The green light has been granted for a multi-million euro mental health facility in Tuam – despite concerns that the development would interfere with the integrity of a burial ground on the old Grove Hospital site.
Fears have been expressed that the part demolition of the old Bon Secours Hospital in Tuam and the provision of a mental health unit could have a negative impact on the unofficial burial of babies in unconsecrated graves.
Planning permission for the conversion of the old Grove Hospital into a state-of-the-art mental health facility was granted by Galway County Council earlier this year but this became the subject of an appeal to An Bord Pleanala by an Oranmore woman who believes her infant brother is buried there.
But the Planning Appeals Board rejected the appeal and granted permission for the development subject to seven conditions being complied with.
One of the conditions stated that the appointment of a conservation expert be appointed. They will manage the removal of stained glass windows from the building to ensure the integrity and protection of the historic fabric of the building.
There was no mention of the protection of any children’s burial ground in the decision to grant planning for the mental health unit on the site of the old Grove Hospital.
However, the Health Service Executive were asked to facilitate the preservation, protection and recording of archaeological materials or features that may exist within the site.
The decision has been welcomed by Galway East TD Sean Canney who said that it paves the way for the proposed mental day hospital and disability facility to proceed.
“This project follows on from the completion of the Tuam ambulance base which is now fully staffed. Also the new €10 million Primary Care Centre is reaching completion and will be opened later this year.
“Progress is also being made on the new Community Nursing Home and I expect that the design stage for this project will progress rapidly,” Deputy Canney added.
The planning appeal was lodged by woman living in Oranmore who says that her infant brother may have been buried on the site of the old Grove Hospital in Tuam when it was under the control of the Bon Secours sisters. She took her case to An Bord Pleanala.
She stated that her brother may have been buried there in or around 1958 or 1959 and that there may be other infants buried there. In her submission, she also states that while the nuns’ remains were removed for reburial, the remains of the babies were ignored and left behind.
Over the past year, Tuam became the focus of national and international media attention following the revelations surrounding the Mother and Baby Home off the Athenry Road which was also operated by the Bon Secours sisters.
But planning permission was granted by Galway County Council to the Health Service Executive for the part demolition, refurbishment and remodelling of the Grove Hospital which closed more than 25 years ago.
This is to provide a mental health services facility, an early intervention and disability services facility and shared services for the HSE West.
It is proposed to carry out the works in two phases. The first phase will involve the part demolition of a two-storey extension that was constructed in the 1960s and the refurbishment of the ground floor and first floor of the existing hospital building.
The works will also involve the reconfiguration of the car park to the front of the building providing 20 spaces and the provision of a new car park to the rear of the hospital which will have 26 additional spaces.
The second phase will require some further demolition to the existing building and refurbishment works to the remaining sections of the first and second floors along with the old chapel, where the sittings of Tuam District Court are currently held. This facility will become unavailable to the Court Service at the end of June next.
However, it became the subject of a planning appeal from Noreen Meehan from Oranmore who said in her submission that her interest in the old Grove site arises from her belief that her infant brother may be buried there.
She says that she and her family are fearful that the area could be inadvertently interfered with or disturbed as a consequence of site development works.
“We want to ensure the current owners (the HSE) respect and protect the heritage of this burial ground into the future and we propose this plot of ground be designated and preserved as a memorial garden and landscaped without interfering with the remains of the babies buried there,” she said.
Ms Meehan has asked An Bord Pleanala that no further works or landscaping be carried out to this area pending a full detailed archaeological assessment is conducted by appropriately qualified independent consultants. She was not successful in her appeal.