'We are the living witnesses of the atrocities': Appeal to stop building on Bessborough site

A woman who said she was 'incarcerated' in Bessborough has appealed to An Bord Pleanála to consider the 'humane perspective' as it considers a planning application for apartments on the site
'We are the living witnesses of the atrocities': Appeal to stop building on Bessborough site

Terri Harrison told the oral hearing into the housing project she lost her sense of identity in 1973 when, at the age of 18, she was 'taken from the UK and imprisoned in Bessborough'. File picture: Denis Scannell

A woman who said she was "incarcerated" in Bessborough has appealed to An Bord Pleanála to consider the “humane perspective” as it considers a planning application for apartments on the former mother and baby homes estate.

Terri Harrison told the oral hearing into the housing project that she lost her sense of identity in 1973 when, at the age of 18, she was “taken from the UK and imprisoned in Bessborough”.

She told planning inspector Karen Kenny that she and all those who survived Bessborough want a site where they, and generations to come, can go to remember and commemorate, to see “where we were denied our humans rights”.

“We are the invisible, forgotten. How can generations come to view our real history if there is nowhere for them to go,” she said.

We are the living witnesses of the atrocities and inhumane treatment bestowed upon us all by a religious organisation.

“In Poland one can visit the camps out of respect for all who suffered there.

“In Kilmainham Gaol, one can visit this and sit in a cell and ponder the ill-treatment of human males incarcerated there – a prime location in Dublin for a huge development but the people would never allow this to happen.

“All of those lying in the grounds all over this country owned by such religious orders will never rest in peace – not until the very last soul is recognised as being a person, a human. I will never allow any of them to become invisible again.

“It is not only the deceased that find no peace, but also all of us who lived this too.” 

In his submission, Sinn Féin TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said he was opposed to any development on the site.

“It is my view that the local community, and the people of Cork more generally, are deeply uncomfortable with and upset by the proposals,” he said.

“I recognise the need for additional housing and apartments in our city, including in the southeast ward.

However, this issue is far beyond that of housing. The site’s history is profoundly sensitive, and its significance for those who lived and spent time there is enormous.

“For many, the significance of Bessborough is not just relating to the past; families today are still seeking answers.” 

Green Party councillor Dan Boyle said the applicants, MWB Two, are operating in a very narrow legislative window, by applying for planning under strategic housing development legislation, which will not exist within 10 months.

He said the existence of Government policy in relation to burials at mother and baby home sites, and the fact it has begun working on legislation to give effect to that policy, must inform the board’s decision-making process.

Cllr Lorna Bogue said until such a time as a path forward can be found by the State to vindicate the rights of those who died in, and the survivors of, the Bessborough mother and baby home, it would be best that the site was not disturbed in the manner proposed by the developers and that permission for the application is not granted.

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