Belfast Telegraph

This is no fitting memorial to babies, say bereaved Northern Ireland parents

By Cate McCurry

This is the design proposed by Belfast City Council for a memorial to babies buried in an unmarked grave - and which has been rejected by bereaved parents.

The City Cemetery plot was the burial place for nearly 8,000 babies who did not live long after birth or were stillborn, between 1945 and 1996.

The permanent memorial design commissioned by the council has been deemed "unsuitable" by families.

Agnes Close, whose baby son Maxwell is buried there, has been visiting the plot in west Belfast since her son died more than 44 years ago.

The Belfast mother said she was left disappointed when the council failed to include a group of bereaved parents in the process.

"We were shocked when we saw that the sign had been completed without our input," she said. "We couldn't understand the memorial and told them it was not what we wanted and that it didn't do anything for the baby plot and was not self-explanatory.

"The group said very clearly that this isn't a memorial to our babies. We didn't see where they were coming from and it was unsuitable.

"We would like to see a memorial with a baby included as there are 7,863 babies buried in the plot and we would like it to be representative of what it is.

"Babies died and families weren't allowed to see them, so it's fitting for the council to acknowledge this."

The council has agreed to reconsider the design and keep families involved in the design process.

Mrs Close's baby boy was born in January 1973, but passed away hours later.

She said he was taken from her when he died and hospital staff said they would take care of him.

Years later she discovered he was buried two days after he died, though she played no part in Maxwell's burial.

The plot, which is at the back of the Falls Road cemetery, is marked by trees.

The burial plot was used for babies who died shortly after birth and also for stillbirths coming from the Jubilee Maternity Hospital, from other maternity hospitals and home births, as well as infants who died aged a few months.

There are around 40 babies buried in each grave.

North Belfast DUP MLA William Humphrey welcomed the council's decision for a memorial. He added: "However, it is deeply regrettable that a lack of consultation during the design process resulted in a design which members of the group think is totally unsuitable.

"Members of the group have been clear throughout in their desire for a memorial which signifies the purpose of the plot and which does not need to be explained.

"I wish to commend the members who attended the consultation meeting.

"While it is to be welcomed that council officers have recognised the need for a new design process, in which the views of members are taken fully on board, I am concerned that this will result in additional delay and has caused unnecessary stress and cost."

A spokeswoman for the council said: "Following the consultation process, Belfast City Council has agreed to work with the groups to revisit the design of the proposed memorial."

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