Priority Questions - Children’s Burial Grounds

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 747 No. 5

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  5.  Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan  Information on Maureen O'Sullivan  Zoom on Maureen O'Sullivan   asked the Minister for Arts; Heritage and the Gaeltacht  Information on Jimmy Deenihan  Zoom on Jimmy Deenihan   if there is a list of identified sites specific to cillíní; and if he is satisfied that the legislation is sufficiently strong to protect these unmarked graves. [36918/11]

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan: Information on Jimmy Deenihan  Zoom on Jimmy Deenihan  The term cillín traditionally applies to an area of unconsecrated ground where unbaptised or stillborn children were interred. The origins of the practice are believed to date back to the medieval period. Graves were generally marked by simple, low, upright stones or slabs that usually lacked inscription or other carving.

All known cillíní are listed as children’s burial grounds in the statutory record of monuments and places maintained by my Department in accordance with the requirements of the National Monuments Acts. In all, details of 1,393 cillíní are contained in the record.

Given their inclusion in the record of monuments and places, cillíní are entitled to statutory protection under section 12 of the National Monuments (Amendment) Act 1994. This provision requires any person intending to carry out work at or in relation to a recorded monument to provide the Minister with two months advance notice of the proposal. This allows my Department time to consider how the work may proceed in tandem with the protection of the particular monument. Failure to comply with the requirement to notify the Minister is an offence under the Acts and is subject to significant penalties.

I am advised that no proposals likely to impact on cillíní have been notified to my Department in recent years.

Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan: Information on Maureen O'Sullivan  Zoom on Maureen O'Sullivan  This is a sensitive area. We are not talking about stillborn babies only. Some of those buried in unconsecrated ground were victims of infanticide or suicide or people who died in mental institutions or industrial schools. Quite a number of people were, for various reasons, not buried in consecrated ground.

I accept what the Minister says about the sites that are included in the list of monuments, but there are far more in the country. In many places, there is a reliance on local knowledge and folklore to protect them. In many cases there are no living relatives but in a significant number of cases there are.

Could the matter of unmarked graves be pursued with the archaeology departments in our universities? There is a danger that they could be lost with development.

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan: Information on Jimmy Deenihan  Zoom on Jimmy Deenihan  I welcome what Deputy O’Sullivan has said. If the Deputy has any information about unconsecrated burial grounds or locations where investigations should be carried out, I ask her to bring that to my attention so that I can arrange for her to meet the National Parks and Wildlife Service and senior officials in my Department on this very sensitive issue whenever she would like that opportunity. If she wishes to pursue this matter I will help her in every way possible. I agree that this is a very sensitive issue.

In our own neighbourhoods we have heard of where there were graveyards in the past where infants were buried in various circumstances. We may not have documentary evidence to prove this but some of this information may be accurate. If I can assist the Deputy in pursuing this matter, I will do so.

[954]Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan: Information on Maureen O'Sullivan  Zoom on Maureen O'Sullivan  I thank the Minister for that. An interesting survey is being carried out in Milltown Cemetery in Belfast involving Queen’s University Belfast. I will bring the Minister’s offer to the people who have been asking me about this issue.

I recently read an article about a certain developer who moved a 4,000 year old megalithic burial tomb out of the way of a proposed development. We know that developer’s life has completely changed. Maybe there is a lesson for us in protecting our ancient burial grounds.

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan: Information on Jimmy Deenihan  Zoom on Jimmy Deenihan  That person was pursued under the National Monuments Act. I will shortly introduce a new Bill which will give further protection to monuments. My Department is working on the Bill at present. So much legislation associated with the troika deal and the financial situation is coming through that this Bill had to be delayed to some extent, but I will introduce it shortly. I am sure Deputy O’Sullivan will want to take a further look at this area when the Bill is debated. If the Deputy can give me more information on what is happening in Milltown Cemetery, especially the work by Queen’s University, I would be very interested in that.


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