A BARRISTER representing survivors of the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home has told an Oireachtas committee that excavating children’s graves at the site would be desecrating their burial place.
David Dodd was speaking on behalf of the Cork Survivors and Supporters Association (CSSA) at a hearing of the joint committee on children, disability, equality and integration on the Institutional Burials Bill.
The bill allows for excavation and reinterment of remains at former mother and baby homes.
Mr Dodd told the committee that “the bill runs the risk of being well-intentioned but achieving precisely the wrong thing”.
He said the CSSA members view any excavation of the site where they believe the graves are as “desecrating the last burial place of the children, a place where they have rested together for 40, 50, and 60 years”.
He continued: “The CSSA seeks that the site be appropriately cared for and memorialised. There should be an appropriate fencing of the burial ground to prevent animals accessing the site and people inadvertently and unknowingly walking on graves, and appropriate marking and commemoration of the children’s burial places.
“The CSSA seeks the maintenance, preservation and memorialisation of the children’s burial ground on the site of the former Bessborough Mother and Baby Home.
“The CSSA does not seek for the children’s burial ground to be excavated and does not seek for the children’s remains to be exhumed and reinterred elsewhere. Rather, the children’s remains should be preserved in place, with appropriate marking and memorialisation, and a right of access for relatives wishing to access the graves.”
The Bessborough institution was opened in Blackrock in 1922 and had 9,768 women admitted to it between then and 1998.
A report published in January by the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation found that an estimated 9,000 children died in 18 institutions between 1922 and 1998, when the last such home closed.
It said 923 children born in or associated with Bessborough died in infancy or early childhood. Most of their burial places are unknown.
Last month, An Bord Pleanála said it would stage an oral hearing into the planning application for 179 apartments at the site, following concerns that the development could encroach on a former children’s burial ground.
The CSSA believes there is reliable mapping showing the burial ground of the children and Mr Dodd supplied the map to members of the committee yesterday.
Meanwhile, Bessborough survivor Martin Pomfrey, of the Know My Own group, told the committee that many of those children buried in Bessborough have close relatives still alive who have been searching for decades for their remains.
He said X-ray equipment had been used to find the remains of Thomas Kent in the grounds of Cork Prison a century after his death. He said there was an urgency required in relation to Bessborough because of the plans to develop the site.
Earlier, another survivor, Mary Harney, told the committee that she believed there needed to be a role for coroners in the reinterment of babies recovered from sites such as Bessborough, to provide answers on how they died.