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Convent summerhouse blaze the last straw

De Facto

After years of neglect and disrespect, will someone on ‘the council’ finally step up and take on the convent?

Liamy MacNally

It has gone beyond a joke. Urgent action is needed on Westport Convent, a site owned by Mayo County Council. The summerhouse in the convent grounds was burned down over the weekend.
The council did not burn it down, but one could argue that it fanned the flames because of its inglorious and sustained inaction.
Mayo County Council drew up the Westport Development Plan 2010-2016 and is responsible for its implementation. The plan includes details of listed buildings. Westport Convent of Mercy is included, as is the summerhouse in the grounds.
Here is a reminder of the council’s duties:
“Each owner and occupier must ensure that neither a protected structure, nor any element of a protected structure that contributes to its special interest, is endangered through harm, decay or damage, whether over a short or long period, through neglect, through direct or indirect means. The protection applies to all parts of the structure that contribute to its character and special interest, including its interior, surrounding land or ‘curtilage’, any other structures on that land, their interiors, and all fixtures and features of these structures.”
Who checks the checkers? The council is not doing what it expects others to do. ‘The council’ is a misnomer. The reality is that someone, somewhere in what we know as ‘the council’ has to take responsibility for the convent and be responsible for what is happening to it. Hiding behind the blur that is ‘the council’ is unacceptable.
Yet, blaming ‘them’ is no good, because the ‘them’ we speak of do not exist. Blame is a game of history. We need to look to the future, be responsible and take action. Council officials, councillors and national politicians are all in the frame that is the council. Some one (or more) of them has to stand up and be counted.  
We do not need to hear words of condemnation aimed at irresponsible youths or parents who believe that their ‘Johnny’ would never do such a thing. There will be a time and place for that, and it is certainly not in the gift of anyone in the council to utter those words.
The bottom line is that the council is the only ‘body’ that can make a difference to Westport Convent and its grounds. It is the listed owner and the body responsible. The council bought the property to convert it to council offices. No one condones the youth vandalism of the convent and the grounds. Neither do people condone the ‘vandalism’ of disrespect, delay and dilapidation that is being perpetrated by the council.
Is there any council official, councillor or politician who will take responsibility for the convent, or are we expected to maintain a sullen silence over its continued neglect? Boarding up the convent and the school is not a solution. It is a mere admittance of defeat by desktop thinking.
The summerhouse is destroyed, 160-year-old stained-glass windows damaged, windows broken and graffiti everywhere. This all happened since the convent was taken over by Mayo County Council. We have been informed that the money to develop the convent has been ring-fenced by the council, so why delay?
There has been an ongoing campaign of concern by local people and former convent residents over the prolonged dithering by the council. A most-disgruntled Westport public, disillusioned Sisters of Mercy and a group of women who spent their childhoods in Westport Convent are all hurt by what is happening. Over the years, the Convent was home to hundreds of women. What is happening is most disrespectful to those women, all of whom are helpless as they witness the ongoing decay.
Someone had to sign the cheque when the Convent was bought with taxpayers’ money. In itself, that demands appropriate and responsible action from the council.
Last year, as part of the Westport 250 celebrations, the council was urged to take positive action on the convent project. It fell on deaf ears. The council inaction insults the living, and the dead buried in the convent grounds. It is time for a brutal honesty from someone in the council. There has to be a name, not to shame, but to take responsibility.