State urged to buy Cork site where babies from home may be buried

Survivors say Bessborough land should be bought following refusal of housing plan

The Government has been urged to purchase lands where the missing bodies of infants born at a former Cork mother and baby home may be buried after planning permission for a housing development on the site was refused.

The Cork Survivors and Supporters Alliance, which represents more than 50 families of children who died at the former Bessborough home, said the lands marked on a 1950 Ordnance Survey trace map as a children's burial ground should be purchased by the State or Cork City Council.

Alliance member Maureen Considine said this would be a logical next step after An Bord Pleanála earlier this year denied MWB Two Ltd permission to build 179 apartments on a 3.7 acre site it purchased in the Bessborough grounds.

The board said it would be “premature” to grant permission for development prior to establishing whether there is a children’s burial ground within the site.

The final report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes said some 923 infants born or associated with Bessborough died between 1922 and 1998. However, it was only able to find burial records for 64 of the children.

The alliance contends that a 1.5 acre sited marked on the 1950 Ordnance Survey map was a children's burial ground and cartographer John Clarkin told an oral hearing on the development plan he was satisfied that it accurately denoted a feature in the area.

Ms Considine said the alliance wants the Government to buy 1.36 acres of the site owned by MWB Two Ltd and an adjacent piece of land owned by the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary

“The total land area that we want bought is just over three acres and we’re hoping that the Government would use the memorialisation fund that it is setting up as part of the mother and baby home redress scheme to fund the purchase and turn into a memorial garden [for those who died at Bessborough],” she said.

“We have no issue with buildings going elsewhere on the site provided they are done sensitively. We would prefer they would not have balconies overlooking the children’s burial site, but all we are looking for is that they be subject to the same rules for all buildings overlooking public graveyards.”

Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman in October said he understood Cork City Council was working on its development plan for 2022-2028 and he believed it was best placed to identify the best use of the Bessborough site that would provide it with protection from development.

The council said it has had no discussions with MWB Two Ltd, the Department of Children or the alliance regarding buying the site, nor had it an estimate as to the cost of buying the site under a compulsory purchase order. Asked about whether it was looking at the possibility of accessing the memorialisation fund to purchase the lands, the council said it was awaiting details and it would review the criteria for funding once they were published.