FULLY vacant for the past nine years and quickly becoming seriously dilapidated, there has been a call for the sprawling former St Finan’s Hospital in Killarney to be given a new lease of life by converting a section of the building into social and affordable apartments.
It would, in turn, ease the accommodation shortage in the town and the complex also has so much potential for many other uses, Mayor of Killarney, Cllr Marie Moloney, has insisted.
She said the property – which is being sold by the HSE – could be acquired by the local authority and renovated in a manner similar to the former psychiatric hospital in Cork City and it could provide accommodation units for people living on their own or the homeless.
“I am begging the council not to let that land go,” she said, adding that it was the local authority that gave the hospital land to the health service in the first place.
“We are only taking back what is ours,” she said.
Mayor Moloney acknowledged that the hospital has had its dark days but stressed that it could have a bright future.
“In the early days people went in with post-natal depression and they never saw the light of day again,” she said.
The mayor was told that Kerry County Council has agreed – subject to conveyancing and normal governance guidelines – to purchase a site north of the bypass road from the HSE and that land is intended primarily for housing and associated purposes.
The 5.5-cre site is part of the HSE property portfolio but it is separate to the St Finan’s site since the building of the bypass cut through the original land.
Clllr Brendan Cronin said the St Finan’s building is of critical importance to Killarney while Cllr John O’Donoghue said he couldn’t think of a building more suitable for apartments.
Cllr Maura Healy-Rae said a State body like the HSE shouldn’t be allowed to sell the building on the private market when it could be used for housing and apartments with other proposed uses including a catering college and a centre for people with Alzheimer’s disease.
Cllr Niall Kelleher said the HSE has made the decision that the land and the building should be sold together and he suggested that the matter be raised with the Land Development Agency.
“What are we going to do? Let it rot further? There are people homeless and sleeping on couches and families sleeping in one room.
“There is an amount of people being evicted because landlords are selling up and leaving the rental market,” Cllr Kelleher said.
Cllr Donal Grady said, however, that the history of the building could not be overlooked.
“A lot of people have very bad memories of that place. A lot of bad things happened to poor creatures up there,” he said.
He said the council could use the land around it but should not plan to convert the building itself.
“It is a protected structure and it would cost a fortune to do anything with it. It would be a noose around our neck,” Cllr Grady warned.
Cllr Brendan Cronin acknowledged that “a lot of terrible things” occurred there but the building can’t be held at fault for that.
“Old churches have been converted to restaurants. It can be done,” he said.
Cllr John O’Donoghue said while a lot of horrific stories can be linked to the former hospital, there were many happy stories too.
“Do it up, modernise it and let’s create some good memories,” he suggested.