Vital family support services based at the Bessborough campus in Cork have been saved following confirmation that a religious order plans to “gift” the buildings to the State.
But it has prompted renewed calls from Mother and Baby Homes campaigners for the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary to do more to identify the potential burial site of an estimated 840 children who died in Bessborough while the care of the order.
Fears for the Bessborough services and for the jobs of the more than 100 people who provide them were raised last October when the order announced plans to withdraw from the operation of the services, and to find a new service provider to offer the services at a new site. The order previously announced its intention to sell a significant portion of the site.
However, following an outcry from staff and sustained political pressure, the order has announced that it plans to “gift” the campus buildings to the State via the HSE so that the services can continue on the site.
The services, offered by the HSE and Tusla, and which benefit about 50 families a week, include a creche and early years service, a service for early school leavers, a family assessment and intervention service, a supervised contact service and a parent and infant residential unit.
The Bessborough Centre Company Limited by Guarantee (BCCLG) will continue as the operator and there will be no impact on employment levels, the nuns told staff.
In a statement, the order said it is pleased to have found a way of maintaining the services.
It said: “It has always been the desire of the Sisters that the services would continue.
The Sisters will step down from the board of directors by the end of June 2020 and be replaced by lay members.
"The Sisters would like to thank the State (HSE) for its willingness to facilitate the continuation of the services into the future so that the needs of some of the most vulnerable citizens of the Irish State will continue to be met.”
The nuns also said that they are still in negotiations about the potential sale of other lands there and hope this process will be completed by the end of June.
Tánaiste Simon Coveney welcomed the outcome and said he believes the order has acted responsibly. He also said talks have taken place between the city council, the department of housing and an approved housing body in relation to the other lands
Mr Coveney said: “I think we are going to find a positive resolution in terms of future ownership of the lands, as well."
Solidarity TD Mick Barry welcomed the retention of services and jobs but questioned the term “gift” given the estimated €30m State investment in the campus and its services over the years.
He also repeated calls for the State to step in and buy the remaining lands, saying: “The State must ensure that there is justice for survivors too and that means acquiring the lands now and properly investigating what lies beneath them.”
The long-running Mother and Baby Homes Commission found that some 900 children died in Bessborough or in hospital after being transferred from Bessborough.
Records show that 470 infants and 10 women died there between 1934 and 1953. However, the commission could only establish the burial place of some 64 children who died between there between 1922 and 1928.