Varadkar’s letter gives hope to Protestant home survivors

Names added Church Irelands Bethany mother baby home memorial
Bethany Homes Memorial in Mount Jerome Cemetery in Dublin

Campaigners for justice for mothers and babies interned in Tuam and other Catholic institutions have finally got the backing of the Irish government. But, to date, no high-ranking politician has ever acknowledged the grave injustices done to their peers in Church of Ireland establishments.

A letter from the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, last week both shocked and delighted 77-year-old Protestant mother-and-baby home survivor Derek Linster.

PJ Cunningham spoke to veteran campaigner Linster as he fights for justice for the survivors of the Bethany Home in Dublin and other Protestant homes and satellite homes.

“That is the first time either a minister or Taoiseach has got back to me with a meaningful response other than ‘Dear Sir, we note your letter’,” he claimed.

“His interest finally is like winning the lottery for us. In my opinion, in his short time he has managed to do more in bringing Ireland forward in a few years than anyone else over the past 100 years,” he added.

However he was less happy with the role Children’s Minister, Katherine Zappone is playing and accused her of “dragging her feet” on the issues he wants resolved.

“All Protestant homes should have been included with Catholic homes in the redress back in 2002 but ministers keep making excuses. They say we are included but as everyone knows that is rubbish.

“A few Protestant homes that were part of the State were included but not the vast majority. They try to fob us off by comparing apples with buses – they want to veil the truth we have uncovered about Bethany and other Protestant homes.

“The question I asked them now at the end of 2018 is – ‘Why drag it out even longer?’. If they think I’ll go away, that won’t work because I won’t budge until I get justice for the remaining half dozen or so survivors from the Bethany Home and for survivors from other Protestant homes as well. I will keep digging,” he said.

“I got information since 2003 and certainly since 2007 with the 101 documents that were the key to the locker proving the link between Bethany Home and the State. They showed how much they paid for various undertakings. They even paid for my out-nursing every week.”

The Irish state paid for two of the three memorials commemorating the Protestant babies and mothers who died in these homes but now there is a need to update because of the uncovering of further names bringing to 462 the total to be etched in stone in Mount Jerome.

There was also the discovery of names from four other Protestant-run homes. However, the government has refused to pay for this updating in data memorial.

Why over the past 100 years has the Irish State, the Church of Ireland and the Irish Church Mission (ICM) failed the survivors of Irish Protestant-run homes at every turn? These are the questions Bethany Home survivor Derek Linster wants to be answered.

Mother child homes inquiry take another year
Tuam babies memorial. Photo: Laura Hutton/

“I’m asking the authorities to stop playing games and give us the redress now that they’ve already given the Catholic survivors,” he stressed.


Yet, while acknowledgement and compensation have been granted to the larger religious community in the country, government ministers have shunned the cause of the hundreds of survivors at the Protestant homes who were left to rot or starve to death within the walls of these institutions.

Derek’s mother was only a teenager when she gave birth to him in a Bethany home in 1941. He was out-nursed for 15 shillings a week as part of a brutal upbringing by the State and has never received either compensation or an apology for the way he was treated.

He founded the Bethany Home Survivors Group in 1998 and almost single-handedly, has highlighted the horrendous suffering and death experienced by generations of forgotten children from Protestant Homes.

The Bethany Home, based in Rathgar in Dublin, was run by evangelical Protestants. Various records show that young babies at the home died from various conditions including marasmus (malnutrition), with survivors complaining of suffering from extreme neglect while a resident there.

Protestant children from the Bethany Home in Dublin were sold in lots of 100 for £1,000 to Canada on an on-going basis in the last century, rights campaigner Derek Leinster revealed this week.

He said that his research from around 1905-1922 had thrown up this scandalous discovery. “Unfortunately, this continued to happen right up to the time that the first Free State government took over back in 1922.

“We’d known they sold babies to Canada and the US for years – they were the two biggest places that took them. But it is only recently through research that we got an idea of the extent of the practice.”

“I was one who believed the Free State was a cause of all this but in actual fact they stopped the selling of children from 1922 when the new government started.

“The officials in Canada came back complaining that the supply of children had dried up. While the Bethany Home was the hub, there was also a number of other Protestant homes involved in these sales,” he pointed out.

“It’s sad to think that some of those children when they grew up ended up in the army in Canada and lost their lives that way. They missed being part of unmarked graves in Mount Jerome to get blown up in France instead,” he reflected ruefully.


Tuam Babies March. (Sam Boal/

While the self-determining and fledgeling Irish government actually stopped this trafficking in children, Mr. Leinster said the actual care of children got worse in the homes.

“The new government didn’t want the selling of the innocent souls to be on their CV but they did nothing to improve the situation for them in the countless homes,” he said, “in fact, the conditions got worse after they took over.”

Without over 20 years painstaking research on the issue of what happened in Protestant mother and bay homes, Mr. Leinster has turned over his groundwork to the Gardai.

“Yes, I’ve now passed on all my files to the Garda special division dealing with historical crimes and sexual abuse and they are currently examining the work I gave them. They were astonished with the massive amount of material I gave them.”

He said he had done so out of concern for justice for young children and mothers who had been shabbily treated while in their care.

“As far as I’m concerned, if they let a child die from starvation under the 1908 children’s act, then that is murder. If it were the present day we were dealing with, officials responsible back then would have been charged with war crimes against the children.

“We were known as the island of saints and scholars, but I wonder what those little defenceless individuals would think of such a description,” he queried.

The veteran campaigner said one of the great sadnesses he feels is how everything could have been resolved so much quicker if he had got the backing of the Church of Ireland in uncovering this scandal.

“They seem happy to have this perceived as a Catholic problem only. The truth is the Church of Ireland never really wanted to b associated with Protestant mother and child home problems. Even when we held memorials, no archbishops or bishops ever attended, it was the odd clergyman further down the pecking order.

Said Mr. Leinster: “We must get Christian burials paid by the State and Church for all of the Irish Children who are in  unmarked graves in Ireland – not just Catholic children.”

Mr. Leinster says that he is used to not getting the full backing from people as constantly his search for justice for the few surviving members of Bethany Home and other Protestant homes is deflected.

He was very disappointed that his efforts get to the European Court of Human Rights to hear of the treatment he suffered while in a bother and baby home were derailed on a legal front but the experience has made him all the more determined to get going. “We got there but my case wasn’t driven home as I would have liked,” he explained.

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