Check against delivery



I move amendment number 1 to delete all the words after "Dail Eireann" and substitute the following:


"notes that Bethany Home evolved from two private charities the Dublin Midnight Mission and Female Refuge and the Dublin Prison Gate Mission which predate the existence of the State and that in 1934 it moved from Blackhall place to Orwell Road, Rathgar, Dublin and remained there until it ceased operation in 1972; 

notes that it operated as a charitable trust and carried out a range of functions but in 1940 the High Court found that the majority of cases it dealt with were maternity cases; 

notes that it was registered as a maternity home and was inspected under the Maternity Homes Act 1934; 

notes that it was not an enclosed institution; 

acknowledges that it operated at a time when poverty was widespread, infant mortality rates were high and that life for those children without family support could involve serious hardship; 

recognises that those who were as children in homes and institutions have a right to access their personal records and
commends the efforts being made to preserve and make more accessible relevant records.".


Let me start off by acknowledging the hardships faced by those who born in Bethany Home. Up to the 1950's, poverty and the diseases associated with poverty were widespread in Ireland. Infant mortality rates were high. Children were not cherished the way they are today and were often seen as a burden or a form of cheap labour. There was no provision for legal adoption.

Life was tough for many and not least if you were a child without the support of a family. Many of those who were born in Bethany only spent a very short time there, sometimes less than a month before being fostered out. Others spent longer but the indications are that infants would not be kept there once they reached the age of four or five.

What was Bethany home ?
Bethany Home closed down in 1972 and as a result of the elapse of time there are very few if any comprehensive first hand accounts of the Home. However in its day, it must have been a well known charity particularly to the readers of the Irish Times which carried notices of its annual meetings and gift days.

What I have been able to establish is that it would appear that some time before 1922, the Dublin Midnight Mission and Female Refuge, founded in 1898 or earlier, "merged" with another charity,
the Dublin Prison Gate Mission which was established in 1876 by a Quaker woman to assist women recently released from prison. By 1922 the merged charities were known as the Bethany Home and were based in Blackhall place in Dublin not in Rathgar as put forward incorrectly in the Sinn Féin motion. It was 1934 before Bethany Home moved into premises in Orwell Road, Rathgar, Dublin and remained there until it ceased operation in 1972 and the home was put up for sale.

The indications are that it was run as a charitable trust established by Trust Deed. It would also appear that the trustees were predominantly people from a Protestant background but not necessarily with any formal link to a particular denomination. It was run by a management committee (voluntary).


A court affidavit dated 20 January 1940 by an honorary secretary of the Bethany Home stated that " It is well known to the Public that all the Members of the Managing Committee are and always have been Protestants..." but confirmed that up to 1939 the home accepted all women including Catholic clients. All those resident there were however expected to participate in evening prayers of a Protestant ethos. In 1945 the Department of Justice was informed that all Protestant sects were represented on the Committee of Management of Bethany. In 1938 it had 6 full time staff including a nurse and midwife.

The role of the Bethany Home reflected the aspirations of the founding charities and was mainly for distressed women from the least well off sections of society. It was not limited to a single purpose but the High Court found in a civil case in 1940, referring to Bethany's annual report, that 73 out of 79 cases helped were maternity - that is 90% of its work.
Department of Health records confirm that in the 1930's the Bethany Home was registered as a maternity home and was inspected under the Maternity Homes Act 1934. Records for 1952 show that after the 3 main maternity hospitals, Bethany was the biggest registered maternity home in Dublin by bed size. The 1938 inspection records indicate that in addition to being a maternity home it was also a children's home for children up to 3 years. It is reasonable to presume that for most of its operation in this State, it was primarily a mother and baby home.

Other work the Home engaged in, included taking in unmarried mothers and their babies. In line with the purpose of one of the two original charities, women before the criminal courts went on occasion to reside in Bethany home for a specific period rather than go to prison and it is likely that they assisted women on release from prison.

The only formal link with the criminal justice system was the fact that Bethany Home was registered as a Place of Detention (remand centre) under section 108 of the Children Act, 1908 on 17 April, 1945 for offending female, non-Catholic children and young persons, under 17 years of age. For the purposes of Part V of the Children Act, 1908, committals to Bethany were either Court ordered remands which would have been for a few days, while awaiting a court date or, Court ordered detentions following conviction, which were for short periods not exceeding one month. There have been no complaints as to its criminal justice work.

Infant mortality 
The number of children who died at Bethany Home is quite shocking.

Unfortunately poverty and disease were commonplace in Ireland up to the 1950's and this was reflected in infant mortality rates.
Infant mortality rates in the 1940's were at a level that are hard to comprehend today, about 20 times higher than now and that figure applies across the entire population. For those who were malnourished and subject to disease and a lack of hygiene the figures would have been higher still.

It was public knowledge at the time that there was a serious problem with standards in maternity homes. During the Seanad Debate on the Registration of Maternity Homes Bill (11 April 1934) the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Local Government and Public Health stated:

" ... it is a well-known fact that in some of our larger cities there are maternity homes of a very poor class which are availed of largely by unmarried mothers. We are not at all satisfied that those homes are properly managed.

As a matter of fact, we have information to the contrary in the report published in 1927 on the relief of the sick and destitute poor. The Commission drew attention to different evils which they traced to the poor-class maternity homes, or to the not too scrupulous management of those homes particularly the connivance of the management at the secret disposal of children to unsuitable foster parents, and the consequent high death rate amongst the children."

