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Just one priest agreed to be interviewed for documentary on mother-and-baby homes

Director Saskia Weber said she is hopeful more religious figures will come forward.

A protester's placard outside Leinster House after news of the Tuam graves was broken.
A protester's placard outside Leinster House after news of the Tuam graves was broken.
Image: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

THE HISTORY OF mother-and-baby homes in Ireland is to be investigated in a French documentary.

So far, only one priest has agreed to be interviewed for the programme, despite numerous requests made of religious figures.

The documentary, which is being made by France 2, came to light after a letter from Terry Prone to one of its makers, Saskia Weber, went public.

Prone’s letter was sent to Weber in response to a request for an interview with Sr Marie Ryan of the Bon Secours sisters, for whom Prone is a public relations representative.

The documentary

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Weber said that this was not the only negative response that she had received while trying to arrange interviews for the documentary.

Weber said the documentary is about the mother-and-baby homes, and will focus on different individuals, such as Derek Leinster of the Bethany Home, and also a person who was born in the Tuam home, and a mother who was in Bessborough in Cork.

We’re trying to explain about all the system and to understand how all this happened and what for, and for how long… how did it last for so long.

“I’m focusing making the investigation around the Tuam story and around this, then little by little I pull the threads and try to explain the whole system, what was the Magdalene Laundries, how many, what happened to the babies,” said Weber.

Responses to requests

Weber had said she was “shocked” to receive Prone’s letter.

She said that she received a negative response from all the dioceses she wrote to requesting an interview, being told that some bishops were busy, and others were not available.

In Tuam, she went outside a mass to try and speak to a priest directly to request an interview, but said that she was told he was going abroad and did not have time.

“I said at least for these 800 babies can you give me two minutes interview,” said Weber.

“I was disappointed,” said Weber of this reaction. “Because I’ve looked and read many documentaries about it. Every journalist in Ireland says they couldn’t get contact from anyone in the church clergy. So I wasn’t hoping that much.” But she thought that as she works for a foreign channel there was a possibility of getting some interviews.

One priest agreed to an interview: Fr Peter McVerry. She spent more than two hours talking with him. Weber also interviewed journalists, historians such as Catherine Corless – who discovered the Tuam babies site – and archaeologists.

“I’m still hoping some Bishop will talk to me,” said Weber. She has requested an interview with Deputy James O’Reilly.

She is also hoping to find out if there will be any exhumations or anything done with the site, and for the terms of inquiry to be announced.

“It makes you feel nothing has changed”

“It’s terrible because it makes you feel like nothing has changed in this country,” said Weber. “I feel like the Church, the State still have so much power. They are still doing what they want and nothing has changed.”

“Everybody I have interviewed said that it was other times, it was another society, you have to understand… I’m sorry – nothing has changed. Once justice and the State and government will take their responsibility, I don’t think the society has changed yet.”

Weber said she finds it “difficult to understand how a society or government can be so indifferent to” children.

“A child is the most precious human being – it has no defence. If a society or country cannot protect their children then anything is possible… if you don’t heal your past how can you be confident today in your future?”

Bethany Home

Weber said that the issue of mother and baby homes won’t be a new one for French audiences.

“The production company Sunset Press did a first documentary 16 years ago about the Magdalene Laundries,” said Weber.

“Then last June when we heard in France about the Tuam scandal we thought it was a bit of follow up of the Magadalene Laundries scandal, so we decided to make a new documentary.”

She said that the story was discussed nationally in France. “It was like just breaking news, small news, but every person I talked [to] read the news or talked about it. It’s amazing. They just remember the number of children and that they are supposed to be buried in a septic tank”

The documentary will feature an interview with Derek Leinster. Derek was born in the Bethany Home, which was run by Evangelical Protestants, and said that he suffered neglect while there. He is a member of the Bethany Home Survivors’ Group, who are long-time campaigners for recognition of the conditions children lived under in the home, and also for redress.

The home is not included in the list of homes that is part of the State’s redress scheme.

Leinster said that as part of the filming, they visited the site in Mount Jerome cemetery where a memorial has been erected in honour of over 200 children who died in Bethany Home and were buried in an unmarked grave.

The 52-minute documentary will be shown on France 2, a French public channel. It is hoped the documentary will be concluded by the end of the year, and they will then try to sell the show on. It is not known yet if it will be shown on Irish television.

Read: Row brews over Terry Prone Tuam babies email>

Read: Over 222 children died in Bethany Home but 1939 report says they appeared ‘happy’>

Read: The Protestant orphanage where children were whipped, beaten — and everyone had the same name>

Read: Children died of malnutrition, syphilis, heart failure at mother and baby home>

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