THE families of babies buried in the unmarked children’s plot to the rear of Milltown Cemetery have branded the Catholic Church “heartless” after they say they were ordered to remove the touching memorials they’ve put up to their little loved ones ahead of this year’s Cemetery Sunday.

Speaking to the Andersonstown News this week, the families say they were informed that the moving temporary memorials had to go in  an email sent by the Trustees of Milltown which outlined a plan of works to be completed at the Falls Road graveyard ahead of Cemetery Sunday in May.

It’s the latest blow to the long-suffering families who have been standing helplessly by while archaelogists try to identify remains.

The Diocese of Down Connor did not respond to the claims when contacted. However, in a copy of the email sent to the families that we’ve seen, the Trustees say that parents of children buried in the babies’ plot  “must remove all crosses, plaques memorials etc off site on or before Monday, March 27” and that any not removed would be moved by cemetery staff. The email goes on to inform families that “a substantial amount of topsoil” will be spread over the ground and it continues: “While every effort will be made not to disturb the ground, there may be some track marks on soft ground.”

In a letter of reply sent to the Trustees this week, the families say  the plans go against an agreement with them that no work would take place on the burial ground until all unmarked graves had been found as part of ongoing investigations being carried out by an archaeological firm contracted by the Trustees.

“The memorial will be removed  over my dead body,” said Margaret Johnston, whose four-hour-old son was buried in the plot in 1975. “They want to have Cemetery Sunday but with no place for the babies. What kind of Cemetery Sunday will that be?” A spokesman for the families told us: “The families concerned are urging the Trustees to delay this work and meet with them face-to-face to discuss the contents of this email as soon as possible.

“Two weeks is too short of a notice to remove memorials to our loved ones when we have been fighting this issue for four years now. We accept that the ground has to be built up and resurfaced but not until all the remains that are buried there have been uncovered as there are still people coming forward who have loved ones buried in this ground.”

Crumlin woman Patricia Fennell, whose eight-month-old brother Martin was buried in one of the unmarked graves 49 years ago, said the plans were “tantamount to grave-robbing”.

“We only found that grave last year,” she said. “My mother put a cross down there and gave her son a teddy bear gift for Christmas, the first gift she ever gave him, and now the Catholic Church want to take that all away without consulting us.

“The bishop himself came and blessed those graves last year for the first time and now they want to take that away? It’s heartless and inhumane,” she added.