The Registration of Maternity Homes Act 1934 was considered an advance on the pre-existing position. Registered homes were required to have a qualified nurse or midwife and keep records on births deaths and the removal of children and the addresses to which they were removed and they were subject to (annual) inspection. However infant mortality rates remained high and poverty widespread.

The number of infant deaths in Bethany and conditions there, were not a secret. It was not an enclosed institution and members of the public had access to the home on a regular basis. Newspaper archives indicate that there were sales of work, Bethany gift days and an annual public general meeting. All deaths would have been recorded and included in the inspection reports. Death certificates would have been required and a coroner's inquest could have been held where appropriate. There does not appear to be any question of the infant mortality rate being "hidden". There were public allegations of children being neglected in Bethany in 1939/1940. These were investigated and rejected by the health authorities. There were suggestions that some of the complaints were motivated by sectarian concerns. It is not possible to make any determination from this distance as to whether the investigation was adequate or not.

It is very difficult to put these matters into context 70 years later. It was public knowledge at the time and is a matter of historical fact that infant mortality rates were high and poverty, ill health and child neglect widespread. We are just not in a position to assert that the infant mortality rate was higher in Bethany than other comparable homes or that the standard of care was good or bad by the standards of the day. In 1952 there was well over 100 non hospital maternity homes.

There were also other "Protestant" institutions very similar to the Bethany home such as the Magdalen Asylum for Penitent Females in Lower Leeson Street. Indeed when Bethany Home closed down some of its funding passed on to the Leeson street institution as an analogous "Protestant" institution.


The Bethany Survivors Group have made it clear that they are primarily seeking redress for what happened to them after they left Bethany Home and went to foster parents. Fostering was common practice at the time and undoubtedly there were abuses. We can certainly sympathise who had to endure hardship, neglect and poverty in their foster families. They were not given a good start in life. However those from Bethany home were not alone in their experiences and the State cannot accept liability for everything that happened in families when it had no direct involvement.

Redress Scheme 
The inclusion of the Bethany Home within the Redress Scheme was considered by the Department of Education and Skills in 2004 but a decision was made that the Home could not be included, as the Department of Health and Children was unable to locate any evidence of a public body having a regulatory or inspection function.
Subsequently, in May 2007, the Department of Health and Children advised that evidence of a regulatory or inspection function had been located and the Bethany Home’s inclusion in the Redress Scheme could be considered. However, as the information located identified that the Home operated as a mother and baby home, it was not regarded as eligible to be considered for inclusion in the Scheme. Following the publication of the Ryan Report in May 2009 there were a range of requests and calls for the Redress Scheme to be extended. One of these requests was for the Bethany Home to be considered on the basis that it operated as a children’s home as well as a mother and baby home. The then Government decided against extending the Redress Scheme. This decision meant the exclusion of a number of institutions which could have been considered for inclusion. Minister Ruairi Quinn met with the Bethany Home Survivors Group in May 2011.

The Minister reassured the Group that contrary to some suggestions, the religious ethos of an institution was not a criterion for inclusion within the Redress Scheme. While acknowledging the hurt and pain that remains with the survivors, having reviewed the papers on the Home and having taken all the circumstances into account, the Minister regretted that he found no basis to revisit the 2010 Government Decision. This remains the position.

The Bethany Survivors Group have made it clear that they never regarded Bethany Home as falling within the same category as the Magdalen Laundries. They are not looking to be included in any compensation scheme for Magdalen women.

The Department of Health has no plans to introduce a scheme of redress for those who were in Mother and Baby Homes.


Access to records 
Under the Data Protection Acts a living person has a statutory right of access to their personal data. The person who holds that data, the Data Controller, must provide access. This right is limited to their own information only. Information relating to a third party, a person who was deceased (e.g. parent) or a relative such as a sibling is not covered. They could not ask about the existence of siblings as being personal information (which many people would consider to be personal to them). The sibling has their individual right to privacy and they are the only one who can access their personal information.

If I understand correctly the main problem is a question of preservation of records particularly of institutions which have long since closed and where the records may be held by private individuals. The Data Protection Acts apply to such individuals but there is no legal obligation on them to preserve such records.
The Department of Children and Youth Affairs, the Department of Health and the Health Service Executive may all have a role in addressing this issue and following our meeting the Bethany Group I undertook to pursue this matter. I am exploring which State body would be in the best position to hold and preserve such records. I have also undertaken to write to persons or bodies identified as having possession or control of relevant records relating to the Bethany Home to explore how the preservation of and access to such records could be facilitated.

Conclusion 
In conclusion I have to say I am disappointed that Sinn Fein has not bothered to check its basic facts. It would do nothing to enhance the reputation of this House to pass motions containing factual inaccuracies. However I would be more concerned at rushing into pass judgment on those who ran Bethany Home without hearing their side of the story.
Our Constitution demands we respect the rules of natural justice. People are entitled to a fair hearing and an opportunity to protect their good name.

As I have said earlier the infant mortality rate in Bethany Home was very high by todays standards and children there did suffer from diseases associated with poverty and neglect. However it seems to have been accepted at the time that Bethany Home was run by people with charitable motives.

Did Bethany Home improve the lot of those who passed through its doors or did it make their lives worse by the standards that existed at the time ?

I am not here to defend those who ran Bethany Home but I am certainly not in a position to condemn them out of hand in the way proposed by Sinn Fein.

ENDS