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Part of controversial plans for apartments at Bessborough refused planning permission

Survivors of Bessborough mother and baby home have welcomed the news.

Toys and flowers pictured at the 'Little Angels' memorial plot in the grounds of Bessborough House in Blackrock, Cork, in 2014.
Toys and flowers pictured at the 'Little Angels' memorial plot in the grounds of Bessborough House in Blackrock, Cork, in 2014.
Image: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

PART OF A controversial plan for apartments on land on the former estate of the Bessborough mother and baby home in Cork has been rejected by Cork City Council.

Planners in the local authority have refused planning permission for an eight-storey block of 67 apartments on 3.7 acres of privately-owned land.

MWB Two Ltd has applied to build 258 residential units – six houses and 252 apartments – on the site, as well as a creche.

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”.

The council said the eight-storey apartment block “has been designed as part of a larger development that is subject to a separate consent process”.

“It is considered that the proposed development cannot be permitted in isolation, due to its scale, relationship to the Historic Landscape in which it sits and its physical detachment.

“Development of the kind proposed, therefore would be premature pending the determination by the competent authority of the separate Strategic Housing Development application on the adjoining lands.”

The plans were criticised by survivors because, as highlighted in the mother and baby home report published last month, the burial place of hundreds of children who died in the institution remains unknown.

The Cork Survivors and Supporters Alliance, which represents some survivors from Bessborough, has welcomed the council’s decision, describing it as “a rare happy day and victory in our cause”.

The group said it awaits the An Bord Pleanála decision on the rest of the proposal.

An Bord Pleanála is due to make a decision on the remaining units on 30 March.

The rejection of planning permission for the apartment block was first reported by the Irish Examiner.

A spokesperson for the developer told the newspaper: “MWB Two Ltd notes the decision by Cork City Council in relation to its proposed Gateway View development and will take the time to review the Council’s decision over the coming days.”

Final report

More than 900 children died in Bessborough or in hospital after being transferred from the home in question.

Despite “very extensive inquiries and searches”, the Commission of Investigation was only able to establish the burial place of 64 children.

The burial places of more than 800 babies and children who died while they were residents of Bessborough are therefore unknown, with the Commission concluding that it is likely some of them were buried in unmarked graves.

Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman last month urged An Bord Pleanála to take account of concerns raised by survivors and the Commission’s final report into mother and baby homes.

“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.

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.

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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”.

Contains reporting by Cónal Thomas

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Órla Ryan

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