The grounds of the former mother and baby institution at Bessborough extended originally to around 200 acres. In its Fifth Interim Report, the Commission of Investigation noted that:
'About 100 acres were sold in 1973 for the building of the N25 and for social housing. The Commission understands that there are about 60 acres of ground around the building now.'
It is my understanding that the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary retains part of the site and that some land has been transferred to the HSE. Other land on the site is owned by private parties who intend to develop it for housing, subject to the appropriate permissions.
The Commission concluded that:
- it is likely that burials did take place in the grounds of Bessborough
- despite efforts, the location of burials on the site could not be ascertained
- the site was too large to feasibly excavate
- there was insufficient evidence to support a finding of the likely location of burials
A particular part of the site, not in public ownership, is identified on a 1950s Ordnance survey map as a burial ground. Campaigners consider it the most likely location of burials. It is notable that An Bord Pleanála has refused permission to develop the land because:
'it is not satisfied that the site was not previously used as, and does not contain, a children's burial ground and considers that there are reasonable concerns in relation to the potential for a children's burial ground within the site [...].'
As the Deputy may be aware, I made submissions to An Bord Pleanála and Cork City Council, as part of the normal planning process, in respect of two planning applications made on the Bessborough lands, requesting that due consideration be given to the sensitivity of the site and the conclusions of the commission’s report. Like himself, I attended and made an oral submission to the Oral Hearing on the SHD application.
As the land in question is in private ownership, it is not open to Government to procure or carry out investigations there.
Earlier this year I wrote to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage asking him for support in encouraging local authorities to provide specific protections within their Development Plan processes for any burial sites that may be linked to former Mother and Baby or County Home Institutions. I know that Cork City Council has committed to undertaking its development plan process and I would urge the councillors to take account of the Commission's conclusions in the zoning of the land.
I continue to maintain a close interest in the Bessborough site, and I will continue to engage with survivors and the local authorities in terms of protecting this site.