State urged to block development on Bessborough site

State urged to block development on Bessborough site

Maureen Considine, researcher, and Catherine Coffey-OBrien, survivor representative of the Cork Survivors and Supporters Alliance, at the City Hall, Cork, to hand in a planning application objection to the building proposals at Bessborough. Picture Dan Linehan

Campaigners say the State must protect the former Bessborough mother and baby site from development and order a detailed and thorough investigation of its once vast estate for possible burial sites and human remains.

It follows confirmation from Taoiseach Micheál Martin  that proposed legislation relating to the dignified exhumation and burial of children's remains found in the mass grave at the Tuam site can be applied to Bessborough and other mother and baby homes sites.

Mr Martin told Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns he had concerns about development going ahead on the site before it was thoroughly investigated.

“There needs to be an examination, a proper, robust identification of the burial of all children and I would have deep concerns about construction going ahead in the absence of that having been established, and protected and measures taken to protect such a burial site.” 

The Commission of Investigation found that 923 babies associated with Bessborough died between 1922 and 1998. But the burial sites of the vast majority have not been identified.

Two planning applications have been lodged for a total of 246 apartments on a parcel of now privately-owned land which once formed part of the Bessborough estate.

The lands earmarked for the proposed Gateway View development are held in a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) named MWB Two Ltd. 

Ballincollig-based property development company PFS Private is managing all aspects of the development process, from land acquisition through to planning and construction.

Part of the development site overlaps an area marked on historic maps as a "children’s burial ground" where campaigners believe the remains of children lie.

Pressure is mounting on developers MWB Two Ltd to withdraw their planning applications.

Cork's city councillors are set to discuss calls for a compulsory purchase order (CPO) on certain lands at Bessborough.

Cllr Thomas Maloney said consideration should be given to CPO-ing the land and designating the area marked as "children’s burial ground" part of the Cork city cemeteries section.

City councillors said several complex legal issues would need to be considered before the local authority could embark on such a move but they have agreed to discuss it further.

Fine Gael councillor Des Cahill said the lands should be used "for healing, not development".

Sinn Féin TD Donnchadh Ó Laoighaire welcomed the move by Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman to make a submission on the planning application and added: “The Taoiseach, and two ministers in Cork South Central, should also make a submission in opposition to this development on these grounds. There is nothing to prevent them."

Cork East TD and member of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children, Equality and Disability Seán Sherlock said the Government should consider using ministerial directives under the Planning Act to prevent development on mother and baby homes like Bessborough.

In a statement to the Irish Examiner, MWB Two Ltd said it was waiting for the planning authorities to make a decision on the planning applications for its 3.7-acre site located within the overall 60-acre Bessborough Estate.

“MWB Two Ltd are very conscious of the historical concerns and sensitivities regarding the Bessborough mother and baby home,” a spokesperson said.

They have engaged experts in the areas of archaeological conservation and heritage in order to approach the development in the most sensitive manner possible.

“Their experts’ report concluded that there is no evidence to suggest that the proposed development site contains any undocumented burials associated with the former mother and baby home.

“However, as part of the planning process, MWB Two Ltd has committed to carrying out a full archaeological investigation on their 3.7 acre site.” 

The Irish Examiner reported that
Mr O'Gorman has told campaigners he shares their concerns
about the potential existence of children’s remains at Bessborough.

He said he wants to assure Bessborough survivors and campaigners that those responsible for assessing the planning application will take full account of the findings of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation. 

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