SURVIVORS of Bessborough Mother and Baby home have welcomed the decision to refuse planning permission for a development on the grounds, describing it as the first time that they have “gotten a form of justice”.
Planning permission for the residential development on the lands of Bessborough was refused by An Bord Pleanála, who said it would be premature to grant permission before establishing if there is a children's burial ground in the area.
MWB Two Ltd applied to An Bord Pleanála last November for permission to build 179 apartments on the lands under the strategic housing development (SHD) process.
An oral hearing on the plan for Bessborough concluded last month amid concerns about potential burials on the site of the intended development.
Having regarded the Fifth Interim Report (2019), the Final Report (2020) of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, and on the basis of information submitted in the course of the application and oral hearing, the Board said it was “not satisfied that the site was not previously used as, and does not contain a children’s burial ground”.
It said it considers that there are reasonable concerns in relation to the potential for a children’s burial ground within the site, associated with the former use of the lands as a Mother and Baby Home.
The land was used as a Mother and Baby Home from 1922 to 1998.
In this context, the Board said, it considers that it would be “premature” to grant permission for the proposed development before establishing whether there is a children’s burial ground located on the site and the extent of any such burial ground.
The decision has been welcomed by the survivors of the mother and baby home.
Following the decision, Catherine Coffey, who spent time as a pregnant woman in Bessborough before running away, said that the mothers have been heard.
“It just goes to show you that a community of primarily women who were in institutions, that something very positive happened out of all of the work that was put into this,” she said.
She described the decision as a significant, positive step in history.
"To some people, it mightn’t be a big deal but to us, it is a very big deal,” she said.
While their hard work has paid off, the next step is to ensure that the site is marked, preserved and protected, she said.
“All we want, and we’ve been consistent in it, is the children’s burial ground in Bessborough to be marked, preserved and protected so Ann O’Gorman and many more have the basic human right of laying a flower where their child is buried,” she added.
She noted the start of their long journey, which she said began when Ann O’Gorman shared her story of her daughter, Evelyn who was born in Bessborough.
Ms O’Gorman said she had Evelyn at the home and after passing out after the traumatic birth, she never saw her daughter again.
Speaking to The Echo, Ms O’Gorman said was “over the moon” to hear the news.
Ms O’Gorman said she was not expecting the planning to be refused.
“The mothers are with us. To get this far, after such a long journey and a heartbreaking road. Oh God, I can’t explain it, the joy I feel.”
The decision by An Bord Pleanála was also welcomed by Lord Mayor Cllr Joe Kavanagh who said he is “absolutely delighted” by the news.
“I listened into the oral hearing a couple of weeks ago and it’s a great victory for common sense I suppose.
“I’m absolutely thrilled, and I hope that we can now put any potential and possible development to bed, and we will never see development on that land."
He said that the land should be retained as a memorial to the children and the mothers who died there.
Sinn Féin TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire also welcomed the decision to what he described as “an incredibly insensitive and hurtful proposal to build on what was highly likely to be a Children’s Burial Ground”.
“These plans should never have been proposed in the first place,” he said.
The Cork South-Central TD noted the efforts of survivor groups and advocates and said that he hopes that the decision is the “first step” in getting answers for families.
He called on the Department to move on legislation to protect progression for Bessborough and all Mother and Baby Homes.
“I would urge the Council to step in to protect the site against further applications,” he added.
An Bord Pleanála’s refusal to grant planning permission is the correct decision, according to Social Democrats TD, and member of the Oireachtas Children's Committee, Holly Cairns.
Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns, who submitted an objection to the proposal, said that development was “always a highly inappropriate plan”.
"An Bord Pleanála reached a humane decision on this sensitive matter.
MWB Two Ltd. said it is disappointed by the decision.
In a statement, the developer said that the objection to the concept of building on a burial ground expressed by survivor groups and others is fully understood.
“However, as MWB Two Ltd. has previously said, experts in the areas of archaeological conservation and heritage found no evidence to suggest that its proposed development site contains any undocumented burials associated with the former Mother & Baby Home.
“Furthermore, MWB Two Ltd. believes that the identification of a burial ground on its land based on a single interpretation of old Ordnance Survey Ireland records is erroneous.”