A forensic archaeologist who has helped to recover the remains of ‘the Disappeared’ in the North has recommended a new search for human remains on the grounds of a former mother and baby home in Cork.
Aidan Harte, a senior team member with the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims Remains, was senior archaeologist for site investigations at Tuam and at Sean Ross Abbey on behalf of the Mother and Baby Home Commission of Investigation.
He set out the approach for a new search of a 3.7-acre site on the former Bessborough estate during a Bord Pleanála online oral hearing yesterday into plans for 179 apartments on the site.
Mr Harte, who was also appointed to the expert technical group formed to advise the Government on appropriate actions and best practice in relation to the Tuam mother and baby home, stressed that human remains, if found on the site, would not be exhumed.
He suggested the deployment of ground-penetrating radar at specific locations on the site should the board approve the strategic housing development project.
This work could identify “priority areas” which would then be searched to a forensic standard, he said.
Soil removal should be monitored by at least one forensic archaeologist and one osteoarchaeologist or forensic anthropologist, and sieved for bone fragments, to identify possible human skeletal remains.
If human remains are found, the excavation work should cease, the coroner and gardaí notified, and the site secured, he said.
Mr Harte said outside of the priority search areas, the removal of topsoil in other areas should be monitored along similar lines to what has been implemented by the Commission for the Location of Victims Remains and gardaí.
The local authority and survivors groups should also be regularly updated on the investigation and search, he said.
“Furthermore, it is essential that these entities nominate a representative to inspect the forensic search programme on-site at arbitrary intervals, and without prior notice. This must be facilitated if any confidence in the findings or the search are to be upheld,” he said.
“If no evidence of human remains or burials is identified, having applied best practice and the most up-to-date and appropriate techniques for locating such evidence, then it must be accepted that no burials were located at this specific part of the former mother and baby home.”
Mr Harte was among several experts who gave evidence on the opening day of the hearing into MWB Two’s plans to build 179 apartments on a privately owned site on the former Bessborough estate.
Campaigners claim old maps show the special housing development site overlaps a ‘children's burial ground’.
Several experts gave evidence on behalf of the developers yesterday rejecting those claims.
The hearing, which is being chaired by senior planning inspector Karen Kenny, continues today.