Sunday, May 12, 2024

TDs call on Taoiseach to address legacy of abuse in Wicklow orphanage

The Greystones Guide | Home Is Where The Hurt Is

Three former residents of the Westbank Orphanage, in Greystones, concluded their days-long campaign to raise awareness of their exclusion from the Mother and Baby Home Redress Scheme, which was was set up in 2002 to give compensation and support to people who were abused while resident in industrial schools, reformatories and other institutions.

Westbank Orphanage was based in Greystones, having relocated from Harold’s Cross, Dublin in the 1940s, where it was known as the Protestant Orphan Home for Destitute Girls. The orphanage was associated with the Presbyterian Church, the Church of Ireland and with the Bray Gospel Hall, also known as the Christian Assembly Bray.

The campaign, led by Sidney Herdman, Colm Begley and Andrew Yates has been supported by Wicklow TDs Jennifer Whitmore and John Brady, who have called on Taoiseach Simon Harris to address the legacy of abuse in the orphanage, which was located in his hometown.

The campaigners embarked on three days of leafletting and postering in Bray and Greystones, handing out information at Evangelical, Presbyterian, Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic services on Sunday, May 5, 2024.

Deputy Whitmore met with the three former residents as the campaign drew to a close and pledged to continue raising the Westbank Redress issue in the Dail.

While the three men received a positive reception from the public and at all of the churches they visited, at Bray Gospel Hall the Westbank Redress Facebook page reported that the church official, Gordon Lewis, objected to leaflets being handed out to those attending, while also refusing to allow a Westbank poster to be placed on a pole outside the Gospel Hall.

When contacted, Mr Lewis said: “As a Christian church, we have always welcomed those in Westbank, (including former residents) to our Hall, and still do.” However, he added that “without any prejudice whatsoever to the campaign, it was disappointing to see church worship disturbed in that way.”

The campaigners said that after the service, “though still hostile to the message of the former residents, Gordon Lewis asked us in for some lunch”, which they declined because of other engagements.

Deputy Whitmore has now called on the Government to support the survivors of Westbank Orphanage, following a debate in the Dáil on the Supports for Survivors of Residential Institutional Abuse Bill 2024, which took place last Tuesday, April 30.

“Survivors of the Westbank Orphanage have contacted me in recent weeks,” Deputy Whitmore said. “Their redress campaign should not have to be fought – this should have been addressed years ago. I want to pay tribute to the survivors who have not allowed this to be forgotten.

“As children, they were subject to psychological and physical abuse in the orphanage. Many were sent out to work in the summers, illegally adopted and kept separate from their family members who were also in Westbank.

“Westbank survivors were excluded from the initial Mother and Baby Home Redress Scheme; however, since then, in 2016, the Second Interim Report of the Mother and Baby Home Commission Inquiry, Section 5.14 of the report, stated that there is an argument that it (Westbank) should have been included in the Residential Institutions Redress Scheme.

“The final report’s recommendations from the Oireachtas Joint Committee also stated that other institutions, including Westbank, not investigated by the Commission, were unfairly excluded from the scheme.

“The Supports for Survivors of Residential Institutional Abuse Bill 2024 is an opportunity to recognise the orphanage survivors. As a Wicklow TD and a Greystones local, I know that while we cannot undo the harm that was done, we must, at the very least, do all we can to support these survivors now in adulthood.

“I will continue to pursue redress for these victims and bring forward an amendment to the legislation in the weeks ahead seeking to address this gap in the redress scheme,” concluded Deputy Whitmore.

Meanwhile, Wicklow Sinn Féin TD John Brady has called on Taoiseach Simon Harris, a native of Greystones, “to use all of his power and influence” to address the legacy of abuse in the orphanage.

Deputy Brady said the orphanage, for which the Irish state had a statutory responsibility, was a place where residents suffered horrific abuse, including sexual, emotional and physical abuse.

“The record of suffering endured by the children who passed through the Westbank Orphanage in Wicklow is truly heartbreaking. Its story is one of young lives being destroyed by abuse and neglect,” he said.

“I am appealing to the Fine Gael Taoiseach Simon Harris, a Wicklow man, to offer his support to the survivors of the Westbank Orphanage. Many of whom have suffered an appalling litany of sexual and physical assaults, including forced starvation, along with wide-scale emotional abuse, in their campaign for inclusion in the Residential Institutions Redress scheme.

“Both a Joint Committee of the Oireachtas, and the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation have called for the Westbank Orphanage to be included in the Residential Institutions Redress scheme. Westbank Orphanage was subject to state inspection, which led it to qualify for inclusion in the Residential Institutions Redress scheme. Continuing attempts to exclude the survivors is wrong on so many levels,” he continued.

“These were children who were beaten, starved, in some cases sexually abused, along with enduring terrible emotional abuse. Some of these children were taken across the border illegally to work as farm labourers, sometimes from as young as five years of age.

“They were in many instances denied adoption. Children were lied to about their parents, often having their names changed. Many children had siblings in the orphanage that they knew nothing about, they were lied to and made to believe that they were alone in the world.

“The Irish State had a statutory responsibility for the orphanage, to which all protestant denominations sent children. Today, the State has both a moral and legal responsibility towards these children, that cannot be allowed to be swept under the carpet. I am calling, indeed appealing to Taoiseach Simon Harris to give his support to the campaign of the survivors of this terrible abuse which took place in his own hometown of Greystones.

“In the words of one survivor, the story of the Westbank Orphanage is a ‘blot on the landscape of Wicklow’. Taoiseach Simon Harris has the opportunity and the power to make this right,” he concluded.