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.
Galway Lotto prize winner off to see the King!
A National Lottery player from Conamara is still in disbelief after claiming their EuroMillions ‘Ireland Only Raffle’ ticket worth a staggering €1,005,000 this week – and is already planning a trip to Graceland!
The player, who wishes to remain anonymous, said they didn’t realise they had the winning ticket.
“I was looking at my ticket and it didn’t have any of the EuroMillions numbers, I didn’t think I’d won anything, so I threw it somewhere in the car. I completely forgot to check the raffle code on the bottom of the ticket!
“A few weeks later I decided to do a clear out of the car and I found the ticket wedged down the side of the seat. I scanned the ticket on the app and called the National Lottery Claims Team and that’s when they told me I was a millionaire! I couldn’t speak, I was in such complete and utter shock!
“I had a plan to surprise my wife for her birthday by putting the cheque in the card, but my great plan lasted all of one hour, I just had to tell her, I couldn’t keep it a secret any longer!”, they added.
The player purchased the winning EuroMillions ticket worth €1,005,000 on the day of the draw, Friday 19th August, in Costcutter in Beal an Dangan.
They revealed some plans they hope to achieve with the new life-changing prize.
“We’ve always wanted to go to Graceland in Memphis to visit the home of Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll himself. That’s all we have in mind for the moment, we’re still letting it all sink in”, they said.
Exhumations to begin next year at Tuam Mother and Baby Home site
A full exhumation of the bodies of children buried in the grounds of Tuam Mother and Baby Home will begin in 2023.
A ‘Director of Authorised Intervention’ is to be appointed by Government to oversee the excavation of the site where it is believed almost 800 children were interred in an unmarked grave.
Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman, in bringing matter before the Dáil, said it was incumbent on the State to address what was “a stain on our national conscience”.
Deputy Catherine Connolly, TD for Galway West, said while the news on the exhumation was welcome, she had “lost faith” in the Government which she said had “learnt absolutely nothing” and had to be “dragged” every step of the way.
It had failed to bring forward a redress scheme for survivors of the home, she said, and Minister O’Gorman had rowed back on a previous commitment to have an independent human rights review of the testimony provided by survivors to the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes.
“I don’t think he should ever have promised that because he was never in a position to do it. He was never going to question the establishment narrative given to us by the three wise commissioners, the narrative that told us that the evidence of those who came forward was contaminated and should therefore be treated with caution,” said Deputy Connolly.
“We continue to begrudge and to do everything belatedly. If we are seriously interested in redress, let us do it right.”
Paying tribute to those who shone a light on the wrongdoings in the Tuam Home and elsewhere, Deputy Connolly said it was they who had forced the Government’s hand.
“On the ground, we have seen Catherine Corless and, well before her, Mary Raftery. I also want to mention Patricia Burke Brogan [activist and playwright] who died last week – may she rest in peace – with regard to the work she did in respect of the Magdalen laundries, in particular with the play Eclipsed.
“The groups on the ground have certainly forced us and dragged us every step of the way,” she said.
Agreeing, Minister O’Gorman said it was absolutely right to recognise critical the role of Tuam historian, Catherine Corless.
“We would not be here today but for her dogged persistence in highlighting what happened in Tuam.
“Deputy Connolly mentioned the redress legislation. This legislation has been worked on by my Department over the summer and I will bring it to Cabinet in October to seek approval for the final Bill and to bring it rapidly through the Houses [of the Oireachtas] and the committee, so that we can provide redress to family members,” he said.
Meanwhile, Deputy Seán Canney, TD for Galway East, said what had happened had impacted the people of Tuam deeply and said the Director, when he or she is appointed, should be based in Galway and seek to engage with locals during the excavation process.
“It has created a sense of a stain on, or a shadow over Tuam as a town. Tuam is a very good town and has the finest people living there.
“The Minister has set out in his speech how a Director would be appointed . . . and that an office will be set up to manage the excavation and all that goes with it. However, it is important that there is local engagement with the people of the town,” said Deputy Canney.
“The office should be set in the town and there should be a liaison aspect to the brief that this director will have so people from the locality who want to know what is going on can find out,” he continued, adding that locals should be able to meet the Director in Tuam and not Dublin or anywhere else.
Minister O’Gorman outlined that the Director would oversee a phased forensic-standard excavation, recovery, analysis and re-interment of the remains.
“The order also provides that the Director will carry out an identification programme as an additional function for the intervention,” he said.
Customs ‘dip’ for green diesel on Aran island
Revenue officers made an unannounced visit to Inis Mór last week – with around 10 customs officials performing spot checks for marked diesel.
The Connacht Tribune understands that three motorists were nabbed by the officers for driving with ‘green diesel’ – a fuel only permissible for off-road use, mainly in agriculture.
According to a source in Revenue, this surprise visit is a return to normal service, with spot checks having stalled during Covid.
As part of the operation, customs officers were drafted in from various locations and travelled to the island without prior notice to Gardaí.
Having arrived by ferry from both Galway Docks and Ros a’ Mhíl, officers performed a number of checks at the Pier in Kilronan and also visited Dún Aonghasa.
Vehicles were dipped for green diesel for which tax is paid at a much cheaper rate than road diesel. Those convicted of using marked diesel on the roads face a maximum fine of up to €5,000.
A garda spokesperson confirmed that a group of Revenue officers visited Inis Mór on Friday, September 16, and were facilitated by gardaí on the island.