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Council-owned convent saga continues

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UP IN FLAMESThe summer house on the grounds of Westport Convent caught fire on Saturday night. Pic: Stephan Breton

Council-owned convent saga continues

Áine Ryan and Edwin McGreal

ONE year after a county council executive told The Mayo News that part of the project to redevelop the old Convent of Mercy in Westport was about to go out to tender, a fire has gutted its summer house.
It is the latest twist in the ongoing controversy over the dereliction of the listed buildings – boarded up recently – purchased by Mayo County Council a decade ago for €4 million.
In a statement released yesterday, Catherine McConnell, Director of Services for the West Mayo Municipal District confirmed: “A fire occurred in the Summer House on the Convent grounds on Saturday evening last, April 7. The fire services responded and brought the situation under control. Mayo County Council have CCTV systems at the property and the gardaí are currently investigating and reviewing CCTV images available from the Convent site.”
Subsequent queries by The Mayo News about the present status of development plans for the project were unanswered at the time of going to press last night.
In March 2017, her predecessor, Tom Gilligan said: “There is a masterplan for the whole site and the council will be putting parts of the project to tender in the next couple of weeks.” He explained at the time that the multi-faced development would be implemented on a phased basis and, moreover, that before the dissolution of Westport Town Council in 2014 it had ‘ring-fenced €1.5 million for the project’.
Issues regarding its dereliction and its increased use as a drinking den and site for anti-social behaviour were raised by a number of county councillors at the February meeting of the municipal district. Dubbing the site as a health and safety risk, Fine Gael Cllr Tereasa McGuire said ‘with a heavy heart’ that it was time to sell it as it had become ‘a millstone’ around the local authority’s necks.    
Her colleagues Cllrs Christy Hyland and Brendan Mulroy concurred, with the former arguing that it was increasingly ‘a death trap’.
Condemnation
SPEAKING at yesterday’s (Monday) Mayo County Council meeting, Cllr Christy Hyland said there would be no derelict site at the convent if Westport Town Council was still in existence.
Addressing Minister of State for Local Government John Paul Phelan on suggestions for better local government, Cllr Hyland cited the fire at the convent as an example of where Westport Town Council, abolished in 2014, could have made a difference.
“That summer house is part of our history and it was burned to the ground on Saturday night. I want to condemn it out of hand.
Thank God there was no one in it. It has been highlighted numerous times by myself and my colleagues, Cllr Tereasa McGuire and Cllr Brendan Mulroy, that a tragedy was going to occur.
“The county council bought that site a number of years ago. If we had the town council still in existence, we’d have the convent site up and running by now. We (Westport Town Council) were €4 million in the black. We were well organised, we ran a good business,” he added.

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