Letters to the Editor: Abuse Not Exclusive to Catholic Institutions

Irish Examiner
January 23, 2021

Commenting on the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Inquiry report, your columnist Fergus Finlay said: “The Catholic Church ruled us — formed our attitudes, told us what we were allowed to think.”

Not Derek Leinster in the Bethany Home, sent to a dysfunctional family that abandoned him, it didn’t; not the children farmed out as labour from the age of five by the Nursery Rescue Society, it didn’t; not the children emotionally, sexually, and physically abused in Smyly’s Homes, it didn’t; not the Westbank Orphanage children transformed into professional orphans and paraded around church and Orange halls in Northern Ireland, it didn’t.

The misogyny and abuse Finlay writes about were not the preserve of the Roman Catholic Church. Protestants got their fair share, too, in equivalent institutions, like the ones mentioned above.

It was a level sectarian playing field, with both Protestant and Catholic infants dying alone, separate and “unwanted”.

Dr Winslow Sterling Berry, the then government’s deputy chief medical advisor, visited Bethany Home three times in 1939.

State inspectors and the Rathdown Board of Guardians had blamed Bethany Home for death and neglect.

Sterling Berry, who was the son of the bishop of Killaloe, merely said: “It is well recognised that a large number of illegitimate children are delicate and marasmic from their birth.”

Sterling Berry said that the issue would resolve itself if Bethany Home stopped admitting, and trying to convert, Catholic mothers. Bethany stopped and the death rate shot up again, but no one paid any attention.

Underneath the “level playing field” were the bodies of children, martyrs to misogyny and Christian (not merely Catholic) hypocrisy.

Finlay can bash the Catholic Church all he likes, but he should be ecumenical and aim some blows at Protestant churches as well.

Niall Meehan

Faculty head, journalism and media

Griffith College

Co Dublin

How son’s search enlightened us all

I have never before written to any newspaper, but I have to congratulate a letter writer on his journey to find his birth mother (‘I only met my mother in 2017, yet I was lucky’, Irish Examiner letters, January 16.)

It was put together so well and gives us an idea of what people had to go through to get any information.

Let’s hope we have moved on from that era.

Pauline Wall


Co Cork

School closures a vital health policy

I would like to address Dr Niall Muldoon’s article (‘Emergency framework needed to prevent children being let down like this again’, Irish Examiner, January 21).

One fact underpins the situation we find ourselves in: As we are in the midst of the most serious public-health emergency for generations, closing schools has been a necessity. How can anyone advocate that this is anything other than a public-health matter?

To express disappointment with schools not reopening at the beginning of January is to be dismissive of children’s and staff’s health. In my county, Monaghan, our virus incidence rate per 100,000 has been between 2,000 and 2,725 this month. That is statistically the worst region in statistically the worst-affected country (one person in 37 infected). The fastest way to return all children to their schools — and keep them there — is to get a handle on this out-of-control virus. It is with despair that I read the children’s ombudsman sharing the inflexible, myopic view of government that schools should reopen before community transmission is at a rate that doesn’t threaten to overwhelm our health service.

The prioritisation of mental health over public health, as regards schools opening, is lamentable and evidence of a failure to see the bigger picture: This is a pandemic.

It is unfair to insinuate that teachers have not planned for contingencies: At our school, we have climbed mountains to alter both our course content and its delivery. Failure to provide solutions to broadband connectivity issues, to provide clarity on exams, and to set realistic dates for them, rests squarely on the Government’s shoulders.

Rory O’Neill


Co Monaghan

A generation will be deprived

The nation’s children have missed most of a year’s schooling, since last March, because of the lockdowns instituted by the Government on the advice of Nphet.

The nation’s teachers are doing amazing work, uploading and checking students’ lessons, and adapting to new ways of teaching and to new technologies, all of which increases their workload.

However, the results of this massive experiment in home-schooling a nation will be varied.

On the one hand, many families will take an active interest in their children’s education; will have the freedom, educational background, competence, and resources to help their children to the fullest extent. Some children will benefit enormously from all this personal attention and family time.

On the other hand, you will have the opposite situation: Families where both parents are still obliged to work; parents who do not have the educational level to understand the lesson requirements or how to help their children, beyond, perhaps, telling them to “do their lessons”; families who do not have the internet or technological resources.

Now, the nation’s inadequate broadband is more exposed than ever.

Networks that were already slow by international standards have ground to a halt in some places, at certain times of the day, thanks to everyone being told to work from home.

And then there are the families where the home environment is simply not conducive to any kind of study, no matter what laptops or technological resources the Government offers, where the problems are of a different, dysfunctional order. For such children, school represented a break from that environment, a respite.

One consequence will be a generation for whom the gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ — those equipped to get into university, get a job, and avoid further marginalisation — will be widened all the more.

The ‘credit’ that the nation is living on is more than just economic.

Nick Folley


Co Cork

We shouldn’t wait on EU for vaccine

In the midst of this pandemic, why are we waiting for EU approval for a vaccine? (‘AstraZeneca vaccine will not arrive in Ireland until mid-February – Taoiseach’, Irish Examiner, January 20).

Ireland needs to protect its own citizens and Article 168 of the Lisbon Treaty clearly states that “healthcare governance within the European Union is predominantly a competence of the individual member states”.

Why are we asking the EU to increase its power over an area where it has no remit?

We should waste no time, exercise what remains of our sovereignty, and do what is right for Irish people.

Dr Elizabeth Cullen

Co Kildare

UK still ignoring Barron inquiry

The substance of Taoiseach Micheal Martin’s assertion that Ireland’s relationship with Britain will always be close and special (Martin: “‘Extremely important’ to repair relationship between Ireland and UK”, Irish Examiner, January 16) has been exposed as flawed, not as a result of Brexit, but because of Britain’s persistent refusal to co-operate with the Barron inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 1974, which left 34 people dead.

The British government has ignored two all-party resolutions passed unanimously by Dail Eireann, in 2008 and 2011, which urged the British authorities to make relevant, undisclosed documents available to an independent, international judicial figure.

It is regrettable that this policy remains unchanged.

It is further regrettable that successive Irish governments have displayed little political appetite to pursue this matter with much conviction. Although the issue of Dublin and Monaghan has cast a long, dark shadow over our relationship with our nearest neighbour, the Government must continue to demand the release of the files that have been withheld by the British. The possibility that this demand may cause diplomatic tensions between Dublin and London must not deter us from our pursuit of justice for the innocent victims.

A friendship cannot be based on compromised justice.

Tom Cooper


Dublin 6

Homeless deaths are unacceptable

Homeless people are being forced to sleep rough in freezing conditions as emergency beds lie empty. There were more than 50 homeless deaths on our streets in 2020, because of weather conditions and people being turned away from emergency hostels.

This is unacceptable of the Government.

Noel Harrington


Co Cork

New ‘benchmark’ for public pay?

Robert Watt is a highly effective civil servant.

But it seems to me that the Government is paying extra for talent in the absence of competition. No business would behave in this way: Throwing money around and possibly creating an enormously expensive new benchmark. That makes no sense.

Michael Deasy


Co Donegal

Lockdown limit on TV rugby

Today, Munster play Leinster at Thomond Park in rugby.

This game, apart from the international series, probably attracts more interest than any other rugby fixture.

Pity it’s available live only on one television channel — which you must pay for.

Visiting a neighbour’s house is not an option.

Donal Foley


Co Dublin








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