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Minister expresses serious concerns about planning permission for apartments at Bessborough site

Roderic O’Gorman has asked planners to read today’s Commision of Investigation’s findings on burials at the former mother and baby home.

bessborough-single-mothers-and-babies-homes Childrens teddy's and toys along with flowers sit at the 'Little Angels' memorial plot in the grounds of Bessborough House in Blackrock, Cork. Source: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

MINISTER RODERIC O’Gorman has urged An Bord Pleanála to take account of concerns raised by the Commission of Investigation’s final report into mother and baby homes regarding burials at the former Bessborough site in Co Cork. 

A contentious planning application for the development of apartments on the privately-owned site which was once part of the Bessborough estate has been met with concerns from survivors groups. 

In its 5th interim report, the Commission said it is “not known where the vast majority of the children who died in Bessborough are buried”. 

Despite locating the remains of at least 42 infants at the former Sean Ross mother and baby home in Tipperary, the Commission’s final report said it spent “considerable time” trying to establish the burial places of more than 1,400 infants and children who died either in St Finbarr’s Hospital or at the Bessborough Home between 1922 and 1998. 

In 1943, 75% of the children who were born or admitted to the Bessborough home died.

The Commission has identified the burial places of 101 infants who died in either St Finbarr’s or the Bessborough home. 

The Commission concluded that, given the burial practices of maternity hospitals in Cork in the mid to late 20th century, it would be “difficult” to locate the burial places of the remaining 1,300 or so infants who died at St Finbarr’s and Bessborough. 

Prior to today’s publication, the Commission had said it was “difficult to comprehend” that no member of the local congregation was able to identify where the children who died at Bessborough are buried. 

It also called into question evidence provided by the religious order that ran the mother and baby home. 

“The Commission remains perplexed and concerned at the inability of any member of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary to identify the burial place of the children who died in Bessborough,” it said in its final report today. 

As part of is work, the Commission undertook mapping and landscaping assessments on the Bessborough grounds as well as a site survey. 

“It is clear that there are a number of locations within the grounds where burials could have taken place. However, there is no significant surface evidence of systematic burial anywhere except for the congregation burial ground,” the Commission concluded. 

It is likely that some of the children are buried in the grounds of Bessborough, the Commission said, but that it was unable to find any physical or documentary evidence of this.

The Commission “did not consider it feasible to excavate 60 acres not to mention the rest of the former 200 acre estate”.

file-photo-the-final-report-of-the-commission-of-investigation-into-mother-and-baby-homes-will-be-brought-before-cabinet-by-minister-for-children-roderic-ogorman-this-morning-before-being-published Minister for Children Roderic O'Gorman Source: Sam Boal

In its final report, the Commission reports that a number of people and organisations made suggestions about possible locations for children’s graves both in the area which is currently part of the Bessborough estate and in areas which were sold in earlier years.

“The Commission recognised then and still recognises that it is highly likely that burials did take place in the grounds of Bessborough. The only way that this can be established is by an excavation of the entire property including those areas that are now built on,” the Commission concluded. 

There are currently plans submitted to An Bord Pleanála to build 246 apartments on a privately owned 3.7-acre site in the south-eastern corner of what was once the Bessborough estate.

The developer has applied under the the fast-track strategic housing development (SHD) process for 179 of these units in three buildings ranging in height from five to seven stories. 

The SHD site overlaps an area of land identified on historic maps as a “children’s burial ground”. 

In a letter to ABP today, Minister O’Gorman urged the board to “take account” of the Commission’s final report and the “unresolved questions” about possible burials on the site and the location of these burials. 

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“It is notable that that those who have made representations to me confirm that they are not opposed to development of the site. Their concerns are focused on the appropriate treatment of any burial ground with some reasonable access for relatives to visit,” O’Gorman said in his letter. 

“In my view, any permission that might be granted should include appropriate conditions to address the sensitivities and reasonable concerns around this site.

“In particular, the Bord should have regard to the need for further archeological investigations by appropriate experts prior to works commencing and on-going monitoring in the course of any subsequent works.

“In addition, the Bord and the developer should give due consideration to the requests from survivors and their families for appropriate access and respectful memorialisation in due course,” said O’Gorman. 

I would strongly urge those making the decision on this application to read the relevant chapters of the 5th Interim Report and the Final Report concerning Bessborough, before making a final determination on this planning application. 

A State apology, redress and access to their birth information should be given to survivors of mother and baby homes, Commission of Investigation recommended today.

The commission’s long-awaited final report – which can be read here – was published this afternoon. 

It confirms that about 9,000 children died in the 18 homes under investigation – about 15% of all the children who were in the institutions.

The report notes: “In the years before 1960 mother and baby homes did not save the lives of ‘illegitimate’ children; in fact, they appear to have significantly reduced their prospects of survival. The very high mortality rates were known to local and national authorities at the time and were recorded in official publications.”

It also confirms that infant human remains were located during an excavation at Sean Ross mother and baby home. These remains appear to have been buried in coffins, unlike the situation at Tuam.

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