The Mother and Baby Homes Commission investigation of Bessborough mother-and-baby home will not be affected by the planned sale of the site, writes Conall Ó Fátharta and Noel Baker.
The Irish Examiner newspaper recently revealed that the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary have put the site up for sale. It is likely to fetch a multimillion-euro sum.
The campus now houses the Bessborough Centre, a charity that works with vulnerable families. It offers therapeutic care and education.
The cemetery and remembrance site are not included in the portfolio, and any sale will be on condition that a new building is put in place to house the continuing work of the Bessborough Centre.
The sale is subject to several conditions, including that the buyer provide a new facility for the present service, which involves residential and community-based family assessment and support services.
The director of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission, Ita Mangan, said the sale would not affect the inquiry.
“The commission’s powers of investigation are set out in the Commissions of Investigation Act, 2004. I cannot see that they are affected by a sales process or a change of ownership. I don’t think this proposal should impede or delay our work,” she said.
It had been reported that Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone had contacted the Mother and Baby Homes Commission about the sale of Bessborough House, in Cork, with concerns for human remains buried there.
Under Section 28 of the Act, the commission can enter, and secure, any premises which it has reason to believe holds “information, in any form” relating to any matter within its terms of reference.
Much of the land surrounding the main buildings is designated as a landscape preservation zone (LPZ), which means it is an area in need of “special protection”, as the character and amenity value is considered to be” highly sensitive to development and, as such, has limited or no development potential”.
The site has come under intense scrutiny, since a number of Irish Examiner investigations into the activities of the former mother-and-baby home.
In 2012, almost two years before the revelations in Tuam, the HSE informed the Government that 470 infants and 10 women died in Bessborough between 1934 and 1953.
There were 273 deaths between 1939 and 1944. However, the order reported 353 deaths to state inspectors in that period.
The principal cause of death in 20% of the deaths was marasmus (severe malnutrition).
An unpublished HSE report from the same year expressed concerns that death records were falsified in Bessborough mother-and-baby home, so children could “be brokered in clandestine adoption arrangements” at home and abroad.
In November of last year, this paper also revealed that the files of those who took part in vaccine trials carried out at the institution were altered in 2002 — just weeks after the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse sought discovery of records from the order running the home.
To date, the site in Tuam is the only one to have been physically examined for remains. The commission has yet to decide on whether it plans to examine other locations.
This article first appeared on the Irish Examiner.