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Anger over lack of action on transforming former industrial school


From this week's Galway City Tribune

From this week's Galway City Tribune

Anger over lack of action on transforming former industrial school Anger over lack of action on transforming former industrial school

Every summer, a handful of survivors of St Anne’s Industrial School return to Taylor’s Hill. Some travel from as far as England and elsewhere to lay flowers at the grotto.

It’s an emotional trip each May. For them, the grotto was the one place that offered beauty, colour and solace during their childhoods in the religious orphanage.

In 2017, survivors of religious institutions, including some who spent years at St Anne’s, called for a National Centre for Survivors to be included in plans for the site’s redevelopment.

Among them was Seamus Ruttledge, who spent seven years of his early childhood there.

A national survivors’ centre, he said, would act as an information and resource centre, as well as a historical and archival space. It would also act as a place of healing for survivors and their families.

It was “essential to advance the cause of justice for all survivors and their families”, according to Mr Ruttledge at the time.

The call was ignored. Instead, without prior consultation with survivor groups, Galway City Council announced a proposal to redevelop St Anne’s as a “children and young people’s creative and cultural hub”.

The transfer of the property from the Sisters of Mercy, who ran the industrial school, to the local authority, was portrayed as a ‘gift’.

But this angered Galway West TD Catherine Connolly (Ind), because the building was part of the settlement reached in 2009 following the Ryan Report into child abuse.

Its owners had ignored calls from elected members of City Hall, in a motion proposed by then Councillor Connolly, and passed by majority, for the site to be handed over to the city.

The Sisters of Mercy subsequently identified it as a property to be transferred through the State Redress Scheme by way of a contribution towards the costs incurred by the state in responding to residential child abuse.

It has been empty since at least 2011, and possibly 2009. It is five years since City Council Chief Executive Brendan McGrath unveiled plans for a children’s hub at the site, but still it lies vacant and unused; the vision hasn’t progressed.

In the interim, the protected structure has been damaged by wear and tear, and by vandals. Its metal roof had been targeted by thieves several times.

Now, in the latest twist, Galway City Council has invited tenders from private security firms to fortify the building.  In the tender documents, the Council wants to pay a private company to install twelve CCTV cameras at the site.

It also wants a further twelve built-in motion detection cameras, and eight horn speaker public address systems.

The council wants a system that can monitor the building remotely. The successful contractor will be paid to provide a system that alerts security patrol, City Council staff or Gardaí of any site “incident”.

The framework agreement is for a maximum of five years, according to the tender.

Deputy Catherine Connolly, Leas-Cheann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann, said she was ‘horrified’ that the Council was now commissioning security cameras at the site.

“I welcome that it is now in public ownership, and did at the time, but it is abhorrent to me that it is still vacant after over a decade. It is abhorrent to me that they still have not come up with a plan that recognises and gives due cognisance to what was there before, as an industrial school,” she said.

“To talk about further fortification, and monitoring of cameras, is really ironic in the extreme because people were locked in there and now we’re going to be putting cameras in there to monitor a building, a protected structure, that we’re allowing to fall apart,” added Deputy Connolly.

She said that there were ‘so many uses for it’, that it beggars belief that it has been allowed to deteriorate.

“It’s a disgrace on so many levels. That it took so long to get it, and then when we got it the narrative was twisted that it was gifted, when it was actually part of redress, and now to leave it vacant, and to tender for security cameras, in a city of culture. This would’ve been a wonderful legacy [of Galway 2020].

“To me it is abhorrent, that so many years after a building became vacant, and something that was given as part of a redress scheme to make up for the suffering of children in that industrial school, that we’d leave it vacant, having no plan, it’s abhorrent,” added Deputy Connolly.

This article first appeared in the print edition of the Galway City Tribune, September 2. You can support our journalism by subscribing to the Galway City Tribune HERE. The print edition is in shops every Friday.

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