The developers behind plans for apartments on a former mother and baby home estate in Cork will tell An Bord Pleanála on Wednesday that they are happy to conduct more site investigations to establish the presence or absence of human remains.
MWB Two Ltd will outline its position to the board's oral hearing into its proposed 179-unit strategic housing development (SHD) project on former Bessborough lands which opens tomorrow. The hearing will be held virtually.
Part of the developer's SHD site overlaps an area marked on historic OSI maps as ‘children's burial ground’.
But it will tell the board that the belief that this area is a burial ground is “based entirely on a fundamental misunderstanding of the OSI maps”.
Though highly unlikely, the developers said the existence of human remains on part of its site cannot be ruled out.
“Accordingly, and in hope of reassuring stakeholders, the applicant is happy to conduct further site investigation. Such site investigation represents a significant opportunity to best ascertain the presence or absence of human remains on the area in question,” it said.
It said any such work will be informed by the methods used in the forensic archaeological investigation of the burial ground alongside the former Sean Ross Abbey mother and baby home, and will be done to identify the existence of remains only and not to exhume them, it said.
The developers said they are willing to fund an appropriate memorial on site which would be open to the public.
The Cork Survivors and Supporters Alliance will address the hearing and are expected to call experts to explain the significance of the historic map.
In his submission to the hearing, Minister for Children Roderic O'Gorman said he has had representations from people with a connection to the former Bessborough institution who are concerned that the proposed development could encroach upon unrecorded burials.
“As I have previously indicated, many of those who have made representations to me are not opposed to development of the site," he said.
Their concerns are focused on the appropriate treatment of any burial ground with some reasonable access for relatives to visit.
He said any decision taken by the board in relation to this SHD development must address the sensitivities and reasonable concerns linked to this site.
And he said the board should have regard to the need for "further archaeological investigations" by "appropriate experts" before any works start on site, and for ongoing monitoring during any subsequent works.
"The work undertaken under the direction of the Commission on Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes in the context of Sean Ross Abbey, which is documented in chapter 38B of the commission’s final report, could prove instructive in this regard, though accepting there are substantial differences in the wider context of the two sites," he said.
"In addition, the board and the developer should give due consideration to the requests from survivors and their families for appropriate access and respectful memorialisation in due course."
The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes found that 923 children who were associated with Bessborough died over the years.
The religious order which ran Bessborough failed to keep a register of infant burials and the burial location of the majority of children who died there is still unknown.