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Dublin: 9 °C Wednesday 16 October, 2019
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Nuns accused of 'run and grab all' as Bessborough campus put up for sale

€30 million in State funding has been spent on the site over the last two decades.

A graveyard at the Bessborough Centre in Blackrock, Cork
A graveyard at the Bessborough Centre in Blackrock, Cork
Image: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

THE SISTERS OF the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary have decided to sell a 40-acre estate in Cork which accommodates a range of services for vulnerable families and children.

Over the past twenty years, €30 million in State funding has been spent on Bessborough in Blackrock on the southside of Cork city to maintain and upgrade the site.

However, 100 staff at the facility were called to a meeting on Tuesday and told that their jobs would be lost within three months.

The nuns are reportedly looking for another service provider to take over the services provided by the facility, but not at the existing site.

According to a staff statement released to 96FM, the religious order attached to the site have decided to sell the estate as part of a restructuring operation.

Staff have said that the sale is a “run and grab all attempt by the Bessborough nuns”.

“The Bessborough Estate is in the final processes of being sold and the nuns, with their headquarters in the UK, who ran the infamous Mother and Baby Home are now due to make €12 millions for themselves and pocket the money despite a long legacy of questionable services for mothers and babies in Ireland,” the statement said.

Staff also said the 40-acre estate delivered a range of vital services to vulnerable families and children, an award winning crèche, and a wide range of employment services.

“The nuns are selling the lands so as to maximise return on the sale of this prime development land,” they added.

Protective notice

It is understood that the staff have have effectively been put on protective notice, but have been given no reassurances of redundancies or alternative jobs.

Staff also say that the the nuns have abandoned their founding purposes and moral compass.

“At the heart of the work of the Bessborough Centre over the last twenty years has been the provision of social inclusion supports for vulnerable families,” they said.

“In recent years, the centre has become renowned for its specialist and comprehensive work in supporting families and keeping them together.

“The closure of the services is a total abandonment of the Christian vision of supporting life.

“The nuns have decided that the easiest way out is simply to sell whatever vision they espoused.

“Though the nuns are nominally the governors of the centre at Bessborough, they have effectively been absent from the operation and management of the centre for ten years.

“Yet the nuns are about to run off with a significant amount of money, leaving none in Ireland to compensate staff or the State for the huge investment that they have made in the family services.”

Relocation prospects uncertain

Staff say that the centre is viable, provides necessary services and is a large employer in the city.

Tara Keogh, a child protection specialist based at the centre, said that staff are unsure about their prospects for relocation.

“We are all trying to put our heads trying to think about that but I don’t know how realistic it is at this point with such short notice,” she said.

“We have the benefit of the large grounds here. Our community employment scheme maintains fabulous grounds here, which are very therapeutic and necessary for the families we work with.”

A statement issued by a PR company on behalf of the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary said that, “after much consideration and soul searching, they have decided to cease their involvement with the centre”. The statement said that the order was looking for a new service provider to continue the work at a different location.

It continued: 

“At a meeting with staff at the centre yesterday evening the Sisters explained that this decision has been taken in the context of the overall restructuring of the work of the congregation in keeping with present resources. The sisters in Cork are part of an international congregation based in London.

“The Sisters want to again affirm the excellent service being provided at the centre by dedicated and committed staff. The Sisters recognise the concern this decision will create for staff and we will now be actively seeking another service provider that will continue this excellent service into the future.

“The Sisters previously announced their decision to sell a significant portion of the lands at Bessborough and this process is ongoing.”

The centre currently offers a residential parent and baby unit for families in crisis who have young children or who are pregnant, a supervised child contact/access service, a family support service to assist families-at-risk in keeping their children safe and to remain together and a community crèche.

It also is home to a secondary school and training centre for second-chance education.

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About the author:

Olivia Kelleher

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