Belfast Telegraph

We demand an apology over ill-treatment at home in Dublin, say pair adopted by NI families

James Fenning and Paul Graham were born at Bethany Home in Dublin
James Fenning and Paul Graham were born at Bethany Home in Dublin
Bethany was an institution for pregnant and unmarried Protestant women

By David Young

Two orphan survivors from the Bethany Home in Dublin have urged the Church of Ireland and Irish government to apologise over how the institution was run.

Both men, now elderly and in declining health, were born at the home, which is now closed, and later adopted by families in Northern Ireland.

The Bethany Home was an institution for pregnant and unmarried Protestant women. It was run by evangelical Protestants, from the Church of Ireland and other denominations.

The issue of historical child abuse, the treatment of children and the running of the home is currently under consideration by the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes in the Republic. It was established in 2015 after revelations about the deaths and secret burials of hundreds of babies in Tuam, Co Galway.

Bethany survivor Paul Graham (80) has travelled from his home in Sydney, Australia to visit a memorial in a Dublin cemetery to the hundreds of children who passed through the institution and meet the last few survivors born there, as well as press for an apology for the ill treatment they received there.

More than 220 children died at the home from 1922 to 1949, many being buried at Mount Jerome cemetery in Dublin, where campaigners have erected a memorial.

On Saturday, Mr Graham met another survivor, James Fenning (78), for the first time. Both say they suffered emotionally and physically at the Bethany Home, with effects that have lasted throughout their lives.

They feel that they and other survivors are being given the runaround by the authorities, both religious and secular.

Mr Graham said: "I was born in Bethany. I was adopted twice, maybe three times.

"I was adopted by a wealthy family in Belfast who owned a lot of flower shops. It was a horrible time. They became alcoholics; they told me that my mother was just a prostitute, she was no good, and how lucky I was that they had adopted me. I ran away from home at 14. I never went back."

He joined the Navy and later emigrated to Australia, where he turned his life around. "But I always wanted a family," he said.

He said he had returned to Ireland to seek the truth about his time in the home.

Both Paul and James believe the Church of Ireland and Irish State should say sorry.

"I want recognition for the things that were done in the past. The Church must be reconciled with the people and say, 'We did this'," said Paul.

He too has a long history of serious health issues, which his doctors in Australia have told him are the result of malnourishment in his childhood.

Mr Fenning, who was adopted by another Belfast family and now lives in Co Antrim, said he too had suffered continuing health problems because of malnutrition and rickets he developed as a child at the home.

"I found out I was adopted when my adoptive mother died. I was nine years old. The other kids said to me, 'What are you crying for? She's not your real mother.' And then the whole story came out," he said.

"I have tried to get my medical records - but nobody knows where they are. I would like the Church to admit that they did this - and it was wrong."

Both men claim Bethany Home survivors are being discriminated against because they are Protestant.

Paul said: "What is the difference between me and another person who was born in an orphanage, irrespective of religion? That's what annoys me."

James added: "All the Catholic homes got redress, so is it discrimination against Protestants?"

Both men are part of the Bethany Home Survivors Group, which has been campaigning on the issue. Spokesman Derek Linster, also a survivor, said they are being 'cold-shouldered' by both Church and State in the Republic. "There aren't many of us left," he said. "I think they're just waiting for us to die."

Although the State has paid out an estimate €1.5bn to other victims of institutional abuse in the Republic, no compensation has been paid to the Bethany Homes survivors.

A Church of Ireland spokesperson said: "Bethany Home was neither owned nor managed by the Church of Ireland.

"Bethany Home was owned and managed by the Dublin Prison Gate Mission - an independent trust set up in the 19th century to work with former prisoners.

"In terms of pastoral outreach, the Church has always sought to listen to people in difficulty, including people from various homes and institutions.

"In the case of Bethany Home, the Church wrote to the Irish State on behalf of former residents, and asked that their story would be heard as part of the wider investigations being carried out by the State.

"The Irish State responded positively to the request and the home is therefore being considered as part of the remit of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes."

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