Richhill man steps up campaign for justice
A RICHHILL man has stepped up his fight for “justice” over two Protestant homes in the Dublin area - a mother-and-baby unit in the city and a children’s establishment in nearby Greystones, County Wicklow.
Sidney Herdman was “incarcerated” in the Westbank Home in Wicklow, and his mother Caroline Herdman “ended up in the shocking mental cruelty and neglect of Bethany, the Protestant parallel to the treatment dished out by the Catholic establishment, which ran the notorious Magdelene Laundries.”
In the light of last week’s state apology by Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny over the “slave labour” Magdalene laundries, and the establishment of the child abuse inquiry in Northern Ireland aimed at 15 children’s homes, Mr Herdman has launched a two-pronged attack “so that we, too, can have an apology and basic justice”.
He insisted the surviving babies born in Bethany - there are 20 remaining since it closed in 1972 - must receive an apology from both the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Government of the Republic, “as they were caught between two stools and are being ignored. And similarly, the same must happen for the survivors of the cruel Westbank regime”.
“The problem is,” he explained, “both homes were run and financed by Protestant organisation in the north, but they were geographically in the south. Both governments have been washing their hands, Pontius Pilate style, insisting it has nothing to do with them. But the inmates of the dreaded Magdelene Laundries faced the same problems of being ignored. Now that they are receiving satisfaction, we are demanding the same.”
With a foot firmly in both the Bethany and Westbank camps, Mr Herdman is concentrating all his initial efforts on the Bethany Home. He added, “The Bethany Home has many parallels with the laundries – the women were regarded as fallen women and treated abominably”.
He said that his mother ended up destitute in Dublin with her first-born son, Sidney’s elder brother, and that she was taken into Bethany. His elder brother, and later Sidney himself, ended up in Westbank.
He claimed the main abusers in Westbank “were church people who used to travel to the home from the north and subject us to physical, mental and sexual abuse”.
It is reported that over 200 children born in Bethany were buried in unmarked graves, and Sidney is campaigning on behalf of around 20 survivors of both regimes.
“The Bethany situation has been raised in the Dail by Gerry Adams, and my two local Newry and Armagh MLAs – Danny Kennedy (UUP) and William Irwin (DUP) – are taking up the case,” he said.
“And we are pressing Sir Anthony Hart to include Westbank in the Northern Ireland historical child abuse investigations – so far, without success. But we won’t be giving up.
“We are confident the Dail will listen and act over Bethany, and then we will focus everything on Westbank.”
He went on to say that the Westbank Home was run by by an Adeline Mathers who came from Portadown – she died in 1999. And while she was not involved in sexual abuse, Mr Herdman said, “She often beat us with electric cable and injected us if we wet the bed – she was a tyrant of a woman, who claimed to be a born-again Christian. We lived in constant fear.”
The main abusers, he claimed, were church people who used to travel to the home from the north, “and subjected young boys and girls, including myself, to physical, mental and sexual abuse, beginning with giving us sweets and money and then getting on with this awful abuse, which included rape of teenagers – they would come to our bedrooms and we knew what was coming next.”
He added that many of the children, who were left malnourished, were taken north to work for nothing, usually on farms, and that the funding came from the main churches, including the Church of Ireland, Presbyterians, Methodist and the Free Presbyterians.
“I have sought help from all these churches and met a brick wall every time, but to be fair, the churches gave the money with the best of intentions, unaware of what was going on,” he said. “But when the Southern Government having highlighted the Magdelene situation, we feel our day is coming soon.”
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