Experts seek to make former convent site safe

Experts are drafting plans to make safe a listed former convent gutted by fire this week.

KPMG, which is responsible for the former Good Shepherd site on the northside of Cork city, have appointed an engineering firm and architects with expertise in conservation, to draw up proposals for how the unstable building will be made safe and secured.

They will also set out how rubble created by the fire will be dealt with amid fears it may contain hazardous asbestos. It is understood engineers and architects will hold preliminary talks with city council officials next week. But given the building’s protected status, any proposals will have to be signed off by City Hall.

The alarm was raised around 7.30am last Tuesday when flames were spotted coming from the landmark Victorian building. It was already well ablaze when fire fighters arrived.

They said it had all the characteristics of a fire that had been burning for several hours.

Gardaí, who believe the fire was started deliberately, have conducted a preliminary examination of the scene and said their investigations are ongoing.

The Good Shepherd Convent operated a Magdalene Laundry and orphanage on the Sunday’s Well site from 1874 until late 1977.

The buildings have lain derelict since a serious fire in 2003.

The site was bought in 2005 by a developer who secured planning permission to develop apartments but the project stalled.

In May 2010, the site was seized by Ulster Bank, which appointed KPMG as receivers.

Following complaints about access to the site, and meetings between gardaí and residents, KPMG agreed to implement a €20,000 security plan.

KPMG said work on that plan was progressing when the fire broke out.

Justice for Magdalenes spokeswoman Claire McGettrick said it is deeply concerned for the dignity of some 30 women and girls who are buried in the graveyard next to the gutted building.

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