By David Hennessy
Derek Leinster, who has campaigned on behalf of survivors of mother and baby homes for sixteen years, has warned that victims of the institutions may not be around for any compensation unless the government take fast action.
The discovery of a mass grave on the grounds of a former mother and baby home in Tuam has led to the announcement of an official inquiry but its terms of reference will not be decided before the end of the month.
The Commission of Inquiry will have full statutory powers. The inquiry will look at the high mortality rate of children in these homes, and Ireland’s Minister for Children Charlie Flanagan said he also hoped to look at allegations of forced adoption and controversial vaccine trials.
Minister Charlie Flanagan also announced last week that anyone who wishes to make a submission should contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The terms of reference of the inquiry will be determined by an inter-departmental review which will report to cabinet on June 30.
Minister Flanagan has previously voiced concern that the inquiry could turn into a “bottomless quagmire” and his wish that terms of reference remained realistic.
The Adoption Rights Alliance and the Justice for Magdalene Group have called for the inquiry to include the Magdalene Laundries and the county homes.
The Minister will be meeting with a number of advocacy groups and members of other political parties to discuss the terms of reference.
Derek Leinster told The Irish World that time is running out if people who suffered horrible conditions in these institutions, many of whom are already in their sixties or older, are to receive justice: “They should set up a system where people should be able to go and get justice and have their case as a fast track situation. We don’t want people who have information to be holding up people who haven’t and we don’t want people who haven’t got any information to be holding up people who have.
“I think a system should be set up where those people who have got their documents now should be dealt with now, there should also be a system for those who haven’t got records to assist them get their records and to deal with their cases in that order.
“I do not think it’s going to help anybody to have all this thrashing around and taking years to happen.”
Time is also running out for mothers to meet the children they were forced to give up if they are to explain they did not abandon them through choice: “I think it would be important to set up what survivors want, some survivors would want to meet and some survivors won’t. They’re all affected very differently and it’s how you accommodate that as sensitively as possible.”
The Bethany Home and Westbank Home of Greystones were not included on The Redress Bill of 2002 which was set up for the victims of child abuse in residential institutions: “I want all survivors to be treated properly and to be treated no differently then had they been on the redress bill in 2002.”
After 16 years of campaigning, Mr Leinster unveiled a memorial to the 222 children who died in the Bethany Home in April of this year. A campaign for a similar memorial at Tuam is already being led by historican Catherine Corless. While he welcomes the announcement of an inquiry, he admits to being “very sceptical” due to past setbacks like the Bethany Home’s non-inclusion in the Redress Bill of 2002.
Leinster was born in the Protestant Bethany Home and points out that the treatment in all the homes, either Catholic or Protestant, were equally inhumane: “These children were just dumped, they were classed as nothing more than muck and allowed to rot and people watched while they rotted and while they became extremely ill, instead of getting them to a hospital or a doctor.
“This is the tragedy, this is the crime, those people should be rounded and dragged before a court because they were there doing a job. If they weren’t able to do the job, they should have walked away and left it to somebody who could. The government should never have allowed it. It’s an Irish holocaust, what has happened. It was no different than that.
“We were betrayed by our country, our flag, all the constitutions of Ireland, the 1908 Children’s Act, every international law that was ever invented to protect children.
“It would have been much more humane had they actually killed the babies in one go but they allowed those babies to suffer a horrific death through lack of care and the lack of food and the lack of any civilisation. Those people need prosecuting.”
Derek Leinster was born in Bethany just as the death rate peaked. State inspectors found neglect, and babies dying from diseases linked to malnutrition. Derek believes it was only a long stretch in Cork Street Isolation Hospital that saved him. His records show he had diphtheria, and gastroenteritis: “The experts in Britain reckon that for a child to be left in the state that I was in at three years of age, I would have to be abandoned on a manure heap and left. That’s not a good advert for those people.
“When I went to the nursed out family at the age of seven and a half months old my head was a mass of puss, blood and scabs and I looked as if I had been erected from a coffin.
“A lot of people will say ‘that was the way it was’, it wasn’t. An awful lot of people raised their own offspring as their own children (despite not being married) and be damned to what people thought. For people to say ‘everybody done that’, it was not the case. Thousands of people in Ireland looked after their offspring.”
Derek raises the issues of the fathers who aren’t being mentioned as he witnessed some who were only too willing to take responsibility but were not allowed to: “What about the men in all of this? You don’t hear what happened to them. There were cases where these homes, Protestant and Catholic, tried to stop some of these fathers having the children. Some of them in the Bethany Home made a run for it to get out the gates with the boyfriend and their newborn baby. It was these churches that made all of this. The people of Ireland wouldn’t have wanted it.”
For more information, go to: http://derekleinster.com/.