Community services at Bessborough to stay; campaigners call for surrounding lands to be preserved 

Community services at Bessborough to stay; campaigners call for surrounding lands to be preserved 

Bessborough estate. Picture: Denis Scannell

THERE has been a cautious welcome for news that vital community facilities at the Bessborough campus in Blackrock will be preserved, following an announcement by the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.

Staff at the Bessborough centre were informed yesterday that the Bessborough Centre Company Limited will continue the running of the services, including the creche, and that no jobs will be affected.

The Bessborough centre accommodates community projects, which deliver services to vulnerable families and children, including education programmes and employment.

The news has been met with some ambivalence, however, as the fate of the surrounding land has yet to be confirmed. The statement issued by the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary said the order will step down from the board of directors this summer.

“Previous announcements have referred to the transfer of the Bessborough Services to another service provider and the sale of lands at Bessborough,” it read. “We now wish to confirm that the Bessborough Centre Company Limited by Guarante will continue the running of the services, including the creche, in full, with no impact on employment levels.

“We are pleased to have found a way of maintaining this excellent service into the future. It has always been the desire of the Sisters that the services would continue.

“The Sisters will step down from the Board of Directors by the end of June 2020 and be replaced by lay members.

“We also wish to confirm that we are gifting the Bessborough campus buildings including those in which the Bessborough services are housed to the State via the HSE so that the services can continue in their present location.”

The sisters also thanked the State for “its willingness to facilitate the continuation of the services into the future so that the needs of some of the most vulnerable citizens of the Irish State will continue to be met”.

“We can also confirm that discussions regarding the sale of the remaining lands, excluding the convent occupied by our sisters at Bessborough, are ongoing and it is now envisaged that this process will also be completed by the end of June,” said the statement. “We will be issuing a further statement on this matter, when all the necessary details are finalised.”

Catherine Coffey at the back of Bessborough. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Catherine Coffey at the back of Bessborough. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Bessborough survivor Catherine Coffey said that while she is delighted and relieved for employees of the centre, she is wary of the fate of the surrounding lands.

Lands on the site, part of which was a former mother and baby home, are of an extremely sensitive nature. The order says it has co-operated fully with the Commission of Investigation.

“It is a remarkable gesture and credit where credit is due,” said Ms Coffey. “The services provided at Bessborough campus are vital for the community but myself and other Bessborough survivors desperately want to see the surrounding land preserved and protected.”

This sentiment was echoed by campaigner Maureen Considine who said there should be no sale, no development, and no pre-planning until the potential presence of burial grounds is determined and fully investigated.

“Calling it ‘gifting’ is misleading as the State has pumped money into that site, rental fees, infrastructure development, and the order was paid for every woman and child held there too,” said Ms Considine.

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