bethany, which wasn't a laundry but dealt with the health and welfare of young women and their children".

The Bethany Survivors Group are reasonably pleased with those comments and have been given to understand by another government minister that Mr Shatter will make his decision known on their case in a matter of weeks.

Image caption More than 200 bodies of children were found in an unmarked grave in Mount Jerome cemetery

Mr Linster said: "I want to be treated, like anyone from the Protestant minority, to be treated as equally as if they had been Catholics.

"Not a penny more and not a penny less. I also want a memorial in Mount Jerome cemetery to remember those children that the state allowed to die and be dumped."

Just as there is pressure on the nuns to help compensate those women in the Magdalene laundries, there is also pressure on the Church of Ireland and the Protestant churches to help the Bethany Home group.

The Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Michael Jackson, has said there needs to be a conversation between the churches and the state about redress or compensation for the Bethany survivors, but he declined to answer directly whether the Church of Ireland should contribute to any such scheme.

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