Bessborough: Planning board must address concerns, says Minister

Construction of 179 apartments believed to impact children’s burial site on grounds

The former Bessborough mother and baby home in Cork. File photograph: Provision

The former Bessborough mother and baby home in Cork. File photograph: Provision

 

An Bord Pleanála must address “the reasonable concerns” that people have regarding a housing development on the grounds of the former Bessborough Mother and Baby Home in Cork city, Minister for Children, Roderic O’Gorman has told an oral hearing into the project.

Mr O’Gorman told the An Bord Pleanála oral hearing into a planned development by MWB Two Ltd that he had received representations from people concerned that the planned construction of 179 apartments would impact on a children’s burial site in the grounds of Bessborough in Blackrock.

“Many of those who have made representations to me are not opposed to the development of the site. Their concerns are focused on the appropriate treatment of any burial ground with some reasonable access for relatives to visit.

“I reiterate my view that any decision taken by An Bord Pleanála with respect to this proposed development must address the sensitivities and reasonable concerns around this site,” said Minister O’Gorman in a submission to the oral hearing which was held virtually.

An Bord Pleanála should in particular have regard for the need for further archaeological investigation by appropriate experts prior to work commencing on the 3.7 acre site on the Bessborough grounds and ongoing monitoring in the course of any subsequent works, he said.

Mr O’Gorman said the work undertaken by the Commission of Investigation into Mother & Baby Homes in the case of Sean Ross Abbey near Roscrea in Co Tipperary could prove instructive in this regard even though there were substantial differences between Sean Ross and Bessborough.

“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,” he added.

Sensitive manner

Earlier, opening the case for the developer, MWB Two Ltd, counsel David Holland SC noted that the developers welcomed the statement by the Cork Survivors and Supporters Alliance that they were not opposed to the development on the grounds once it was done in an sensitive manner.

And Mr Holland said the developers were happy to reassure the survivors by way of a willingness to carry out a site investigation using the Commission of Investigation examination of Sean Ross, as suggested by Minister O’Gorman, as a template for how this might be approached.

And he said that the developers were also happy to work with survivor groups in facilitating the creation of a suitable memorial that would commemorate all the infants and women who died in Bessborough but whose burial places remain unknown.

“MWB Two understands a memorial to the children and the others of Bessborough is not a substitute for the proper treatment of babies’ remains – we don’t suggest for a second it is and a memorial is far from a salve for all wounds but it will help some and can contribute to healing.”

He said that MWB Two had offered to engage with the survivors in a consultative process as well as provide a site for such a memorial overlooking where it believed the burial ground to be with full public access for all those wishing to come and remember those who died in Bessborough.

Earlier ABP Oral Hearing Chairwoman, Senior Inspector Karen Kenny told the hearing that the National Monuments Service had written to ABP to say that it did not believe that it had any role in the oral hearing as it related to 20th-century burials which were outside the NMS’s remit.

Searches and investigations aimed at locating 20th-century remains must be distinguished from the role of the NMS in determining any measures necessary to address possible impacts of any developments on unidentified prehistoric, medieval or early modern archaeological features, it said.

“Against that background, it would not seem that the NMS would have any capacity in this case to either add to, or supplement any evidence or advice of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes expert team or to usefully assist An Bord Pleanála in its deliberations.”