Westport Convent and the council of shame

De Facto

HEARTBREAKING SCENE The school’s main hall has been destroyed by vandals. Pic: Conor McKeown


De Facto
Liamy MacNally

Mayo County Council has some wonderful staff. The council was voted Local Authority of the Year 2020 because of the dedication and professionalism of the council staff, loyal public servants. Despite this accolade, someone somewhere is seriously dropping the ball when it comes to the council-owned Westport Convent.
We are familiar with some Mayo County Council contradictions. It cites biodiversity as an excuse not to cut grass while spraying the pavements, walkways and grass verges with a lethal pesticide that is banned in several countries. This risks the health of everyone but especially council outdoor staff, whose unions would want to wake up.
The photographs in last week’s Mayo News of the inside of the convent’s old Scoil Phádraig were deeply upsetting. And they only told half the story. There are also deeply disturbing scenes in and around the convent itself.
What is wrong within the bowels of power in Mayo County Council that a local authority can allow such wanton destruction and desecration to take place? What galls people is not just the physical damage being caused to a beautiful structure; for many it is the inherent and ongoing disrespect that has been shown by Mayo County Council since it took over the complex.
The convent was central to the development of Westport. The Sisters of Mercy have provided education to generations of Westport people, alongside assisting less well-off families and tending to the needs of the sick, dying and bereaved.
What is being allowed to happen there now is an affront to Westport people, the Sisters of Mercy and the young girls for whom the Convent was their home. It is an insult not just to the history of the town but also to the faith history of the area.
Westport convent is more than just a protected structure, with its attendant legal obligations, which are being ignored. Everybody is being compromised – council staff, locals, Mercy Sisters and councillors (and their relationship with locals).
We are way past the time for excuses. This is not the first time this issue has been highlighted in the pages of The Mayo News. Someone, somewhere within Mayo County Council has to take responsibility. The ‘corporate entity’ does not make decisions, people do. Will whoever is in charge please take charge and do the job that we taxpayers pay you to do?
What will it take for Mayo County Council to take appropriate action? There is no point in blaming ‘young people’ for doing damage. The fundamental responsibility to ensure the convent buildings are looked after securely rests with Mayo County Council. Even the power is still on in the old school! Is it any wonder young people recharge their phones there? Free power!
If the council is unwilling or unable to take on the responsibility then those in charge should say so. There are many townspeople who would support any effort to ensure the development of the site.
Another ‘launch’ or ‘plan’ for the future development of the site is not what’s needed. Proper care and attention to the existing buildings and grounds is what is required as a matter of urgency. What will we see next in the convent grounds? Desecration of the graves? How far away are we from that at the moment?
If there are people in power in the council unable or unwilling to ensure the security and safety of the convent complex they should say so. The least they owe to people is the simple duty of being honest. The ongoing failure of the council to properly look after the convent is causing much grief and embarrassment to people, none more so than the Sisters of Mercy, totally innocent parties.
We celebrated when the council bought the convent, thanks to the goodwill and good faith of the Sisters. We hoped its future would be secure. We believed the ethos of its history would be respected.
Unfortunately, the Sisters of Mercy have been left hanging out to dry by Mayo County Council, without any semblance of regret or shame. It is outrageous. There is no award for the deeply offensive council inaction, contrary to all levels of decency and respect. It’s shameful.